Mayor vows full, vigorous investigation

Schmoke urges people not to rush to judge fatal Hubbard shooting

`Wait on the evidence'

He defends O'Malley, saying crime policy of candidate not at issue

October 15, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke urged city residents to remain calm yesterday in the wake of last week's fatal police shooting of an East Baltimore man, promising a "detailed, vigorous and thorough" investigation.

Making his first extensive comments on the issue, Schmoke asked residents angered by the death of Larry J. Hubbard not to rush to judgment against the city Police Department.

Hubbard, a 21-year-old African-American, was shot in the back of the head by a white police officer in a scuffle during his arrest Oct. 7 on Barclay Street. Police say Hubbard had run away from a stolen car minutes earlier.

Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy vowed yesterday that her office would conduct an "exhaustive" search into the circumstances surrounding Hubbard's death.

"I would assure citizens that we will do the right thing," Jessamy said. "Whatever the evidence and the law permits, we will do."

Schmoke, who is stepping down after 12 years as mayor in December, said the shooting -- the fourth police killing this year -- should not be viewed as evidence of departmentwide police brutality.

"I caution people to wait on reaching conclusions before all the evidence is in," said Schmoke, the city's first elected African-American mayor. "I have been a prosecutor and I know these are very difficult cases. These kinds of investigations are like put- ting together a jigsaw puzzle. You put the pieces together very carefully, but you don't reach your conclusion as to what the total shows you, what the picture is, until you have all the evidence."

Schmoke, who served as Baltimore state's attorney for five years before becoming mayor in 1987, also defended his possible successor, Democratic mayoral nominee Martin O'Malley, who plans to implement the so-called zero tolerance policing strategy if elected.

The system has helped reduce the murder rate in cities such as New York and New Orleans by requiring police to get out of their cars and enforce all laws, including those on nuisance crimes such as public drinking.

Critics contend the increased interaction between police and suspects leads to increases in police brutality complaints.

O'Malley's crime-fighting plan and a recent speech he made to the city Fraternal Order of Police is unrelated to the Hubbard shooting, Schmoke said.

"I think it's unfair in any way to tie Mr. O'Malley" to the Hubbard incident, Schmoke said.

At his weekly news conference yesterday morning, Schmoke also addressed questions about whether plans for the U.S. Department of Justice to review the Hubbard shooting showed a lack of confidence in his administration.

"There is no doubt that there are problems, ongoing problems to the extent you always have when you have a department of 3,100 sworn officers," Schmoke said. "You're going to have some good people and you're going to have some bad apples."

Schmoke, however, promised that his administration will work diligently to resolve concerns over the shooting.

Jessamy's announcement of an investigation comes three days after NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said a federal investigation was needed because the state's attorney's office is overwhelmed with other cases.

U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia said yesterday that both the agency's Civil Rights Division and FBI agents will interview witnesses and sift through the evidence. Investigators will decide whether to send the case to a federal grand jury.

Federal investigators plan to look into the background of Officer Barry W. Hamilton, who shot Hubbard. Battaglia called the action standard in civil rights cases.

She warned residents seeking swift justice that it could take months or years to determine if Hamilton violated Hubbard's civil rights or any federal law.

"I want to assure people we will be independent and have a credible investigation," Battaglia said.

Schmoke also addressed questions over his selections for a new civilian review board to monitor the Police Department. Several state legislators who helped draft the legislation creating the board challenged Schmoke's nine nominations Wednesday. Some of the legislators' choices were not among those nominated.

Several politicians have suggested that the review board might investigate the Hubbard shooting.

Councilwoman Rita R. Church, chairwoman of the council's Executive Nominations Committee, postponed action on appointment of the board until city and state legislators have an opportunity to speak with Schmoke.

Schmoke intends to stand by his selections, he said, having chosen them from nine police district councils throughout the city.

"These are people known for their community activities, not their political activities," Schmoke said. "When the council members really take a look at the individuals and nominees, they're going to say, `Boy, these are really fine people.' "

Sun staff writers Ivan Penn and Tim Craig contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 10/15/99

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