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Death of teen in fight with officer ruled homicide by asphyxiation

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.

Anderson, the pastor, said Christopher was part of his church's youth ministry and served as a junior usher for the past several years. "He was a real nice guy, kind of soft-spoken. He was athletic."

He described Christopher as "a typical kid. He didn't always do things right, like a normal teenager, but he wasn't one to be in trouble with the law."

Albert Howard, a physical education teacher at Randallstown High who taught Brown this school year, said he was shocked when he heard the news of the teen's death.

Teachers see "some kids living on the edge, taking chances," and kids at the school have died in years past after being shot or getting into trouble, Howard said.

But Brown wasn't the type of kid who "shook the dice" by living a dangerous life, Howard said.

"He was a fun-loving kid, nothing malicious about the kid, very respectful."

He said Brown was a promising athlete who, at about 5 feet 10 inches and 175 pounds, "definitely figured in the plans for the future of the Randallstown football program."

Howard had invited Brown to the Coppin State football camp this weekend to keep him involved and thinking about the game through his injury.

Ray Wright, one of the high school's football coaches, said Brown had a "promising future" and was voted one of the junior varsity football team's "Unsung Heroes" this season because he played so many positions.

The school's varsity football coach, William Crawford, said he planned to use Brown as the team's starting center and long snapper.

Crawford said many players on the school's junior varsity football team had taken the news hard. Some didn't show up to a seven-on-seven interschool football tournament at Franklin High School on Thursday night, while others seemed distracted on the field, he said.

"They took it really hard," Crawford said. "It's affecting them mentally."

After the altercation described by police, a neighbor called 911 about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, and said a police officer was calling for help on her front lawn in the 4000 block of Starbrook Road.

Neighbors along Starbrook Road said they were alarmed Wednesday night by a number of police cars blocking the street and a helicopter hovering overhead.

"The whole block was filled up," said Charles Preston, who lives across from where Brown was found in front of a small ranch-style home.

Jerry Stamper, 58, who was gone overnight, said he began receiving texts from neighbors saying a teen had died on the street.

He returned Thursday morning to find TV trucks rolling down his street, he said, a scene he described as "the most traffic we've seen."

After the altercation, Christopher Brown was taken to Northwest Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Chris Brown said Thursday afternoon that she had not been allowed to see her son's body, and that police identified him independently, simply notifying her he was dead.

"I'm just not sure if I will ever get the answers," she said.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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