Famed lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. called on the Justice Department yesterday to take the lead role in the inquiry into Larry Hubbard's death and to investigate how the Baltimore Police Department treats minorities.
"When the federal government enters, they have expertise in this area," Cochran said.
The Los Angeles-based lawyer, known for representing O.J. Simpson during his 1995 murder trial, also said he would join the legal team representing the Hubbard family in a likely wrongful death suit against Officer Barry W. Hamilton and the Baltimore Police Department.
Hamilton shot and killed Hubbard during an arrest Oct. 7 in the 2000 block of Barclay St. in East Baltimore. Police say Hubbard was shot as he struggled for the gun of Hamilton's partner, Officer Robert J. Quick. However, witnesses say the officers, who are white, beat and tripped Hubbard, a black man, and that Hamilton shot him as he pleaded for his life.
Yesterday, Cochran interviewed witnesses and examined evidence in the Hubbard case and briefly discussed the matter with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
Cochran's visit came as details from Hubbard's autopsy report emerged. Sources close to the investigation say Hubbard was shot at point-blank range, refuting news reports that the gun was fired from 20 inches away.
Investigators determined from gunpowder on the sweat shirt that Hubbard was wearing at the time of his death that he was shot at "near contact," according to a source close to the investigation.
The shooting has outraged the Barclay community, which plans a candlelight vigil at the site tomorrow evening, on what would have been Hubbard's 22nd birthday.
Cochran represented Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant assaulted by New York police, and the family of Amadou Diallo, who was shot to death by New York officers.
He said the evidence in the Hubbard case persuaded him to become involved here.
"I have talked to witnesses and looked them in the eyes," Cochran said, standing in the Baltimore law office of William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr., who with attorney A. Dwight Pettit. is representing Hubbard's family. "Imagine the frustration of witnesses who saw someone shot down and have no one to call because they wanted to call the police."
`New day in Baltimore'
Cochran, whose firm has 60 lawyers nationwide, vowed to use all his resources to turn Hubbard's death into a national case that results in drastic changes in the Baltimore Police Department.
"I want to make sure you don't get the death penalty for having an encounter with the police," Cochran said. "It's a new day in Baltimore, and I want some resolution that gives citizens hope."
"There is a long, terrible history of police brutality in this town," said Murphy. "Anyone with eyes can see it. Anyone with ears can hear it. If a good-faith effort is made to dig it up, there will be plenty there."
Seven investigations have been launched into Hubbard's death.
Last week, the Baltimore office of the FBI and the Justice Department's civil rights division announced preliminary investigations after NAACP President Kweisi Mfume called for a federal inquiry. Mfume said his Baltimore-based civil rights group would also investigate.
Baltimore police homicide detectives and internal affairs agents also are investigating the case and will forward their findings to the state's attorney's office for further review and the possible convening of a grand jury.
But Cochran, Pettit and Murphy said the state's attorney's office does not have the resources to conduct a full-scale investigation and that they believe the Justice Department's civil rights division should take over the case.
Broad inquiry sought
The lawyers said they will ask the Justice Department to conduct a broad inquiry into Baltimore Police Department tactics.
Officials at the Justice Department could not immediately be reached for comment.
Cochran said he wants the federal investigation to revisit all police-involved shootings in Baltimore over an unspecified period. The Justice Department could then make recommendations to correct any problems or threaten the department with a federal takeover, Cochran said.
City police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. said the department is cooperating with investigators looking into Hubbard's death and that it thoroughly investigates each case of alleged police brutality.
"Every investigation is a search for the truth, as it is both the goal of citizens and this department to conduct an impartial and timely investigation," Weinhold said.
Deputy State's Attorney Haven H. Kodeck said his office has no plans to turn the Hubbard case over to the Justice Department and said Hubbard's death would be investigated like any other police-involved shooting.
"We are in charge of prosecuting this case, and we intend to evaluate the case and do our job," Kodeck said.
Kodeck said the state's attorney's office would collaborate with other investigators, but is frustrated by the number of inquiries.