Baltimore homicide detectives completed their investigation yesterday into a fatal shooting by a police officer that was videotaped outside Lexington Market, and have turned the case over to prosecutors.
The city state's attorney's office will decide whether to seek an indictment against Officer Charles M. Smothers, who fired the fatal shot when 22-year-old James Quarles failed to heed orders to drop a knife.
Amid continuing criticism of the shooting, the Police Department is widening its investigation into how and why Smothers -- on probation for firing a shot at a former girlfriend and others two years ago -- was given back his badge and gun despite a still-pending administrative review.
The department said yesterday that seven of the 15 city officers with pending internal hearings on domestic violence charges are on police duty, even though they haven't faced a review board that could recommend their termination.
Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman, said the review of Smothers' status is continuing. Some department commanders said changes might follow in the way decisions are made on returning officers to active duty while awaiting disciplinary proceedings.
Weinhold also said that homicide detectives did not offer prosecutors any conclusions about whether the shooting of Quarles was justified. A spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office said it might take a while for prosecutors to review the videotape -- portions of which have been broadcast on WBAL-TV -- and statements by witnesses.
While the video made by a bystander raised questions about whether deadly force was necessary to subdue Quarles, city officials urged calm as prosecutors examine the evidence.
"I would hope that no one jumps to any conclusions before all the information is in," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday. "I know that people have seen the tape. The tape doesn't answer all the questions that have to be answered."
The mayor said he knows that "people are very concerned" about the incident, but he stressed that the Police Department and state's attorney's office "have never hesitated when they thought an officer did wrong, to move forward either with discipline or prosecution."
The videotape, purchased by WBAL and aired repeatedly since Saturday night, shows four officers -- all with their guns drawn -- confronting Quarles amid a crowd outside Lexington Market.
They had been called by a private security guard who reported a man with a knife.
Family members said Quarles had been using the knife to open a bag of socks.
The officers are seen shouting at an angry crowd and at Quarles, who did not drop the 8-inch knife from his left hand.
Smothers was standing about five feet from him.
Quarles, hunched with both hands near the ground, is seen being shot a split-second after he moved slightly -- contradicting initial statements by police that he "advanced" toward the officers.
Police officials have said the videotape raises many troubling questions, such as why the officers did not attempt to subdue Quarles with pepper spray and whether they were standing too close to him.
Police sources said yesterday that Smothers thought Quarles was about to drop the knife, but at the last instant, Quarles tightly regripped the handle -- a move Smothers apparently took as a hostile gesture. The knife is not seen in the video before the shot is fired because of the camera angle from behind Quarles, and partial obstruction by a stone trash receptacle.
The sources said the other three officers who witnessed the shooting have given statements consistent with Smothers' version.
Officer Gary McLhinney, the police union president, said he hopes that public pressure "doesn't get in the way of justice."
But Rodney Orange, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the organization has "some serious questions about whether any force was needed. We are believing that the officer overreacted."
Orange also said that Smothers, who has been on the force four years, should not have been returned to patrol duty because of the 1995 assault. "Clearly, here is an individual who has overreacted in past situations," Orange said.
Smothers was charged with assault with intent to murder, two counts of assault and reckless endangerment in April 1995 because of an off-duty confrontation with his then-former girlfriend, Linda Callwood, now his wife; her boyfriend, Michael Shawn Scott; and her mother, Margarita Ekegbu.
Court document say that Smothers found them in an alley off the 1200 block of E. Belvedere Ave. and got into a scuffle with all three.
The documents say Smothers fired one shot at them, with the bullet hitting the car's front grill.
Smothers was arrested, and that November offered an Alford plea -- an admission that the state has enough evidence for a conviction, which is equivalent to a guilty plea. He was granted probation before judgment for two years.
His administrative hearing on the charges has been delayed indefinitely with dozens of other cases, while the department tries to resolve complaints that its review boards are racially biased.
Police sources say Smothers' return to active duty was granted after a psychologist found him fit.
The only paperwork in department files, a source said, is a handwritten notation approving his return. "It doesn't say who did it or under what circumstances."
Of the other seven officers on active duty while awaiting hearing boards, four had also faced criminal assault charges.
But unlike Smothers', those cases had been dropped by prosecutors.
Police sources say they are concerned and may require that the police commissioner personally approve all future requests -- especially those involving domestic abuse, regarded as a serious infraction in which department lawyers always seek to fire the offender.
Pub Date: 8/13/97