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Officer in training shooting says he was expected to carry gun

Trial scheduled to begin Oct. 15 for city officer William S. Kern

By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

5:00 AM EDT, October 7, 2013

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The Baltimore police supervisor who shot a recruit during an unauthorized training exercise in Owings Mills was expected to have a live firearm, his lawyer says in court documents, while acknowledging that he meant to pick up and fire a practice pistol instead.

Officer William Scott Kern's defense attorney argued in recent filings that the police officer was required to carry his gun to protect the participants in an exercise at the shuttered Rosewood Center for the developmentally disabled.

Kern is scheduled for a criminal trial this month, and the court documents provide the first look at the 18-year veteran's account of the Feb. 12 shooting that severely injured University of Maryland police recruit Raymond Gray, who was training with city police.

Baltimore police have acknowledged commanders were not aware of the exercises at the facility and that the city did not have permission to use the state-owned site. As a result of the incident, six academy officials were suspended and Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts briefly suspended training exercises.

Baltimore County prosecutors charged only Kern in the shooting. He is scheduled for trial Oct. 15 on charges of second-degree assault and reckless endangerment, both misdemeanors.

A city police spokesman declined to comment about whether Kern was authorized to carry a live weapon, citing the pending trial. Police have previously said the session didn't follow departmental safety protocols that could have prevented a loaded gun being carried into the training site.

A separate civil lawsuit filed by the family of the recruit contends the environment was unsafe and authorities should have known that at least some instructors were armed. Gray was shot in the head and blinded in one eye; he was hospitalized for months.

Neither Kern's attorney, Shaun F. Owens, nor Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney John Cox, who is prosecuting the case, responded to requests for comment.

Prosecutors say Kern acted irresponsibly by pointing a weapon at the recruit and pulling the trigger — even if he thought the gun was fake. Kern's defense says that during off-site training exercises, academy instructors are responsible for the safety of others and therefore authorized to carry a firearm.

Police officials have previously said they used the shuttered Rosewood Center to simulate real-life situations.

Baltimore County police had permission to use the facility for training, documents show, but not city police. Baltimore County police said they used Rosewood for simulated, "active shooter exercises," in which no ammunition or live weapons were allowed and a designated safety officer was required on site.

During training, Baltimore police use "simunition" weapons, which look and feel similar to service weapons but fire ammunition that is similar to paintballs.

Owens said in court documents his client was permitted to carry his live weapon, along with the simunition gun. The documents also say Kern was carrying his live weapon in a holster on his waistband and that simunition training guns may have been tucked into a pocket or waistband.

The court documents filed by the defense attorney do not say why Kern shot at the victim.

People with knowledge of the investigation have said Gray was peering through a window when Kern fired at him. They said the shot may not have been fired as part of the training exercise but that Kern playfully pointed his weapon without intent to harm anybody.

Kern, who has worked at the training academy for at least 12 years, didn't notice the different color grip on the fake gun, Owens said in his filings. The grips of the simunition guns being used for the exercise were painted blue.

"Police are taught to look down the sights of their weapon. Police officers are not taught to look at any other component of the weapon before firing," the document said.

A. Dwight Pettit, an attorney retained by Gray's family, said he doesn't see the shooting as an accident.

"I don't buy it," Petit said. "From the information that I was gathering on the ground level ... it might have been some horsing around."

Documents filed by prosecutors show the state will likely call an academy instructor, city police officer Efraim Edwards as a witness. Kern's attorneys said in court filings that Edwards was also authorized to carry a live weapon during the exercises but did not the day of the shooting.

Prosecutors plan to present an interview with Edwards, discussing his conversations with Kern the day of the shooting. The state also plans to call Dr. David Vitberg, the associate medical director for the Baltimore County Fire Department.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene owns Rosewood, a former psychiatric facility that dates to 1888 and was closed by Gov. Martin O'Malley in 2009. It once housed as many as 3,000 patients with developmental disabilities.

Kern is the third officer being prosecuted by the Baltimore County State's Attorney's office this year.

In June, a Baltimore County police officer was acquitted in the death of a Randallstown teenager last year. Another county officer entered a guilty plea in July to misconduct in office after an investigation found he filmed himself engaging in sex acts and neglected calls while on duty.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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