Parents of boy killed by city police officer sue for $25 million

March 31, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,sun reporter

The parents of a 14-year-old boy who was fatally shot by a police officer in his Southwest Baltimore house last year filed a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit yesterday against the officer.

Relatives of Kevin Cooper, who was shot Aug. 12, contend that a city police officer antagonized the boy and provoked a fight that ended in violence. The officer who fired his gun, Roderick Mitter, had been on the force about one year and had just completed his probationary period.

The suit seeks $15 million in punitive and $10 million in compensatory damages. It names only Mitter, in his capacity as a police officer, as the defendant.

Police said last year that Cooper's mother, Greta Carter, called officers to her house because the boy was being disruptive. Two officers calmed the youth, then one left while the other stayed to write a report, police said.

Police said the boy again became disruptive and hit Mitter with a broom handle, which broke, and then came after him with the jagged end. They said the officer tried using pepper spray and then shot the boy in the shoulder when he approached him with the stick.

The family's attorney said bullet fragments lodged in the boy's heart and lung, and he died later that day.

The boy's mother, who said she witnessed the shooting, said her son "never put his hands" on the officer. She said the officer was antagonizing her son while she tried to stand between them, holding her young grandchild in her left arm.

"The officer was the aggressor," Carter said yesterday while sitting next to the boy's father, Lloyd Cooper, in their lawyer's office. "I hold the officer responsible because he was the aggressor, the antagonizer, the inciter."

During a news conference, a minister, the Rev. Roger Johnson, revealed that he had heard the encounter while talking with Carter on the phone. The parent's attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, said Johnson was not interviewed by police investigators.

"From what I heard on the other end of the telephone, [Kevin Cooper] was being intimidated, ridiculed," said Johnson, a pastor at the Pillar Worship Center in Southwest Baltimore. "I thought it was two teenagers going at each other. He didn't deserve that, and his family didn't deserve the treatment that he got."

Pettit said the boy never picked up a broom handle. The only item he might have had in his hand, at one point, was a plastic dustpan, but he didn't strike the officer with it, the lawyer said.

Matt Jablow, a city police spokesman, said Carter never told investigators that she had been on the phone with her pastor.

He declined to provide additional details about the incident and said the department was "confident" that it "will prevail in court."

Mitter was cleared of any criminal or administrative wrongdoing, and he has returned to duty in the Southwestern District, Jablow said.

In a Jan. 18 letter, Assistant State's Attorney Mark P. Cohen wrote to the department's homicide unit that "the shooting was justified because Officer Mitter reasonably believed he was in imminent danger of suffering great bodily harm or loss of life."

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