Questions arise over officer who says he was shot in garage

Officer maintains he's telling truth

  • Law enforcement personnel gather for the funeral of Baltimore Officer William H. Torbit Jr. on Wednesday at The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.
Law enforcement personnel gather for the funeral of Baltimore… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
January 21, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Four days after a homicide detective was shot in a downtown Baltimore parking garage, police are still searching for a gunman, even as they say they are also investigating whether the officer accidentally fired his weapon and made up a story about a gunfight.

A police spokesman said Friday that detectives are reviewing tapes from up to 20 surveillance cameras in the garage on South Frederick Street, a block from police headquarters, and sorting through other evidence.

The injured officer, Detective Anthony N. Fata, told detectives he was retrieving running shoes from the trunk of his car Tuesday night and saw a man with a small black revolver in a second-floor stairwell. He said the two exchanged fire and the gunman fled.

A department spokesman said the bullet that grazed the officer's left thigh has been recovered and is being examined to determine whether it came from his .40-caliber Glock handgun or another weapon. Whether the round can be matched to a gun depends on its condition; it could have shattered after grazing the officer and hitting the concrete walls of the stairwell.

"There is no evidence that supports that it's an accidental discharge or to contradict it," said the chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, adding that no scenario is being discounted. "Unless we have evidence to indicate otherwise, this is actively being investigated as a police-involved shooting.

But, said Guglielmi, "the jury is still out. We're awaiting the results of ballistic tests. He is a police officer. We have no reason to doubt his account of what happened. However, if evidence shows that his account is not supported by the facts, you can rest assured that the police commissioner will hold him accountable. It would be a betrayal of the public trust."

Fata, a 13-year veteran, declined to comment when reached by telephone Thursday at his home in Pennsylvania. The detective, who is now on desk duty, was one of two officers suspended from the force in 2002 after a video caught police removing their badges and assaulting spectators at the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course.

Michael Davey, an attorney with the Fraternal Order of Police union who is representing Fata, said his client "did not accidentally shoot himself. … The facts that he gave the Police Department on the night in question are true and accurate. He was shot at, and he returned fire."

Davey said Fata is "not someone who would just make up a version of facts because of an accidental discharge. Physically, he is doing fine, however he is upset with the negative publicity and the questioning of his integrity."

Police said they have not taken anyone into custody in the incident, nor have they found another weapon. Authorities said they have recovered bullet casings from the scene. Officers carry semiautomatic handguns that expel casings; revolvers do not leave casings behind.

Police note that ballistics — once tests are completed and if they are successful — should confirm whether Fata was shot with his gun or someone else's. Officials would not say how many rounds were fired from Fata's gun.

Guglielmi said laboratory technicians also are testing Fata's clothes for gunpowder residue to determine whether any patterns can help resolve the issue. He said two people apparently heard at least one gunshot; detectives are talking to them and looking for anyone else who might have been in the garage at the time.

The spokesman said Fata provided a description of the man he said shot at him: a black male in his 40s, with a dark complexion, full beard and deep-set eyes, standing 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall. The detective said he was wearing a dark hooded sweat shirt and an '80s-style jean jacket.

Authorities also are looking at tape from surveillance cameras, but the detective's attorney, Davey, said that as many as half the cameras inside the garage don't work and others don't cover the area where the officer was standing.

"There are a number of ways to enter and exit that parking garage that would not be captured on any film," Davey said. "The mere fact that a suspect does not appear on the limited cameras would not be unusual."

City police devote immense resources to officers shot in the line of duty. Dozens of police officers swarmed the area of the shooting and spent hours searching for a potential suspect and a weapon.

Police shut down the garage, and department commanders, including the head of the homicide unit, responded, along with police union representatives and their attorneys. Officers are typically dispatched to pick up their wounded colleague's relatives and get them to the hospital; in this case, Fata's wife drove herself to Baltimore from Gettysburg.

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