Tshamba guilty of manslaughter in shooting death of Marine veteran

Judge says city officer 'overreacted and in fact exacerbated this whole tragic' incident

June 09, 2011|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

A judge convicted Baltimore Officer Gahiji Tshamba on Thursday of voluntary manslaughter and a handgun violation in the shooting death of Tyrone Brown, a Marine veteran who was gunned down last year after a quarrel outside a city nightclub.

The officer could be sent to prison for up to 30 years when he is sentenced in August.

Defense attorney James L. Rhodes said he would appeal the ruling — a rare finding against a city officer — even as some of Tshamba's friends called it the fairest outcome given the circumstances, which left a father of two dead and an officer of 15 years disgraced.

"The court could not come to any other decision," said Constance Ellis, a friend of Tshamba's who watched the weeklong trial. "It's a tragic incident for everyone. It changed a lot of lives."

Others were less measured in their reaction . Brown's mother, Vivian Scott, said she forgave her son his faults, but she had no mercy for Tshamba. "Cops are not above the law," she said.

In a lengthy, five-page order read into the courtroom record, Circuit Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon said he found that Tshamba, 37, was under the influence of alcohol when he drew his weapon to defend a female friend's honor in the early morning hours of June 5, 2010 — a fatal mistake.

"He drew his gun when it was not at all necessary," Hargadon said in court, finding that Tshamba lied about the incident and never identified himself as an officer. "The defendant grossly overreacted and in fact exacerbated this whole tragic set of events."

Yet Hargadon also found that Tshamba was not the legal aggressor and that the officer was indeed afraid of Brown, a much bigger man, who set off the fateful chain of events by inappropriately groping a woman's buttocks after a night of drinking.

"The defendant was acting honestly, but unreasonably, in defense of himself," Hargadon said, rejecting harsher verdicts of first-degree and second-degree murder.

Assistant State's Attorney Kevin Wiggins, who prosecuted the case, called the verdict just. "A bad cop is now off the streets," he said, adding that Tshamba "does not represent the many men and women who risk their lives every day" to protect city citizens.

In his analysis, the judge visited the scene behind Red Maple lounge in Mount Vernon on Wednesday and considered the testimony of more than 20 witnesses. He also reviewed a portion of Brown's military medical records, which were entered into evidence Thursday morning by the defense, shortly before closing arguments.

Those records show that Brown, a former Marine who had served in Iraq and other war zones, had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. He had abused alcohol in the past and reacted violently toward others, including his wife and stepfather.

The defense offered the records to show that Brown had a history of volatility, but they successfully fought to exclude a similar history concerning Tshamba, who was disciplined in 2005 for drunken driving while off duty and shooting a man in the foot.

Hargadon presented his decision about 3 p.m. to a full courtroom of about 100 people — many of them curious law students and attorneys.

Tshamba's supporters sat on one side, behind the defense table, while Brown's friends and family were on the other. Both groups looked stricken, with members of each silently wiping away tears as Hargadon spoke.

His findings were largely based on the testimony of one woman, he said: Chantay Kangalee, Brown's sister.

She was called as a hostile witness for the defense to show that Tshamba was retreating as Brown advanced, which could be viewed as a defensive move. Yet she wound up making the state's case by proving to the judge that Tshamba overreacted and that her brother was trying to defuse the situation.

"Of all the witnesses who testified, her testimony was the most credible, and the court believes that her version of what occurred is in fact what did occur," Hargadon said, outright rejecting the statements of three other defense witnesses — all friends or acquaintances of Tshamba's.

Hargadon recounted what he believes occurred that morning:

Both men were out partying with friends — Brown was with his sister and two other women — when they collided as strangers in an alley parking lot behind Red Maple, where Brown "inappropriately" touched a woman.

That was the first of three acts of aggression that night, Hargadon found. The second came when Tshamba overreacted and drew his weapon and began waving it around, escalating the situation. And the third followed when Brown pushed the officer, making the Marine veteran the legal aggressor in the situation, the judge said.

After the shove, Tshamba taunted Brown to "do it again" and told him to get on the ground, but he never identified himself as an officer, Hargadon said. Brown moved to protect his sister and another woman from Tshamba, and began walking toward him with his hands up and out, trying to reason.

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