The officers' boss at the time was Sgt. Terrency McLarney, who told The Sun in 1984 that "it's just fortunate that no one was killed" and "we're probably lucky it doesn't happen more often." McLarney is now a major in charge of the department's homicide division and is heading the investigation into Torbit's killing.
The last fatal police-on-police shooting in Baltimore occurred in 1926 when a patrolman was shot inside a dark Mount Washington church by two undercover officers. The pair had been detailed to investigate a series of thefts from a poorbox at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, and opened fire when they saw the suspect. Patrolman Henry Sudmeier was in the area and responded to the shots. When he shined his flashlight, the officers mistook him for the thief and shot him.
Sudmeier survived, paralyzed from the waist down, but succumbed to his injuries eight years later.
While police say there have been close calls, no other officers in Baltimore have been killed in a mistaken-identity situation.
Torbit, a plainclothes officer working in the Central District, responded to assist officers dealing with an unruly crowd. Witnesses told The Sun that Torbit was swallowed up by the crowd and was being attacked, and police believe Torbit fired his weapon as many as eight times at Gamble, fatally striking him in the chest.
At least two officers responded to the gunfire, and police say five officers in all — including Torbit — fired 41 rounds. One source who viewed a surveillance video said the entire incident transpired in a span of about 15 seconds.
The actions of the officers who fired are being scrutinized, but Stone said Torbit's decision to fire must be examined as well.
"These things happen in just a matter of seconds," Stone said. "Almost always there are mistakes made on every side. It's very hard to talk about mistakes made by someone who was killed in a tragedy like this, but we have to look at protocols on every side."
For now, Baltimore's shift to put plainclothes officers in uniform or jackets is temporary. Across the country, fatal shootings of police have exposed gaps in protocols and led to changes. After a series of shootings of off-duty officers in the past decade, some departments began scaling back their policies of requiring officers to carry their weapons while off the clock.
• Providence, R.I., police made it optional for off-duty officers to carry weapons after a police sergeant was killed in 2000 while trying to break up a fight. The officer's family, who unsuccessfully sought $20 million in a civil rights lawsuit, said the officer who shot him was inadequately trained to recognize off-duty or plainclothes officers.
•In 2005, an undercover University of Central Florida campus police officer, Mario Roberto Jenkins, was shot by an Orlando police officer three times in the back when he pulled a gun on two men who ran from him during a sting operation at a college football game to curb underage drinking.
State investigators released a report that showed Jenkins had no radio to call for help, and no pepper spray, Taser or baton to use instead of a gun. UCF police, Orlando police and the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco did not coordinate before the game to allow officers to meet one another. The incident led to changes in UCF game-day police operations, including a shift away from the use of plainclothes officers.
•A plainclothes officer in Norfolk, Va., Seneca Darden, was fatally shot by a uniformed officer in the chaotic aftermath of a double shooting at a housing complex in 2006. Darden was shot six times by Officer Gordon Barry, who came upon Darden while he was pointing his service weapon at a highly agitated civilian.
A probe launched by Virginia State Police the next day eventually cleared Barry, finding that he feared for his safety and that he had reportedly told Darden eight times to drop his weapon.
Norfolk police still use plainclothes details, but now those officers are supposed to wear a raid jacket emblazoned with "police" before venturing into hostile situations, said Norfolk police spokesman Officer Chris Amos. He said it's also drilled into plainclothes officers that they shouldn't assume that uniformed police will realize they are officers.
"In 99 out of 100 situations," Amos said, "there is ample time for somebody to throw on a raid jacket before they step into the fray, and there will be absolutely no question — everybody will know."
Edward T. Norris, a former Baltimore police commissioner and New York police commander, said that in New York the department used a "color of the day" to identify nonuniformed officers. It changed every day at 7 a.m., and beat officers were required to write it down in their notebooks at the start of each shift. Plainclothes and undercover officers were required to display it or wave it in situations in which uniformed officers were responding.