Police say force justified in fatal shootings

No policy review found necessary after deaths of 3 suspects in Baltimore County

February 20, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN REPORTER

After police shot three people to death this year - including two in the past week - Baltimore County police said yesterday the officers did nothing wrong in the incidents and that a review of the department's use of force policy is not necessary.

Although police have shot three people over a six-week period beginning Jan. 6, the officers had been confronted by a suspect and a weapon in each of the cases, said Cpl. Michael Hill, a county police spokesman. In two of the incidents, including the most recent shooting Sunday, officers had been fired on first, Hill said.

"These were all justified uses of lethal force," said Hill. "They were well within the guidelines of the use of force policy."

Police identified yesterday the 25-year-old Parkville man killed by police early Sunday as Keith Showalter of the 2100 block of Lowells Glen Road. Police said Showalter fired several rounds from a rifle at officers. Two officers returned fire, Hill said.

Law enforcement experts say that an abrupt spike in shootings by police in a given jurisdiction often is coincidental.

"It could be that crime is rising, not improper training," said Edward Mamet, a former New York City commander who is a police policy consultant.

"If there's an inordinate amount - no shootings in two years and there's a suddenly a rash - you'd ask, `What's the reason?'"

But there often is no way to pinpoint a single cause, he said.

"There's just no evidence" that one shooting by a police officer would predispose other officers to shoot days or weeks later, said Thomas Aveni, co-founder of the Police Policy Studies Council, a New Hampshire-based organization.

All shootings by Baltimore County police are evaluated by a five-member panel in the department to determine whether officers should be returned to duty and whether the use of force is justified under policy, Hill said.

The shooting review board members include the commanders of operations, training, and internal affairs, as well as a firearms instructor and an official from the department's legal section.

The officers who shot and killed the Parkville man Sunday were identified yesterday as Officer Feelemyer, a five-year member of the police force from the Towson precinct, and Officer Wingerd, a three-year member from the White Marsh precinct.

The department does not release the first names of officers, under a provision in the police union's contract. Both officers remained on paid administrative leave yesterday, Hill said.

Police also are investigating a Feb. 12 shooting in eastern Baltimore County during the arrest of a homicide suspect. In that case, a tactical team officer shot and killed a 52-year-old man, who they said had reached for a rifle and ignored police commands to stop.

A county officer shot a 21-year-old Pennsylvania man who was visiting Essex on Jan. 6, after police said he fired a gun at officers who had been chasing him in a car.

Police experts concur that no correlation appears to exist among the shootings, given the circumstances of the incidents.

On Sunday, officers had gone to Showalter's condominium in response to a call from his girlfriend. She said that he had a rifle and was threatening to kill himself, Hill said.

Officers called Showalter to persuade him to surrender, but he refused, Hill said. Showalter came out of the building with a rifle and fired several rounds at officers just yards away.

The man's relatives could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Last year, there were eight shootings by police - two fatal - involving Baltimore County officers, officials said.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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