A police officer who shot and killed an unarmed youth on Thanksgiving Day apologized to the dead teen's family yesterday but defended his actions and criticized witnesses who claim he shot a man who was on the verge of surrendering.
"I am truly sorry for the death of your son," said Officer Kenneth M. Dean III, assigned to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City police force. "His death is a wound that I will carry forever."
Dean, 32, spoke out for the first time since the November incident, one day after a Baltimore grand jury concluded that he should not be charged in the death of Eli McCoy, 17, whose shooting sparked protests in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Walbrook.
Several witnesses told reporters and police investigators that McCoy's hands were in the air when Dean pulled the trigger three times after chasing the young man from a robbery scene near West North Avenue.
An autopsy report, however, concluded that McCoy had one hand in his left pants pocket when he was shot, bolstering the officer's statement that he thought the young man was going for a gun.
"His hands weren't up," said Dean, who took the unusual step of testifying before the grand jury. Suspects in criminal cases normally stay away from the process because their lawyers are not allowed in the room, and prosecutors control the questions and witnesses.
"I'm really sorry," Dean said yesterday. "I took a life. I have to live with this forever."
A. Dwight Pettit, a lawyer who represents McCoy's family and who has filed a $125 million lawsuit in the case, called the grand jury a facade that did not serve justice.
"It attacks the whole intelligence of the citizenry," Pettit said yesterday. "The witnesses have been on the money since Day One in terms of what they saw. These witnesses have been consistent."
The lawyer said he has seen "no hard evidence whatsoever to indicate that Mr. McCoy's hands were in his pocket." He said his client might have moved his hands to his waist after being hit by the first two bullets.
The housing officer, who faces an administrative review of the shooting, said he cannot understand why his incident has caused so much protest.
"Despite the fact that we had 300-plus murders last year, including five women in one night, my shooting, while protecting the rights of a woman [who allegedly was robbed by the man he shot], was considered an outrage," Dean said.
Then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke visited the shooting scene and spoke with McCoy's grandmother. Extra officers were called to the street to maintain order as some people in the crowd threw bottles at detectives.
The incident followed the Oct. 7 fatal shooting of Larry J. Hubbard by a city police officer, which touched off protests after witnesses said the 21-year-old was shot in the back of the head after he pleaded for his life. That shooting remains under investigation by the state's attorney's office.
Police officers complained in the aftermath of both incidents that they were reluctant to do their jobs because public opinion was against them. "You want to serve the citizens of Baltimore City, and you keep getting knocked down," Dean said.
Dean's lawyer, Henry Belsky, and the police union president, Officer Gary McLhinney, said witnesses who lie to investigators or the grand jury should be prosecuted for perjury.
Belsky noted that "every time there is a shooting in Baltimore City that is not police-involved, they have have a very difficult time finding witnesses. When a police officer fires a gun, there are 100 witnesses, some of whom were 10 miles away."
The Sun interviewed three witnesses in the days after the shooting, all of whom said they saw McCoy's hands in the air when Dean fired his weapon. Those three could not be reached to comment yesterday.
State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on any aspect of the case yesterday. Grand jury proceedings are by law secret.