Officer Alters Story

Case Dropped

Man Allegedly Tried To Disarm Policewoman

Shooting Was 2nd Involving Her In 4 Years

August 05, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

A man who was jailed without bail for months because a Baltimore police officer said he tried to disarm her was set free Tuesday after Officer Traci L. McKissick changed her story during emotional courtroom testimony.

Earlier this year, McKissick told prosecutors that Joseph A. Forrest was the man who stepped on her hand as she held a gun and wrestled with Forrest's 61-year-old uncle, who was killed by police during an altercation in February.

But in court last week, McKissick referred to the person who tried to get her gun only as the "mystery man" and "the voice."

That discrepancy and others, including questions of where the man was standing and how she recognized him, led prosecutors to dismiss the case, said Deputy State's Attorney Cynthia Jones.

The incident was the second time in four years that McKissick fought with a suspect for her gun and the weapon discharged.

In 2005, a man suspected of possessing drugs tried to flee, taking off in his car. McKissick jumped into the passenger seat and the two fought, her weapon firing before the suspect seized it and threw it out a window.

He was charged with disarming an officer, among other offenses.

But that case, like this one, was dropped because of evidence problems.

Attempts to reach McKissick on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

"Her testimony on this was horrible, it was all contradictory," defense attorney Warren A. Brown said yesterday, referring to the Forrest case. He ticked off a list of what he said were conflicting statements, including the number of times McKissick discharged her weapon.

Brown represented the 2005 suspect as well as the 45-year-old Forrest and says both cases involved inconsistent statements by McKissick.

McKissick could not be reached, but police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said she has a clean personnel file with no sanctions.

He couldn't immediately say on Tuesday whether the department would review her testimony in Forrest's case, and the state's attorney's office declined to comment on whether McKissick could be included on the "do not call" list of unreliable officers.

Meanwhile, Forrest and his family are struggling with the aftermath of that winter day, which started with a pleasant family gathering and ended with one relative dead and another jailed pending trial, about to lose his barbershop and custody of his newborn baby because of the incarceration.

Family plans to sue

The family plans to sue both the Police Department and the state's attorney's office for false arrest and malicious prosecution.

"Somebody should be accountable for it," said Robert Forrest, a cousin who came from Melville, N.J., for the trial.

"They took a lot from our family," he said, calling his uncle, also named Joseph Forrest, "a great man."

Forrest's family claims McKissick was wildly unprofessional and dangerous when she came to the home, leading to their relative's death. McKissick says she was under attack and defending herself and her weapon.

In her testimony last week, a recording of which was reviewed by The Baltimore Sun, she said she and another officer responded to a breaking and entering call and found the Forrest family mildly distraught over an argument between the elder Joseph Forrest and his daughter.

The situation quickly and politely seemed to defuse and the officers left.

But later, a fight broke out, and police returned.

McKissick said in court that things got heated, and the family screamed at her, so she left the rowhouse to lower the tension. She spotted the elder Joseph Forrest outside, allegedly threatening his daughter at her nearby house. Forrest then walked toward McKissick, she said, and raised his arm as if to hit her. She sprayed him with mace, and he grabbed her shirt and held on.

She unholstered her gun and threatened to shoot him if he didn't let go. He wrestled her to the ground, she said.

"I was scared, I thought he was gonna get my gun," McKissick testified. "I thought I was going to die. I was fighting to live."

The elder Joseph Forrest called for someone to shoot her before she killed him. A man appeared and stepped on McKissick's hand with a Nike sneaker (McKissick said she could see the brand's trademark "swoosh.")

The person then came around behind her and said, "I'm just trying to help you, just give me the gun," she said.

She added that she told the "mystery person" she would shoot him too, and the person disappeared.

A fatal shooting

Other officers arrived, and one shot the 61-year-old in the chest, then McKissick unloaded her firearm into his right thigh. He died shortly after. Those shootings are under review by the state's attorney's office, Jones said.

The large Forrest family - the elder Joseph Forrest was one of 15 children - tells a different story, claiming that the officer was rude and that she misunderstood the relationship between the older man and his daughter, who were often at each other's throats one day, and "buddy buddy" the next.

"He was a beautiful guy, he was a peaceful man," said his sister, Greta Forrest.

Slight and sickly

At 120 pounds, he was a slight man, similar in size to the slender McKissick. But he was sickly and often short of breath from heart disease medication. He couldn't overpower anyone, his family said.

McKissick testified that her body felt like Jell-O at the end of the fight. She remembered telling a superior how she held on to her gun and did not let him get it. And then she paused, and a small sob broke free. She was unable to continue.

"She had us crying too," said Sandra Pierce, another of the elder Forrest's siblings, "because she was lying."

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