Officer shoots, kills drug suspect

Unarmed man apparently struggled during arrest in city

February 06, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police officer shot and killed an unarmed man last night during an apparent struggle as he was being arrested for allegedly selling drugs.

The death came a day after an officer and drug suspect were injured in a shootout four blocks away. Last night, an angry crowd of East Baltimore residents walked the streets shouting "O'Malley is a killer," referring to Mayor Martin O'Malley, and "This was police revenge."

It was the seventh fatal shooting involving police since January 1999.

Police said Officer Craig Klein was sitting in a house in the 1600 block of Lansing St. about 5: 30 p.m. when he saw what he thought was a man selling drugs. Klein, who has served three years on the force, chased the man into an alleyway that leads to the 1600 block of Federal St., where a scuffle began, said police spokeswoman Agent Ragina L. Cooper.

The officer and the suspect wrestled in a half-foot of snow for several minutes, and the man pinned the officer to the ground and said, "Don't make me use my stuff," Cooper said.

Fearing for his life, Klein fired once, striking the victim in his neck, police said.

Police did not release the suspect's identity last night, but relatives at the scene identified him as Ralph Chambers, 34, of the 1600 block of Lansing St. Relatives said he had three children younger than 10.

"This is a disgrace," said his brother, Paul Chambers. "O'Malley made it clear it was not going to happen like this. They don't have to kill them to get them off the corner."

Cooper said police found 30 capsules of suspected cocaine on the victim, and relatives acknowledged that Chambers sold drugs "because he could not get a job."

Tavon Powell, 18, who identified himself as a friend of Ralph Chambers, said the officer had no reason to shoot an unarmed drug dealer.

"They don't use Mace anymore, they don't use club sticks, they just pull their guns out and shoot people," Powell said. "I think it's retaliation."

That sentiment was repeated last night by people who claimed they had witnessed the shooting and said the victim was shot as he tried to run from the officer.

"He was fleeing," said Robert Sparks, 33, of the 1500 block of Broadway, who added he saw the incident. "He got up to run, got several feet away and then I heard" the gunshot.

Sparks agrees that a brief struggle occurred before the shooting. But another witness, who did not want to be identified, said: "From what I saw, the police did what they needed to do."

Cooper said several witnesses were taken to the city's homicide unit and at least one corroborated the police officer's version of events.

A group of about 20 huddled not far from the crime scene minutes after the shooting and shouted threats of retribution against Police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel and O'Malley. At least one plainclothes detective retrieved a handful of handcuffs, but Cooper said no arrests were made at the scene.

Neither Daniel or O'Malley visited the shooting scene last night, but when reached at home, the police commissioner said, "People direct hostility at me all the time, and it's not unusual."

But Daniel said that based on preliminary information, it appears the officer acted in self-defense. "I don't know enough about what occurred, but certainly I have been given a preliminary briefing and understand the officer was in a struggle and defending himself," Daniel said. "The officer certainly has a right to defend himself."

Daniel said he did not visit the scene because he might have to review the case.

"We need to support these officers because they are risking their lives every night out there," said Gary McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. "The Eastern District is a very dangerous district. The price for making Baltimore City safe is going to be paid for with our blood."

Eastern District Maj. James L. Hawkins downplayed residents' reaction to the shooting because of their heightened emotions.

Friday night, Eastern District Officer Jerry Kevin Weaver was shot in the right arm in a struggle while police were trying to arrest a drug suspect in the 1700 block of N. Chapel St.

The suspect, identified as Samuel Keith Thompson, was shot in the foot and thigh when Weaver's partner, Officer Louis Holley, returned fire. Hawkins and Daniel said that incident and last night's police shooting highlight the neighborhood's drug problem. Police officials said they are attacking the problem.

Cooper said Klein will be placed on administrative duty while city homicide detectives and the state's attorney's office review the shooting.

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