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Officer in shooting led turbulent life

Facing a possible arrest over the fatal shooting of an unarmed former Marine after a night of club-hopping, Baltimore Police Officer Gahiji A. Tshamba continues to pop in to the Eastern District station where he worked for years.

Here, the 15-year veteran is among friends and colleagues, known not as a killer enraged by slights over a woman but as the quiet, studious-looking officer who, as one colleague put it, would "do anything to help you."

His visits to the Edison Highway station have been brief. Relieved of his gun and badge, his arrest powers suspended, he is, fellow officers said, pondering his next steps — and the possibility of going to jail.

Tshamba has not spoken publicly since the Saturday shooting in the bar district, and no family members or friends have shared details about the night in question or events that led to it.

Still, his life is receiving intense scrutiny. Court records and police investigative reports reveal a troubled past in which Tshamba has trod to the financial brink and managed to skirt serious discipline for questionable conduct.

He has faced civil lawsuits over paternity, child support and unpaid back rent.

His wages have been garnished, and he has declared bankruptcy.

Women, bank creditors, a landlord and a gas-station owner have chased or are still chasing him for what they claim are unpaid debts.

Fellow officers describe Tshamba as quiet, experienced and reliable — the one who taught young officers in the Eastern how to file reports and handle calls, the one placed in charge when the sergeant was absent.

"That's why I'm quite shocked to hear this happened," said a police officer who requested anonymity because department rules forbid talking to the news media without permission from top commanders. "He's really a very, very likable guy."

But his most serious professional troubles stem from late-night encounters following alcohol use. Police say they are trying to determine whether a potent combination of booze and weaponry contributed to a loss of control when Tyrone Brown was shot nine times outside a bar early Saturday after he patted the rear end of the officer's female companion.

As city police privately press prosecutors to quickly charge Tshamba in the shooting, high-level police officials are also raising questions about whether he should have been allowed to remain on the force after a 2005 incident in which he was off-duty and driving drunk when he shot a man in the foot after an altercation.

Police ruled the shooting justified and according to a department source suspended him for eight days — resulting in seven days' lost pay — for using his gun while impaired.

A rowhouse with flowers

Tshamba, a reserved and smallish man who in photographs looks more like an R&B singer than a streetwise officer, grew up in the Baltimore area and has three siblings, including twin brothers, records indicate. No one responded when reporters visited their homes, scattered from North Baltimore's Winston-Gardens to Bolton Hill. They and others, including the father's ex-wife, who lives in Woodlawn, did not respond to interview requests.

Public records for family members point back to the same three-story brick rowhouse on West North Avenue owned by Kaleb Tshamba, identified in a court divorce file as the officer's 60-year-old father. Virtually every relative has listed that address as a residence at one time or another over the past decade. The home appears occupied, but nobody has answered the door on repeated visits or responded to notes requesting interviews.

Plants hang in the windows and flowers bloom in a pot outside. A sign in the window warns: "No loitering or sitting on the steps. Will result in your arrest. By order of the Baltimore Police Department."

The home's answering machine asks callers to leave a message if they want to schedule an event at the Arch Social Club, located a few blocks to the east at West North and Pennsylvania avenues. Founded in 1912, it is one of the city's oldest African-American clubs and was once a venue for famous jazz musicians.

Kaleb Tshamba keeps a poetry journal on an Internet site called ChickenBones, described as a literary publication of African-American themes. The elder Tshamba has written a lengthy personal history describing growing up in southern Baltimore's Westport public housing developments and being one of the first black families there in 1956.

He writes about racism at the hands of white police officers in the 1950s and 1960s, and of working for a defunct glass company after graduating from Edmondson High School.

In the late 1970s, the father writes, he became a "full-fledged social conscious political poet" who spoke at demonstrations outside Baltimore prisons, City Hall, the State House, churches and universities. His personal history does not contain any references to family or to his son the police officer.

Unpaid debts

The eldest of Kaleb's four sons, Gahiji Tshamba graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in 1992. His yearbook contains a photo but doesn't mention him as a member of any clubs or groups.

Records show numerous problems in his personal life.

In 2001, a woman with whom the officer had a relationship claimed in a lawsuit that he was the father of a child born in 1996, but a blood test showed otherwise. The officer declared personal bankruptcy in 2002. The case file is in archives, but records show that one creditor, Chase Bank, pursued the officer in Baltimore County Circuit Court and won a judgment of $8,230. The officer's wages were garnished to pay the outstanding bill.

In 2007, a woman alleged that he fell behind in child support payments for his 1-year-old son. A judge ordered that $660 be deducted from Tshamba's pay each month. His salary in fiscal 2008 was $60,429 but was reduced to $55,032 because of various court-ordered withdrawals.

It is unclear where Tshamba lives now. From 2000 to 2008, he was charged $293 a month for rent at the Queens Purchase apartment complex in Essex. The management company says he moved out in July 2008 while still owing $2,465.66. They sued him in Baltimore District Court and included pictures of damage to carpets and the bathroom, as well as trash bags, a television and a dresser piled by a back sliding door. The case is pending.

Tshamba joined the Baltimore Police Department in August 1994. From all accounts, his first years on the force were smooth and uneventful. He was awarded a Bronze Star for meritorious service in connection with a shooting in 1998. Though accounts from police differ as to precisely what occurred, it appears that Tshamba saved the life of a police officer.

Officer Dino Gregory Sr., off-duty, dressed in a T-shirt and shorts and carrying a fanny pack with his gun and badge, spotted Tshamba patrolling an East Baltimore street on a hot July day of that year. Gregory, driving a Toyota convertible with the top down, stopped to chat with his colleague.

A man ran up to them and said a friend was being robbed by two gunmen just up the street. Tshamba raced to the scene, and Gregory, realizing his friend was outnumbered, followed.

Gregory said Tshamba ran after one man. The other man then pointed a gun at Gregory as he sat in his car. He said Tshamba, seeing the confrontation, ran back and shot the man. The victim, who survived, collapsed clutching a silver-colored handgun that had to be pried from his hands.

"He saved my life," Gregory recalled in an interview this week.

Driving drunk and firing weapon

But another shooting by Tshamba in September 2005 would turn out differently. The officer would be disciplined for "having a gun while intoxicated," though it appears the department spared him from more serious charges.

Tshamba told detectives that he was driving his 2003 Nissan 350Z on Pulaski Highway about 2:30 a.m. when a sport utility vehicle pulled up and the occupants shouted racial epithets at him. The officer said he followed the vehicle into Armistead Gardens and that the driver turned and struck his Nissan.

The men got out of the car and advanced toward him, according to a police report, and Tshamba fired several rounds. They ran into the woods, but some returned and Tshamba fired on them again, hitting a juvenile in the foot.

The men said the driver of the SUV had accidentally cut Tshamba off before he began chasing them. Police said Tshamba's blood-alcohol content measured 0.12 percent, exceeding the legal limit. The young man who was wounded reported being too drunk to recall being shot.

Thirteen months later, Tshamba once again got into trouble with his Nissan on Pulaski Highway. This time, just before 2 a.m. on a day in October 2006, he lost control of the sports car, plowing through a light pole and shearing it off its base, damaging a curb and ramming a parked Chevy van.

Tshamba was rushed to Maryland Shock Trauma Center. The officer's car was not insured, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration; a police spokesman said he was disciplined for the crash but he would not comment on the punishment.

A slight that escalated

But his most serious troubles stem from the encounter that took place early Saturday in an alley off Eager Street in Mount Vernon — an area of upscale clubs where bar staff say Tshamba is a regular who is known by name but does not attract attention.

It was about 1:30 a.m., and most bartenders had shouted "last call" as Tshamba and his female companion stood at the back door to the Hippo lounge. Next to them was Tyrone Brown, who was out with his sister and her friend, contemplating whether to go inside and try to get one more drink at the bar.

Brown, the former Marine, grabbed or patted the rear end of Tshamba's female companion. Brown's sister said he apologized and tried to walk away when he realized his gesture wasn't considered a joke, but she said Tshamba challenged him.

Police said the dispute became physical and Tshamba identified himself as a police officer. The victim's sister said the officer never identified himself as such and there was no physical altercation before Tshamba took out his department-issued Glock semiautomatic handgun and emptied his clip filled with 13 bullets.

Brown, struck nine times in the chest and groin, died later at a hospital.

Tshamba declined to submit to a breath test and has refused to make a statement to investigators. Police questioned dozens and fanned out over the bar scene to find anyone who might have seen Tshamba drinking.

One man saw him with a cup, but it's unclear whether it contained alcohol. Prosecutors are reinterviewing up to seven witnesses as police press for a quick conclusion to alleviate public pressure and end allegations that they are covering for a fellow officer.

This shooting, much like the one in 2005, started with a slight and an argument and escalated to gunfire. Police are trained to mitigate volatile situations before they get out of control, but police accounts suggest that Tshamba has done the opposite.

As Tyrone Brown's father said just hours after his son was killed in Mount Vernon, "He was in a situation where an apology should have been accepted."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun reporter Nick Madigan contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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