Unarmed teen is killed by police

Suspect appeared to reach for a weapon, housing officer says

November 26, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

A police officer investigating a robbery shot and killed an unarmed teen-ager yesterday morning, angering West Baltimore residents and prompting a concerned mayor to rush to the scene and talk with the youth's relatives.

Family members identified the dead youth as Eli McCoy, 17, of the 1800 block of Gertrude St. He was shot a block from his home about 10: 45 a.m. after a woman pointed him out to officers as the young man who had just robbed her.

McCoy's grandmother said she heard the shots as she walked home from a corner grocery store to help prepare the family's Thanksgiving dinner.

"This is terrible," the grandmother, Victoria Watson, 50, told Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "I keep thinking someone's going to pinch me and I'm going to wake up. But this isn't a dream. This is reality."

City officials identified the officer who shot McCoy as Kenneth M. Dean III, 32, who is assigned to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City force. Though primarily responsible for policing public housing developments, housing officers have jurisdiction throughout the city and often help city officers on calls.

Witnesses said McCoy was shot while on his knees with his hands in the air. Housing officials said Dean, who has been on the force three years, told investigators that he fired his Glock semiautomatic pistol three times when he saw McCoy reach into his pants as if for a gun.

As of last evening, police said they had not recovered a weapon. The woman who identified McCoy made no mention of a gun being used in the robbery, authorities said.

Schmoke arrived at the scene about 12: 30 p.m., shortly after five squad cars responded when someone in a crowd threw a bottle in the direction of detectives. A handful of young men complained to the mayor that Dean often harassed neighborhood youths and cursed at them.

"I'm obviously very concerned, particularly given the information I'm hearing from residents," Schmoke said. "This matter will be fully investigated. Nothing will be swept under the rug."

Yesterday's shooting was the 18th involving a police officer in Baltimore this year; five have resulted in fatalities. City police officers were involved in all but yesterday's shooting.

The shooting of Larry J. Hubbard, 21, by a city police officer Oct. 7 touched off a storm of protest in an East Baltimore neighborhood after witnesses said Hubbard was shot as he pleaded for his life.

An officer shot Hubbard in the back of the head as he struggled with the officer's partner whose gun had come loose, police say. A series of protests has prompted several ongoing investigations, including a federal civil rights inquiry.

Since the Hubbard shooting, Schmoke has made a point of going to such crime scenes to try to calm tensions and avert violent protests.

Yesterday's incident began after a woman reported being robbed in the 1700 block of N. Rosedale St. shortly after 10: 30 a.m. Two city police officers drove the victim through the area in a patrol car looking for her assailant, with Dean following in a housing authority vehicle.

Housing authority spokesman Zach Germroth said the woman pointed out McCoy as the robber and "all the officers jumped out of their cars and ran on foot after the suspect."

Dean was first to reach McCoy, behind rowhouses in the 2700 block of W. North Ave., three blocks from where the woman had been robbed. Germroth said McCoy made a quick motion and reached into his pants, and Dean fired three times, striking him in the lower body.

Police would not say how many times McCoy was hit nor would they identify the robbery victim or say whether she witnessed the shooting.

"She panicked momentarily and left the vehicle," Germroth said. "The officers later caught up with her."

The woman was being questioned by Baltimore homicide investigators last night. Dean was placed on routine desk duty pending the outcome of an investigation. As in all such cases, it will be turned over to the city state's attorney's office for review.

Although residents told Schmoke that Dean had been abusive in the past, Germroth said a preliminary check of his three-year record turned up no complaints.

Residents who said they saw the shooting contradicted the police version of events. They said a city officer was first to confront McCoy and that he had the situation under control when Dean ran up.

"The guy had his hands up," said Desire Brown, 32, who said she was standing across the street from the shooting. "Everything the officer asked him to do, he did. There was no reason for him to die."

Several witnesses said McCoy was shot in the head as he knelt on the ground with his hands in the air. They said Dean fired his gun once and then paused before shooting McCoy two more times.

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