Officer force found justified

No charges brought in shooting at senior complex in Columbia

July 10, 2008|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,SUN REPORTER

No charges will be filed against the police officer who shot a 62-year-old Columbia woman in April after she is said to have lunged at his partner with a foot-long knife, the Howard County state's attorney's office said yesterday.

The officer "was justified in his use of deadly force given the facts and circumstances," Howard County State's Attorney Dario Broccolino wrote in a memo to Police Chief William J. McMahon.

According to police and charging documents, police responded to a disturbance at a senior citizen apartment complex in Columbia during the late afternoon of April 30. A property manager had called to report that a resident, Pearl Wardell Harris, was making verbal threats against other residents. Harris also made threats against her husband, Bobby Harris, though he told The Sun later that he was not at his wife's apartment at the time of the incident.

Pfc. Mark Baxter and Officer Matthew Mehrer, who was in field training at the time, responded to the complex, Park View at Snowden River. When the officers arrived, police said, they confronted Harris, who was "acting erratically" in the hallway outside her apartment.

According to charging documents, Harris went into her bedroom and retrieved a large kitchen knife. She backed Mehrer into the corner of the living room and lunged at him, the documents state.

Baxter, who has been with the department since 2001, ordered Harris to drop the knife. When she refused, Baxter shot her in the hip, according to the documents.

When interviewed by police at the hospital where she was taken after the shooting, Harris said she was trying to kill the officers, the documents state.

"This finding reinforced that our officers acted appropriately when faced with a serious threat," McMahon said in a statement released yesterday. "While the Police Department is still finishing the administrative review, we have every reason to believe that the findings will echo those in the criminal review."

Last month, a grand jury indicted Harris on charges of attempted first- and second-degree murder, first-degree assault and reckless endangerment. A judge ordered that she undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Bobby Harris said that his wife has a history of mental illness. The incident was one of two police-involved shootings in Howard County in a month. On April 8, an undercover narcotics officer accidentally fired his gun while stepping out of his car to confront two teenagers suspected of drug dealing, striking both of them with a single bullet, according to police.

Attorneys for the teenagers said they have been told by prosecutors that the boys will not be charged in that case.

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

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