Prosecutor to drop charges in shooting of four officers

Detectives didn't identify selves as they burst into city house, officials say

January 07, 2003|By Allison Klein and Del Quentin Wilber | Allison Klein and Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Baltimore prosecutors say they will drop attempted murder charges today against a man who shot four police detectives during a November drug raid, saying they believe Lewis S. Cauthorne acted in self-defense when he wounded the officers as they barged into his home.

Investigators concluded detectives did not announce that they were police just before smashing down Cauthorne's door with a battering ram and rushing in to look for drugs, according to law enforcement documents obtained by The Sun.

Cauthorne was interviewed by police the night of the incident and told them, "I didn't know you guys were police. I thought I was getting robbed," according to the documents.

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy has scheduled a news conference for today, in which she plans to say that Cauthorne, 26, acted out of a reasonable fear when he fired a .45-caliber handgun at the raiding officers.

The case against Cauthorne will not hold up in court, prosecutors say, because the raid violated a precedent set in the case of Wilson vs. Arkansas, which held that police bearing search warrants must knock and announce their presence before forcing their way into a home.

Several officers who broke down the front door of Cauthorne's North Baltimore house were wearing street clothes without department-issued yellow "raid" jackets, and uniformed officers were stationed out of view in the back of the house, documents show.

In subsequent interviews with investigators, the raid team members were unable to provide a consensus of what happened as they broke the door down.

Some said at least one officer yelled "police" as they entered the house, while others said they couldn't remember what - if anything - was spoken in the tense moments before the raid.

Detective Kevin Rosenborough, a member of the raid team, was asked whether anyone shouted "police search warrant" before the door opened.

"Not to my knowledge," Rosenborough answered.

Raid team member Detective Paul Wojcik was asked, "When he knocked, did you hear anyone say anything?"

"I, I, I didn't," he answered.

Cauthorne, who has been jailed since the Nov. 19 incident, is expected to be released today.

Ragina C. Averella, a police spokeswoman, declined to comment yesterday, saying the Police Department had not been told charges against Cauthorne were being dropped. Gary McLhinney, president of the city police union, also declined to comment for the same reason.

Cauthorne's lawyer, Warren A. Brown, said the decision by prosecutors to drop charges against Cauthorne sends a message that the criminal justice system can be fair.

"This will instill confidence in the community that just because the police make an accusation, it doesn't mean it's a whitewash," Brown said. "It lends credibility to the criminal justice system when something like this happens."

Police raided the house at 8:55 p.m. with a search warrant after they were told by an anonymous source that drugs were being sold out of the home, in the 1000 block of Cameron Road.

The raid yielded six bags with trace amounts of marijuana, empty vials, a razor with cocaine residue and two scales, documents show.

Cauthorne, who had no arrest record, was not charged with any drug crimes. A graduate of Northern High School, he is employed at his family's business, a city convenience store.

After the shooting, Brown said that Cauthorne's past might have played a role in his reaction to the police raid. In 1990, his father was shot and killed during a robbery of his taxicab. That killing has not been solved.

At the time of the police raid in November, Cauthorne was in his rowhouse with his mother, girlfriend and 3-year-old daughter. The two women started to scream to Cauthorne, who was in the basement at the time, that someone was breaking in to the house.

"I didn't hear anybody say, `police.' I was sitting right there and I would have heard it," said Janie Battle, Cauthorne's girlfriend. "It sounded like they were banging the door down.

"We said, `Who is it?' and no one said anything. We yelled, `Who is it?' more than once or twice.

"We were yelling to Lewis that someone is breaking in the door. He's thinking someone is invading his home while his family is sitting right there."

Officers recounted that after they broke the door down, they began heading up the stairs to the second floor when "they observed an arm reach out from an archway from the dining room area," according to a police account outlined in a document. "The arm was holding a handgun and the person started to fire at the raid team repeatedly."

The bullets hit Robert J. Adams in the right thigh and arm, Officer Michael H. Smith in the right leg, Officer James S. Guzie in the left shin and Officer Steven Henson in the left hand.

Police returned fire, but neither Cauthorne nor anyone else in the home was injured.

Although union and police officials declined to comment publicly yesterday on the potential action of prosecutors, many inside the department said they were aware of problems with the raid.

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