Police say evidence supports officer

Autopsy suggests teen reached into pocket before fatal shots

November 27, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

An unarmed Baltimore teen-ager who was killed by a police officer on Thursday had a hand in his pants pocket when he was shot, which investigators say bolsters the officer's claim that he fired because he thought the youth was going for a gun.

Preliminary autopsy results released yesterday by police and the mayor's office show that Eli McCoy, 17, was shot in the upper left chest and left abdomen. Police said a third bullet hit his left pants pocket, traveled through the youth's left hand and into his thigh.

"It leads one to believe that his hand was inside the pocket," said Col. John E. Gavrilis, chief of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, who oversees homicide detectives conducting the investigation.

But three women who said yesterday that they saw the shooting at 10: 30 a.m. in a back yard in the Walbrook neighborhood said McCoy's hands were in the air when he was shot by Officer Kenneth M. Dean III, who is assigned to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City force.

"His hands were up when the officer pulled the trigger," said Amaya Manson, 29, who said she saw the incident unfold from a bedroom window that overlooks the yard. She said Dean was facing McCoy from about 8 feet away. "He had surrendered. He had no place else to go."

A. Dwight Pettit, a lawyer who represents McCoy's family, said the autopsy results do not contradict witnesses. He noted that many people are reporting a two- to three-second delay between the first shot -- that put McCoy to his knees -- and the subsequent two.

He said McCoy might have put his hand in his pocket after he was struck by the first bullet, which may explain why Dean fired twice more after the brief delay. But the lawyer said he sticks by witnesses who maintain the first shot was unnecessary.

Officials said they cannot determine which shot was fired first or which injury caused his death.

The medical examiner's office declined to comment on its preliminary results.

McCoy, a Job Corps participant, was pronounced dead at the scene. Funeral arrangements are pending.

`Changing their story'

Dean's lawyer, Henry L. Belsky, said that people interviewed on Thursday said McCoy's hands were up throughout the incident. But now that autopsy results are public, he said, critics "are changing their story to fit the facts" by conceding that McCoy put his hands in his pocket at some point during the confrontation.

Belsky said Dean spent two hours talking with city homicide detectives and "cooperated fully. I'm not about to discuss what his statement consists of."

The Thanksgiving Day shooting behind a group of rowhouses near West North Avenue and North Dukeland Street follows the shooting Oct. 7 of Larry J. Hubbard by a city police officer, which touched off a storm of protest after witnesses said the 21-year-old was shot after he pleaded for his life in East Baltimore.

Federal intervention

Officer Barry W. Hamilton shot Hubbard in the back of the head after his partner's gun came loose during a struggle with Hubbard, authorities have said. Witnesses have said they saw no battle for the weapon. Six investigations, including a federal civil rights probe, are under way.

Pettit, who also represents Hubbard's family, said he plans to write Attorney General Janet Reno's office in Washington this weekend to ask that federal authorities take over all investigations of police shootings in Baltimore.

"I will demand that they intercede, that they make a public commitment of intervention in Baltimore City," Pettit said. Federal authorities in Baltimore and Washington did not respond to inquiries yesterday.

The All People's Congress and Unity for Action have scheduled a rally today, at the corner near where McCoy was killed, to protest his and Hubbard's shootings.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who visited the scene on Thursday and spoke to angry residents and McCoy's relatives, promised a thorough investigation.

Mistrust of police

McCoy was the 18th person shot by a police officer in Baltimore this year, and the fifth one to die. All but one were shot by city officers. Schmoke said Thursday that the Walbrook area is a trouble spot for crime and that he saw many drug deals as he drove to the scene.

It is a predicament for many neighborhoods. Though overtaken by crime, some residents mistrust police.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform (ACORN), a community group that represents the Walbrook and Rosemont areas, issued a statement yesterday saying that it is concerned about the police shootings but also calling the neighborhood inadequately protected.

"It doesn't seem like anyone at City Hall really cares what is going on in our neighborhoods," said Willie Ray, an ACORN official. Police said they have sent officers into the community to talk with residents and ease their concerns.

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