Police were still searching late Friday night for Baltimore police officer Gahiji A. Tshamba after obtaining a warrant charging him with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man outside a Mount Vernon club.
The charges come seven days after police say a night of clubbing ended with Tshamba's shooting former Marine Tyrone Brown nine times at close range. On Friday afternoon, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy met with senior prosecutors and authorized a warrant for his arrest.
Authorities attempted to negotiate a surrender with Tshamba's attorney, Adam Sean Cohen, but were not initially successful Friday evening. Police then authorized the Regional Warrant Apprehension Task Force to begin searching for the officer.
Police have said publicly that they have no credible evidence that explains Tshamba's actions in the shooting. Jessamy's office opted against the grand jury process in giving police the green light for a warrant.
Police and witnesses have said Brown, 32, inappropriately touched Tshamba's female companion as bars let out early June 5, angering the officer. Sources told The Baltimore Sun that Brown's arms were raised as Tshamba challenged him to "do it again" before emptying his Glock service weapon, firing 13 rounds.
Other witnesses who were with Tshamba that night told police that Brown shoved the off-duty officer and that Tshamba identified himself as a police officer and gave verbal commands to stop fighting. But police say that version of events is inconsistent with evidence recovered at the scene and other findings of the investigation.
Tshamba, a 15-year veteran, was not arrested at the scene. He refused a Breathalyzer test and has not given statements explaining his actions. He was stripped of his police powers and formally suspended Thursday; earlier in the week, he had checked in at the Eastern District, where he was assigned.
At the beginning of the week, detectives quickly handed their completed investigation to prosecutors, who reinterviewed witnesses and walked through the crime scene. But police grew impatient with the pace of the review as critics accused authorities of stalling or giving Tshamba preferential treatment.
Sources say Tshamba was not under surveillance but had been in touch with police and union officials as recently as Thursday.
Police and prosecutors would not comment on the charges or the search.
Word of the charges came on the same day a jury returned a not-guilty verdict against Officer Thomas Sanders, who had been charged with manslaughter in the killing of a man fleeing arrest in 2008. The jury deliberated for about three hours before reaching its verdict.
First-degree murder charges against police officers are rare. In 1995, Officer Joseph E. Reynolds was charged with killing his wife and a male friend outside a Harford Road social club while off duty. Hours after being arrested, he hanged himself in the city jail with a sheet.
Tshamba's shooting has prompted police to review their policy on requiring officers to carry their service weapons in bars. The department's rules require officers to carry their weapons while on and off duty in the city, except "when engaged in such activities that a prudent person would reasonably conclude the wearing of a firearm to be inappropriate."
The department's internal disciplinary procedures have also been under scrutiny after the disclosure that Tshamba had been involved in a prior off-duty shooting that involved alcohol.
In that shooting, which occurred in September 2005, Tshamba shot a man in the foot after getting into an altercation while driving drunk, records show. Tshamba said he followed a group of men who were harassing him and yelling racial epithets, and fired five shots, striking a juvenile, after they crashed their car into his and advanced on him. His blood-alcohol level registered 0.12 on a test, above the legal limit of 0.08. A source said Tshamba received an eight-day suspension.
He was also involved in another shooting, in 1998, that garnered him a departmental commendation. Officers described Tshamba as a likable, respected officer who acted as the officer in charge of his squad when the supervisor was unavailable.
Last Saturday's shooting occurred about 1:30 a.m. in an alley off East Eager Street, an area of upscale clubs and bars. Brown's sister, Chantay Kangalee, 30, said her brother put his hands on the rear of one of the women with the officer.
The woman swung at Brown, and Brown caught her arm. That's when Tshamba, wearing a white shirt and jeans, pulled his service weapon and pointed it at Brown, challenging him to "do it again," according to Kangalee and other witnesses.