Off-duty police officer kills man after dispute

Unarmed victim had grabbed the officer's female companion, police say

June 05, 2010|By Peter Hermann and Laura Vozzella, The Baltimore Sun

Tyrone Brown, a 32-year-old former Marine from East Baltimore, was out with his sister and her friend enjoying the Mount Vernon club scene early Saturday when he may have taken one of his trademark jokes too far. Glancing at a woman in an alley off East Eager Street, he put his hands on her behind.

Police said the woman's companion, an off-duty Baltimore police officer, got into an argument and physical confrontation with Brown after they left the club Eden's Lounge. His sister said there was no fight, and that her brother apologized and tried to walk away. What happened next is not in dispute — the officer pulled out his department-issued Glock handgun and fired at the unarmed Brown 13 times from just a few feet away.

Brown, struck at 1:30 a.m. by six bullets in the chest and groin, fell to the pavement and died 45 minutes later at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. The shooting by Gahiji A. Tshamba, a 15-year veteran of the city police force, has left his commanders publicly questioning whether the Eastern District patrol officer legitimately thought his life was in danger before firing.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, using unusually harsh language, said witnesses confirmed that Brown "groped the woman," but he also stressed that homicide detectives have "not been able to find a concrete motive" as to why Tshamba fired his weapon.

Police commanders said privately that they were troubled by Saturday's shooting, which took place near a rear door of Club Hippo. It raised numerous questions, they said, including whether the officer had been drinking and was impaired when he fired his gun, and why he did not call for help from the many on-duty officers stationed nearby.

Brown's father — one of many relatives and friends who gathered Saturday at an East Baltimore rowhouse the victim shared with his mother — said the shooting was unjustifiable. "He was in a situation where an apology should have been accepted," Reginald Dargan said. "It's a young kid — gone for nothing. It don't make no sense."

A department spokesman said Tshamba has been involved in at least one prior police-involved shooting. In 1998, he shot a man in the back during a foot chase, according to The Baltimore Sun's archives.

Baltimore police officers are generally required to carry their service weapons while on and off duty when they're within the city limits. There are no rules prohibiting officers from carrying guns into bars, but it is against department regulations to be intoxicated or inebriated while armed. Police officials said if an officer plans on drinking while off duty, common sense dictates leaving the gun secured and at home.

Guglielmi said the police commissioner was apprised of developments throughout the night and the commissioner ordered "his most trusted people" to ensure a thorough investigation.

The spokesman said the officer refused to make a statement and declined to submit to a breath test to determine whether he had been drinking alcohol or how much he had consumed.

Tshamba, who lives in Essex, could not be reached for comment. He is being represented by an attorney for the city's Fraternal Order of Police, whose president on Saturday urged the public to "not rush to any judgment."

Robert Cherry, the union head and a former homicide detective, said Tshamba plans to give a statement to investigators after consulting with his attorney. He is not required to say anything to investigators, as is the right of any person subjected to a criminal investigation.

"The officer has not yet had an opportunity to give his version of events," Cherry said. "There may be videos to review. There may be many more witnesses to interview. … The refusal by him to give a statement is not something that should raise people's concerns that he is trying to hide something."

A night out on the town brought Tshamba and Brown together early Saturday. Relatives and police said both men wound up at Eden's Lounge, though the owner denied that the officer had been in his club. Baltimore Police Maj. Terrence McLarney, head of the homicide unit, said there is no indication the two men met inside the establishment or knew each other.

It's unclear when each group left, but police said they were out by 1:30 a.m. and in a crowd of boisterous patrons spilling out of bars and nightclubs in the neighborhood known for late-night revelry. They found themselves in an alley off East Eager Street, near the back of Club Hippo.

Brown's sister, Chantay Kangalee, 30, of Baltimore County, said her brother put his hands on the behind of one of the women with the officer. "He was just joking," Kangalee said. "That was just my brother's sense of humor. I said, 'Stop that.' "

The woman he had grabbed also spoke up, Kangalee said: "She said, 'Don't do that. That's disrespectful.' He said, 'My bad.' And then we were about to turn and go to the car and she walked up and swung at him."

Then the officer stepped up, she said.

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