Relatives of man shot by Baltimore police angry

Department spokesman defends calling dead man 'idiot'

March 24, 2010|By Peter Hermann | peter.hermann@baltsun.com

Relatives of the man who police say was killed by officers after he shot them said Tuesday that they know he had faults, but were offended that the city's police commissioner called him an idiot.

Thomas Tavon Miller's mother, grandmother and cousin complained in an interview that the 31-year-old man's criminal conduct rarely included violence and did not fit the profile of someone who would pull a gun on police officers.

"We know he's not perfect, but nobody is perfect in this world," said his cousin, Sherril Dawson.

Family members were outraged by the comments from Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. On television after officers Jordan Moore and Keith Romans were shot Sunday on McElderry Street, he called Miller an "idiot" and said shooting at police "defies logic."

"If I could meet the commissioner I'd punch him in the mouth," said Miller's 80-year-old grandmother, Daisy Dawson. "And I don't care where they'd lock me up. I'd leave my fist inside his mouth."

Police stood by the statement.

"People can form their own conclusions about someone who pulls out an illegal gun in an attempt to kill two police officers," said the department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi. "I think there are many people who feel that 'idiot' and 'moron' doesn't go far enough."

Relatives said they want answers to what happened when police said Miller grabbed a handgun and opened fire. But most of all, they want it known that Miller, a graduate of the former Lake Clifton High School, lived on East 25th Street with his two 2-year-old daughters and "had a family who misses him and who loved him," Dawson said.

His mother, Michele Dawson, 50, added: "Police killed my son, my one and only child."

When they released Miller's name Tuesday, police said he had no known address, though virtually every court record lists his residence at the family house on East 25th Street. "He lived here, he was not a bum," said his grandmother. "He cared about people. He was no killer."

Miller was most recently convicted of possessing marijuana in April 2008 and was fined $100. He was convicted in 1992 and 2002 of marijuana possession in Anne Arundel County, once serving two days in jail and the other time sentenced to probation. Other charges were dropped.

His most serious case was in Texas, where in 2002 he was convicted of felony drug possession of marijuana and was sentenced to three years in prison. His relatives said only that he took the trip there with a friend and got into trouble; details were not immediately available.

Baltimore police have said the shooting occurred when plainclothes officers stopped a maroon Chevrolet Caprice around 12:30 a.m. Sunday in the 2600 block of McElderry St. Authorities said the officers smelled marijuana in the car, ordered the three occupants out and began to search them. They said Miller broke free, jumped back into the car, grabbed a gun and opened fire on the officers.

Moore, 23, was struck in the hand and Romans, 34, in the face. Both were released Monday from Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Miller's relatives said that on Saturday afternoon Miller picked up medication for his grandmother from a drugstore and then went out again to celebrate with a friend whose girlfriend had given birth to a girl. That was the last time they saw him alive.

Family members questioned whether video surveillance cameras on McElderry Street captured the car stop and shooting, and asked whether the officers' short time on the force - each joined about a year ago - played a role in the shooting.

The cousin, Sherril Dawson, said the family believes that Miller either was not the shooter, or was provoked or cornered by police. "Something happened at that car door," she said.

Police did not release the names of the car's two other occupants because they did not file charges against them. Miller's mother, Michele Dawson, said she talked with them but thinks they are lying to avoid charges.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

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