Death of teen in fight with officer ruled homicide by asphyxiation

No charges filed; 17-year-old said to be in group that threw rock at door

  • This is a family photo of Chris Brown, a 17 year old Randallstown High School ROTC student, who died after a dispute with an off-duty Baltimore county police officer.
This is a family photo of Chris Brown, a 17 year old Randallstown… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
June 14, 2012|By Jessica Anderson, Kevin Rector and Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

An off-duty Baltimore County police officer chased down a 17-year-old Randallstown High School student and killed him during an altercation Wednesday night, police said, after a group of youths threw a rock at the front door of the officer's home.

The killing of Christopher Brown of the 3900 block of Carthage Road has been ruled by the state medical examiner as a homicide by asphyxiation. No charges have been filed against the officer, James D. LaBoard, though the investigation continues.

Brown's mother and pastor are demanding answers about how an apparent act of neighborhood mischief resulted in death of the high school football player and church usher at the hands of a police officer.

"My greatest interest right now is to try and minister and comfort the family," said the Rev. Robert J. Anderson of Colonial Baptist Church. "But it's also to get the truth. … It's disconcerting when someone breaks your window or door, but it's certainly not a death warrant. There's a lot of suspicious things out there to me."

Authorities said there is no indication that the officer and victim had known each other or had prior contact, while neighbors wondered what had happened on the small collection of streets with modest single-family homes in this community.

Police called to the scene said they found the officer administering CPR to the teen, who was on the ground, unconscious.

The teen's mother, Chris Brown, said she has been given few details by police. "I'm hearing all kinds of stuff," she said. "All I want to do is actually get to the bottom of what went down," she said.

No one answered the door at the police officer's house on quiet, winding Susanna Road in Randallstown — just a few blocks from the Browns' home — where kids rode on their bikes nearby and a neighbor mowed his lawn Thursday afternoon.

County authorities refused to identify the officer, but police officers union attorney Michael Davey confirmed that LaBoard was the target of the investigation.

Police said that after an investigation county prosecutors will determine whether the killing was justified. Another investigation by the Baltimore County police Internal Affairs Division will follow. It's not clear whether the teens had specifically targeted the officer's home, and police offered no information on other people who might have been involved.

The 31-year-old LaBoard, who joined the county force in 2002, has been put on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Davey, with the law firm of Schlachman, Belsky and Weiner, said he had no comment as the investigation unfolds.

"We'll work with Baltimore County as much as we can," he said.

Capt. Andre K. Davis, LaBoard's precinct commander in Woodlawn, also declined to comment.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said in an email that his office "will have no comment until the investigation is complete, a final autopsy is released and the office has an opportunity to review the entire matter."

The officer was at home when he heard a loud bang and upon investigation saw that his front door had been damaged, police said. He saw three or four people running from his home and chased them.

The off-duty officer chased one teen, police said, running between houses and across lawns for several blocks and emerging on Starbrook Road, where the officer heard the teen in the bushes and ordered him to come out.

Brown refused and the officer reached into the bushes and pulled him out. "A physical fight ensued, and at some point the suspect fell unconscious," police said in a statement.

Chris Brown said she does see why the situation escalated to the point that it did.

"I just truly believe that there's better ways of handling anger or a bad situation," she said.

Her son, a rising junior, had torn his anterior cruciate ligament during his most recent wrestling season and had been wearing a leg brace for the past two months. Christopher shouldn't have been running, his mother said.

He had told her two weeks ago about other kids in the neighborhood throwing rocks at houses and was upset about it, she said.

Christopher Brown has no adult criminal history listed in state records.

In the past weeks, her son exercised his injured leg by walking around the neighborhood, Chris Brown said, and she believes he just got caught up at the scene — hampered from fleeing by his brace — after other kids threw rocks.

"He took matters into his own hands — all the way," Brown said, referring to the officer. "He didn't get taken to the hospital, but my son did."

Brown said her son was a good kid who helped out at church. She had made an effort to keep him active with sports and not roaming the streets with other neighborhood kids. He also played lacrosse and was a member of his school's ROTC.

"I didn't want him to be caught up in the city life," she said.

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