Police on trial in 1996 death of city woman

Attorney says officers had no right to be in home

February 11, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Police had no right to force their way into the home of a mentally ill North Baltimore woman, who was shot and killed when she approached the intruding officers with a butcher knife, the attorney for the woman's estate said yesterday during the opening of a civil trial.

Anton J. S. Keating said Baltimore officers had no warrants or emergency petitions for hospitalization when they broke into the Homeland home of Betty Keat three years ago, shortly before firing the three shots that killed her. Her family has filed a multimillion-dollar wrongful death suit against the officers.

"The police had no right to be in her home at that point," Keating said.

But Robert C. Verderaime, the attorney for the officers, said police went to Keat's home after a 911 call from a neighbor, who said the 63-year-old woman had been walking the streets brandishing a sickle and throwing Molotov cocktails onto the neighbor's lawn.

Officers broke open a side window after Keat, who suffered from manic depression and paranoid schizophrenia, failed to answer repeated knocks at her door, Verderaime said. They fired after she advanced with a knife so close to one of the officers that the officer's colleagues felt he was in immediate danger, he said.

The trial, before Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas E. Noel and a jury of four women and two men, is expected to last until the middle of next week.

The suit seeks $28 million dollars in damages from five police officers who went to Keat's home, in the 300 block of Taplow Road, late in the afternoon of Jan. 12, 1996, and the police lieutenant who supervised them. The officers involved are the only witnesses to Keat's alleged assault and the shooting.

Nine months after Keat was killed, city prosecutors said that they would not file criminal charges against the two officers who fired shots, saying their actions appeared necessary to protect another officer's life.

Last month, the city settled a suit over a fatal 1997 police shooting outside Lexington Market that was caught on videotape. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

In his opening statement yesterday, Keating said the officers involved in the Keat shooting were not "evil people."

"These officers were doing their jobs to the best of their ability," he said. "But when they make a big mistake, unfortunately there has to be some accountability."

Verderaime countered that "perhaps a misperception" exists about the lawful use of deadly force by police officers. "Officers are not trained to wound," he said. "The evidence you will hear is that the officers in this case did exactly as they were trained to do."

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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