Seven groups probe killing

Justice, FBI, NAACP are looking into Hubbard's death

Defense: `It's crazy'

Johnnie Cochran may help represent family of slain man

October 16, 1999|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The lawyer representing Barry W. Hamilton, the Baltimore policeman who shot a 21-year-old man in the back of the head last week, said yesterday the investigation into the incident has become a politically motivated mockery and vowed his client will be vindicated.

Henry Belsky, the lawyer for the Fraternal Order of Police who is representing Hamilton, said the sheer number of inquiries is unprecedented and threatens his client's ability to get a fair and impartial investigation.

"It's crazy. I have never seen seven investigations within five days," Belsky said. "Let the community pick who is fair, and let's live with it one way or another."

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia said the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division investigators and FBI agents in Baltimore are probing the Oct. 6 shooting to determine whether Larry J. Hubbard's civil rights were violated. Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy also said Thursday that her office has begun a probe into the shooting in the 2000 block of Barclay St.

In addition, the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, police homicide detectives, Internal Affairs agents and lawyers representing Hubbard's family also have started interviewing witnesses and searching for evidence in the case, Belsky said.

"We are prepared to take our case anywhere they want to go but I just want to pick one," Belsky said. "They will find that the officers did nothing wrong but saved each others' lives."

Hamilton and Officer Robert J. Quick Jr. stopped Hubbard after he fled from a stolen car. Police said Hubbard resisted attempts to handcuff him and reached for Quick's gun. Hubbard fell on Quick during a violent struggle, bit his hand and seized his gun, police said. Hamilton then shot Hubbard, killing him.

But witnesses say Hubbard never reached for the gun and that the officers punched him, tripped him and shot him as pleaded for his life.

The incident was the 15th police shooting this year, four of which have resulted in deaths. Last week's killing has raised tensions in the Barclay community and placed the police department on the defensive.

The shooting happened two blocks from city school headquarters on North Avenue. School Police Chief Leonard Hamm, fearing retribution against school officials, said yesterday that he has increased patrols around the building.

"Administrators and school principals who are not part of the community have expressed apprehension about coming here," Hamm said.

So far, there have been no incidents, he said. But Hamm, who was a Baltimore police officer for 22 years and the former commander of the Central District, warned that another police shooting could bring trouble.

He said the Hubbard shooting sparked an outcry because it brought several political and social events together.

"All this stuff is timing. You have the rhetoric of an election, [Police] Commissioner [Thomas C.] Frazier leaving and a basic mistrust of the police by African-Americans," Hamm said. "Issues build up and frustration builds and one issue ignites the whole thing."

Belsky said that such sentiments are unfair to Hamilton.

Hamilton and Quick have been placed on administrative duty and are unable to work overtime. Hamilton, 55, an eight-year veteran of the force, earns $35,000 a year, according to city records.

More than a week after the shooting, police have still not released the official incident report. They also have not released information on the officers' careers or said whether either man has been disciplined. Police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold said the incident report is forthcoming.

Attorneys William H. Murphy Jr. and Dwight Pettit are representing Hubbard's family and have begun researching a possible civil suit against the city and the officers involved. Pettit said his investigators have located 13 witnesses who say they saw or heard the incident.

Paul A. Chin, a partner in Murphy's law firm, said the lawyers are trying to lure Johnnie Cochran, the Los Angeles lawyer who defended O.J. Simpson, to join the case. Cochran and Murphy, who talked about the Hubbard case earlier in the week, teamed up to win a $2 million settlement in the case of Junious Roberts, a Montgomery County resident who was accidentally shot by police.

"Mr. Cochran saw all the news on this case and could not believe it," Chin said. "There is a very high possibility he may be involved in this case."

But despite Belsky's calls for reducing the number of investigations, Battaglia said the federal investigation must remain independent of others. She warned, however, it may take months or years to determine if Hubbard's civil rights or federal laws were violated.

"We always stay separate and independent of local authorities to make sure we are impartial," Battaglia said "I want to assure people we will be independent and have a credible investigation."

Yesterday, community leaders continued to react.

The Rev. Frank Reid III, pastor of the Bethel A.M.E Church, said the situation is "volatile" and has national consequences, but urged residents to remain neutral until the investigation is completed.

Asking why few are defending the police department, Reid said: "I think through silence you are hearing a lot."

Reid, who angered some Democrats when he endorsed Democratic mayoral candidate Martin O'Malley over two black candidates in last month's primary, called attempts to blame Hubbard's death on O'Malley's "zero tolerance" crime-fighting platform "sour grapes and political posturing."

"This could become very divisive issue for the city because the division would not just be along race," Reid said. "It could divide East from West, old from young. So I pray for the city."

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