Police pleaded with man to drop knife before shooting at behavioral health clinic, body camera footage shows

Baltimore Police officers who shot a man holding a knife in a University of Maryland Medical Center behavioral health clinic last week pleaded with him dozens of times to drop the weapon as he threw chairs, ordered them to shoot him and finally charged at the officers, body camera footage shows.

The 27-year-old man is in stable condition and is expected to survive his injuries, police said Tuesday. Officer Epifano Torres Jr., a six-year city veteran of the force, and Officer Tankeisha Cokely, a five-year veteran, shot the man in the upper body and leg about 1:25 p.m. Thursday in a fifth-floor waiting room at the clinic at 701 W. Pratt St., according to police.

The Police Department declined to name the man or publicly release body camera footage of the shooting, citing privacy concerns; he is not being charged in the incident. But the department allowed members of the media to view the roughly 14 minutes of Torres’ camera footage in order to describe the event.

The footage depicts a tense waiting room standoff, the man with a knife in his right hand and holding — then throwing — a series of chairs at the officers with his left.

“Go ’head, shoot me,” the man tells the officers several times.

“We don’t want to,” Torres responds, with his gun drawn. “We want to help you.”

“I don’t want no help,” the man replies.

The man paces in the waiting room for much of the video, looking from officer to officer in the hallway as they ask him to put down the knife, sit down and talk to them. He starts toward the officers several times, prompting them to raise their weapons and their voices. He knocks his fist on the window at one point.

“Let’s do this, yo,” he says.

“Let’s not do this,” Torres responds. “Sir, drop the knife and let’s talk. … Let us help you.”

“Somebody going down,” the man tells the officers. “I’ve had a rough life. You know what I’ve been through?”

In another attempt to calm him down, Torres tries to introduce himself to the man, asking his name, and saying, “Nobody’s coming at you.”

A few moments later, Torres tries a different tack: “Let’s talk this out like men.”

As the man slowly advances with the knife and a chair, the officers discuss whether to use a Taser.

“Too close quarters,” Torres says. “I’m not going to my Taser.”

“I have mine,” another responds.

“I’m lethal,” Torres says, referring to his gun.

Moments later, the man raises the chair in both hands, the knife still in his right hand, and charges in Torres’ direction. The officers fire their guns and taser, and he falls to the ground.

Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle, speaking from the podium after showing the video, said he did not want to “Monday-morning quarterback” his officers, and supported their actions. He said the footage likely would be used in training officers in the future.

“Look, at the end of the day, if we could have used the Taser and dispatched the situation, that would have been the preference,” Tuggle said. “However, as you can see, this individual, who was clearly in the throes of a behavioral health crisis, was dangerous.”

Tuggle noted the officers’ repeated pleas for the man to drop the knife, the several thrown chairs and the moves he made toward them.

“The level of restraint they used, as you could see, was really remarkable,” Tuggle said.

In the video, Torres radios for a medic while the standoff is still underway, a move Tuggle praised.

The incident is being investigated by the department’s Special Incident Response Team, which reviews all police shootings, as well as the Department of Justice’s Consent Decree Monitoring team.

Torres and Cokely are on routine administrative duty pending the investigation, per departmental policy.

Police also released the names of two officers involved in shootings this year, Officer Carlos Rivera-Martinez, of the Central District patrol, who was involved in a Jan. 22 incident, and Officer Ian Smith, of the Northwest District patrol, who fatally shot Billy L. Rucker of Southwest Baltimore after police say he fired at the officer.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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