Police shooting goes to court

Grand jury hearing is set to start in case of man's Jan. death

July 15, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,Sun Reporter

A grand jury is scheduled to begin hearing witnesses today in a case involving a city police officer who fatally shot a man in Northeast Baltimore in January, according to a defense lawyer who represents officers for the Fraternal Order of Police union.

The Jan. 30 shooting prompted an outcry from the city's branch of the NAACP, which asked for an outside investigation into the circumstances of the shooting that killed 27-year-old Edward Lamont Hunt. His family has said he was unarmed when he was shot and police said they have not recovered a weapon.

Sterling Clifford, a police spokesman, said Officer Tommy Sanders III, a five-year veteran, was patrolling the Hamilton Park Shopping Center when he stopped Hunt for questioning. He said Hunt fought back and the officer feared for his safety when he fired. The police spokesman said police found suspected drugs on Hunt.

But witnesses have said that the officer searched Hunt and patted him down twice before Hunt broke away, and the officer fired, striking him in the back. Clifford declined to comment yesterday.

Michael E. Davey, the police union attorney representing Sanders, said little about the case. "We'll wait for the outcome of the grand jury," he said. Davey said that his client would not testify at the grand jury because prosecutors would not allow him to be questioned with his attorneys present.

Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office, declined to comment. Grand jury proceedings are confidential. The FBI also is investigating the shooting, and a spokeswoman from that agency said its probe was still continuing.

A. Dwight Pettit, an attorney representing Hunt's family, said that he'd heard that the state's attorney's office would convene a grand jury, but did not know the date. "I'm sure the family will be pleased to know of this development," he said.

Asked about the shooting three weeks ago at an NAACP meeting, Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said: "In regards to the police-involved shooting, all of those cases go the state's attorney's office. And I understand they are still considering the facts."

One witness to the shooting, Eddie Moore, 32, told The Sun that he was with his young daughter and watched the officer search Hunt twice, and make him put his hands on his head, before Hunt pulled away. "I could tell there was tension in the air," Moore said.

Then a few minutes later, he said the officer patted down Hunt's legs. The officer tried to cuff Hunt, but there was a struggle, Moore said. "The guy shook loose," Moore said, and then started to run away. "The officer said, 'Come back [expletive]. ... The officer was shooting with one hand."

Moore said he had been interviewed by homicide detectives and prosecutors, but had not been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury.

So far this year, city police have shot 16 people, killing 12. Last year, police shot 33 people, killing 13. In 2006, police shot 15 people, killing five.

Sgt. Stephen R. Pagotto, a city officer who shot and killed Preston E. Barnes in 1996, was indicted. He was convicted of manslaughter in 1997, but the conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeals, which concluded that the departmental guidelines he violated did not rise to the level of a criminal act.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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