No charges to be filed in shooting Decision comes month after officer killed knife-wielding man

'I know I did right thing'

City state's attorney says she won't present case to grand jury

September 09, 1997|By Peter Hermann and Ivan Penn | Peter Hermann and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Christian Ewell contributed to this article.

A Baltimore police officer whose shooting of a knife-wielding man outside Lexington Market last month was captured on videotape, sparking community wide protests over the use of deadly force, should not be charged with a crime, the city's top prosecutor said yesterday.

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy also said she saw no reason to present the case to a grand jury, and she sternly warned that she will not bow to public pressure to indict someone "when I can find no evidence of a crime."

Her decision spares Officer Charles M. Smothers II, who has been on the force four years, from murder or manslaughter charges in the Aug. 9 shooting of James Quarles, who was killed after refusing repeated demands by police to drop his knife.

"I know I did the right thing," Smothers said yesterday, stressing again that he felt in danger even though the danger was not apparent on the videotape. "I did what my training required. None of this would have happened if he had dropped the knife."

Quarles' family and their lawyer reacted with anger and threatened to sue the city. Family members indicated that they might not have considered a civil suit if a grand jury had been allowed to hear the case, regardless of the outcome.

"The concern here is about justice," said lawyer A. Dwight Pettit. Jessamy "really hasn't done the type of investigation that a grand jury would have done. If the state's attorney is not going to properly investigate, we'll have to do it ourselves."

Pettit said he has not seen evidence that Quarles, 22, made any threatening movements. He said witnesses told him that Quarles' hand was open and that the knife was on the ground. "There was no movement, no threatening gesture whatsoever," he said.

Mischele Quarles said police asked her brother "several times to put the knife down. He slowly responded. He did not resist them. He was never a threat to anyone."

But according to Jessamy, most of the 25 witnesses interviewed by prosecutors backed Smothers' version of events. Nonetheless, Smothers faces an internal disciplinary hearing, and the FBI has opened an investigation into whether the dead man's civil rights were violated.

Reaction at Lexington Market was mixed yesterday.

"He deserves to do some time," said Tyrone Sellers, 20, of East Baltimore. "I guess they can hide behind that badge. I knew the whole time that he was going to get off."

But Leroy Savage, 43, of Essex said, "The policeman was doing his job. He did ask the guy to drop the knife, and I'm wondering why he didn't drop the knife."

'Act within scope of training'

At a news conference, Jessamy, in a firm and determined voice, sought to blunt public sentiment that the officer had shot Quarles without provocation.

"I will not send a message to police officers that I will impose my judgment in place of theirs when they act within the scope of their training and the law," Jessamy said.

She added that she will not, "because of personal or political consideration, create a climate where police officers hesitate to protect a citizen or themselves."

Jessamy could have presented the case to a grand jury without making a recommendation. But she said that it was unlikely Smothers would be indicted and that she wanted to take full responsibility for deciding not to charge him.

Had an indictment not been returned, she said, "this matter would have then been cloaked in the secrecy of the grand jury proceeding and the truth never known by the public. The public is entitled to know the truth."

Mayor won't question call

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, a former city state's attorney and federal prosecutor, called Quarles' shooting "a tragic event in the life of this city," but said he would not question Jessamy.

"She felt that she couldn't ask the grand jury to do anything that she believed she wouldn't do herself," Schmoke said. "She wanted to be responsible and accountable for it herself, rather then leave it up to other people."

Smothers said he "broke down and cried" when he learned he was being spared charges. Appearing at a news conference flanked by his wife and mother, he insisted that there was nothing else he could do. "I was four feet in front of this man. Mace basically doesn't work. It makes a person more violent, more hostile. Our vest doesn't stop an edged weapon."

In official memory, only one city police officer, Sgt. Stephen R. Pagotto, has been convicted of a shooting in the line of duty. Pagotto, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in February, has been sentenced to 20 months in prison.

Officer Shean D. Camper was acquitted in a 1994 criminal trial, but a jury in a civil trial found last year that the shooting was unjustified and ordered him to pay $111,000 to the slain man's family.

Officer Edward T. Gorwell II faces retrial on a manslaughter charge after his prosecution in the 1993 shooting death of a 14-year-old boy ended in a mistrial.

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