City officer had earlier alcohol-related shooting

Fifteen-year veteran accused in nightclub death was cited in 2005 for shooting a man while intoxicated

June 06, 2010|By Robert Little, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore police officer suspected of killing a man behind a Mount Vernon club early Saturday after a night of revelry was disciplined by the city Police Department five years ago for shooting a man while intoxicated.

Gahiji A. Tshamba, a 15-year veteran of the police force, shot a man in the foot after an off-duty confrontation outside a bar or restaurant in September 2005, a police spokesman said. Investigators and prosecutors determined that the shooting was justified, but Tshamba was disciplined internally because he was under the influence of alcohol at the time.

Police detectives are trying to determine whether Tshamba, 36, was under the influence early Saturday morning when he fired his department-issued weapon 13 times at an unarmed man. Tyrone Brown, a 32-year-old former Marine from East Baltimore, was hit six times in the chest and groin and died less than an hour later.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said detectives from the homicide division were interviewing employees of the Club Hippo, Eden's Lounge and other Mount Vernon clubs in an effort to learn more about Tshamba's activities in the hours before the shooting, which happened at 1:30 a.m. outside the Hippo's rear door. Tshamba declined to take a breath test to determine whether he had been drinking.

Detectives also are exploring a confrontation between Brown and Tshamba that preceded the killing. Witnesses say Brown touched a woman who was accompanying Tshamba, setting off the violent final minutes in an alley off East Eager Street that led to Brown's death. Attempts to reach Tshamba or an attorney representing him Sunday were unsuccessful.

"We need to give homicide a chance to do what they do before we can tell you more," Guglielmi said. "They're exploring all of these things."

No charges have been filed against Tshamba, who was placed on paid administrative duty while Saturday's shooting is investigated.

Guglielmi said the 2005 incident occurred at night as Tshamba was leaving a Baltimore bar or restaurant. He did not know the precise location. A group of white men confronted the off-duty officer, who is black, and began shouting racial slurs. At least one man threw a bottle at Tshamba's car, Guglielmi said.

At some point, the men struck Tshamba's car with their car and began advancing toward the officer. Guglielmi said Tshamba then identified himself as a police officer and drew his weapon; when the men continued to advance, he shot one of them in the foot. The injury was not life-threatening, and Guglielmi said he was not certain whether more than one shot was fired.

Prosecutors and investigators determined that the shooting was justified because Tshamba was being threatened, and no criminal charges were filed, Guglielmi said. However, an internal sanction was entered against Tshamba in his personnel file because he had been drinking. Guglielmi was not sure what type of disciplinary action was taken, only that a misconduct charge was sustained against Tshamba "for having a gun while intoxicated."

City police officers are generally required to carry their service weapons when they are off duty inside the city limits, but it is against department regulations to be intoxicated while armed.

The shooting five years ago was not Tshamba's first. In July 1998 he shot an armed-robbery suspect after a foot chase.

In the initial account from police, an off-duty officer chasing another suspect in the incident fired his weapon and missed, leading Tshamba to believe the suspect he was chasing had opened fire. Tshamba then shot the suspect in the back.

But the off-duty officer, Dino Gregory, a 19-year veteran of the force, called a Baltimore Sun reporter Sunday and described a different scenario, saying Tshamba "saved my life" by shooting the suspect.

In Gregory's account, he was driving through East Baltimore while off duty when he spotted Tshamba, who was on patrol, and stopped to chat. A man then ran up to Tshamba's cruiser and said two armed men were holding up a victim a block away.

Both officers drove to the scene, and Tshamba chased one of the gunmen while the second snuck around Gregory's car and pointed a gun at him, Gregory recounted. He said Tshamba saw what happened, retreated and shot the man once in the back.

"The man fell to the pavement still clutching his silver-colored gun," Gregory said. "Officer Tshamba had to pry the gun out of the wounded man's hands. I remember it like it was yesterday. He saved my life."

In March 1999, the Baltimore Police Department awarded Tshamba a bronze star for meritorious performance. It could not be determined over the weekend whether that award was for the shooting in 1998.

Tshamba was also in the news in 2001, when he arrested a woman after a routine traffic stop and sent her to the city's Central Booking and Intake Center, where she was subjected to a strip search.

According to a complaint filed against Tshamba in state and federal courts, he stopped the woman, Bridgette Renee Watson, for allegedly making an unsafe lane change on East Madison Street, then made her wait 15 minutes while another officer brought him a citation book. Tshamba issued Watson tickets for the lane change, speeding, and for playing her radio too loudly while she waited for him to write the tickets. He then arrested her for allegedly signing the tickets improperly.

All the tickets were thrown out in court, and Watson reached an undisclosed civil settlement with the city in 2005.

Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

robert.little@baltsun.com

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