A Baltimore County police officer was indicted Wednesday in the death of a Randallstown teen, but the charges drew criticism from the boy's mother and the community, who continued calls for an outside investigation.
James D. Laboard, a nine-year veteran, faces charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter in the asphyxiation death of 17-year-old Christopher Brown, whom police said he chased after a group of teens threw a rock at his front door on June 13. Each count carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
The officer, who was off duty at the time of the fight, surrendered to authorities and was released on his own recognizance after a hearing in Circuit Court attended by relatives and police colleagues who testified on his behalf. He is suspended without pay.
The charges mark the first time in decades that a county officer has faced criminal accusations in an incident involving the fatal use of force. Police Chief James Johnson said he could recall no such charge in his 34 years with the department.
"This is a difficult day for the Baltimore County Police Department, and a tragic one for everyone involved," Johnson said in a statement. "[T]he evidence shows that at a moment during this altercation, Officer Laboard stepped beyond the scope of his employment. He, as well as the Brown family, deserved a thorough investigation of the facts, which we have conducted."
Christopher Brown's mother and other community leaders had become increasingly vocal in recent days, following the funeral for the Randallstown High School student, who died two weeks ago. At a community meeting this week, his mother, Chris Brown, called for swift action and said she believed Laboard was getting preferential treatment.
Chris Brown complained on Wednesday that she had expected a more serious charge.
"They're not trying to be fair," she told reporters. She plans to ask federal authorities to take the case. "It doesn't stop here," she said. She plans to hold a rally in protest outside the state's attorney's office in Towson on Monday.
At a news conference, Johnson commended Chris Brown for her courage. "We have assured her that this has been and will be a complete, fair and thorough investigation."
The law firm for the police union released a statement Wednesday saying that Laboard, assigned to the Woodlawn precinct, "acted in full accordance with his rights and responsibilities under the law" but that "the appropriate venue for obtaining the truth is in the courtroom."
State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said neither the fact that Laboard was a county police officer nor the public pressure affected the timing of the charges. A grand jury handed down the indictment Wednesday.
He met with Brown two days after her son's death and then again shortly before the indictment was announced. "Every time, we have assured her of a thorough, impartial investigation and we have kept our word," he said.
Shellenberger said it was county residents who served on the grand jury and made the determination that charges of manslaughter, which results from acting in a grossly negligent manner, were appropriate.
But Brown's attorney, Russell Neverdon, said he believes the case could have supported a second- or first-degree murder charge.
"The picture they are giving us is that we're clearly not dealing with the average citizen," he said. "It doesn't add up."
When he heard Laboard was released without having to post bail, which Neverdon said is unusual, he said, "It does add salt to the wound."
In court, Laboard stood without handcuffs in front of a Baltimore County judge, wearing a white T-shirt and khakis. He did not speak.
"It's a not a matter of leniency, it's a matter of what's appropriate," said Baltimore County Circuit Judge Jan Marshall Alexander at the hearing, explaining why no bail was required.
Prosecutor Robin Coffin said Laboard "has cooperated with the state and made himself available these last two weeks."