Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.
News Maryland

Violence affected Marine's life long before his killing

It was after 1 a.m. on June 5, 2010. Tyrone Brown had already had plenty to drink. But he wasn't ready to go home.

The 32-year-old Baltimore native tried to drag his sister and a friend into Club Hippo, but they didn't want to go into a gay bar, according to a police account. He got touchy with some women standing outside, moving to hug one, and grabbing the butt of another. When she smacked him, he shoved her back.

The woman's companion stepped in. As the confrontation escalated, the companion — off-duty Baltimore Police Officer Gahiji Tshamba — pulled his service weapon and unloaded it into Brown.

Within the hour, Brown was pronounced dead — a violent end to a man who had become haunted by violence.

As a Marine corporal, Brown had spent 18 months leading a platoon in combat in Iraq. Under fire in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, he had killed an armed woman and a child.

When his tour was up, he brought some of the brutality of war back with him to Baltimore: In the memories that played over and over in his head, and in the trained aggression he couldn't shake.

The details of Brown's post-combat psyche are recorded in more than 100 pages of medical and psychiatric records made public last month as part of the criminal court file of Tshamba, charged with murder in Brown's death.

Written in the five-year span between Brown's return from Iraq and his killing in Baltimore, they reveal the private pain of a veteran whose death was disturbingly public.

A medical history from 2008, when Brown was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, offers a glimpse: "Nightmares (4-5 nights/week, sleep is very disturbed; sleeps 2-4 hrs/night, can't sleep), intrusive recollections of losing friends. Wakes in cold sweats. Screams in sleep. Having flashbacks a few times a week."

Doctors described Brown as angry and anxious, though they said he often hid his fears behind a joking façade. He told psychiatrists that he had thrown a knife at his wife, beaten a relative and consumed massive amounts of vodka and marijuana. Yet he remained hopeful that he could find his way out of the despair, his records show, even as the months added up to years.

Tshamba, who also has a history of volatility, is scheduled for trial in late May. His defense lawyer will use Brown's medical records to argue that the former Marine was impulsive and prone to violence, supporting Tshamba's assertion that he fired in self-defense.

A. Dwight Pettit, an attorney who represents Brown's family in a civil lawsuit filed against Tshamba, the police and the city government, called the medical records "totally irrelevant to the acts that transpired the night of the shootings." He said he plans to "fight extremely vigorously to make sure that the records are not introduced in the civil proceeding."

The military had provided a measure of order for Brown, who was born to teenage parents who didn't stay together. His father was an addict who was frequently imprisoned and never around. His mother raised him with his stepfather, two brothers and two sisters.

Brown got B's and C's in school, played lacrosse and football, and graduated on time. He had a son with one woman when he was 18 — she sued him for paternity — and married a different woman when he was 24, producing a daughter.

By then, he'd been a member of the 4th Combat Engineer Battalion Marine Reserve unit, based in Northeast Baltimore, for five years.

His loyalty was to his brothers there. Brown didn't have to go to Iraq; he had already fulfilled his active service requirement by early 2004, when his unit was called to deploy. His son was 8, his daughter 2. He left for Iraq.

In Ramadi, the capital of the volatile al-Anbar province, local fighters were putting up a strong resistance to the U.S. occupation, killing more than 30 Marines and wounding 180 more in one five-month stretch in 2004.

As combat engineers, Brown's platoon was responsible for laying and clearing landmines. They soon found themselves in the line of fire. Brown was on constant alert, suspicious of everything, including the terrain.

A Humvee in which he was traveling in late 2004 was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. He was thrown from the vehicle, slammed his head and blacked out.

Taken to a nearby outpost, he was given a once-over and sent on his way.

People were trying to kill Brown, and it was his job to kill them first. From a doctor's note: "Traumatic incidents including killing lady/child (she was armed, kid was by accident), seeing friends killed."

Honorably discharged in 2005, Brown told exit interviewers that he was fine. He "didn't want to discuss things," one doctor wrote.

Brown came home to Baltimore. But he was unable to leave Iraq behind.

He "was drinking daily upon return from military," medical records say, to "sleep, unwind, not feel/remember." He told doctors that he sometimes drank up to 75 ounces of vodka and smoked a pound of pot to relieve the severe headaches he blamed on the traumatic brain injury he said he suffered when he was thrown from the Humvee.

He complained of muddled thinking, difficulty concentrating and depression. An MRI brain scan showed nothing out of the ordinary, and doctors concluded it was "unlikely that [his] cognitive complaints are due to the residual effects of head trauma."

Instead, they said, they were probably the result of Brown's mental condition and substance abuse.

Brown told doctors he "has been 'angry all the time' since military." He got into a few fights, he said, and "had no patience for 'idiotic people.'" A note described him as "short-fused." In November 2005, months after his discharge, Brown was arrested in Baltimore and charged with disturbing the peace and having an open container of alcohol in public.

The charges were later dropped, and Brown pulled himself together for a short while, getting treatment through Camp Pendleton in California. But it didn't last long.

He "got a job with [security company Northrop-Grumman], left apartment with wife and all his possessions and went to work in LA," or Los Angeles, according to records. "Was briefly doing better (drinking less, feeling better; still having nightmares and headaches but felt like was getting under control). When contract ended (August 2006), came back to Baltimore and things have been getting worse (esp. last year)."

Back in Baltimore, he grew increasingly paranoid, impatient and aggressive. He cleared his house of guns, "b/c was afraid would do something to self with them accidentally," according to a 2008 report. Still, he slept with a dagger under his pillow.

He threw a knife at his wife during an argument, then moved out of their home for her safety. He told doctors he believed she had "spent the money he earned overseas," and that he thought sometimes about killing her.

He said he beat his stepfather into a "bloody pulp" after the man allegedly attacked a cousin, and he said he quit a job after a disagreement with his supervisor made him want to "smack the crap out of her."

He "stays close to a door in public, notes points of access, watches people around, hypervigilant, startles" — behaviors suited to the theater of war, but not to civilian life.

Jonathan Shay, a Boston psychiatrist who studies the mental health of combat veterans, recognizes the signs.

"People get very practiced at instant, violent responses to threats. When you are literally surrounded by people who are trying to kill you, it is a rational response to shoot first and ask questions later," said Shay, who is not involved in Brown's case. "You keep alert, you look in every direction, you have a big startle reaction, you shut down all emotions that don't immediately serve a survival situation."

As Brown's irritability worsened, his physical complaints intensified. He had nosebleeds, back pain, trouble breathing, and he made several visits to emergency rooms.

But he attended therapy infrequently, showing up once or twice before dropping out, even though doctors believed he had a good attitude toward treatment. They wrote that he "tries to do something positive every day even if has to force himself."

He continued to drink — an activity Shay called a "kind of quicksand for someone carrying psychological injury from war."

A study published last year in the Archives of General Psychiatry concluded that about half of those diagnosed with depression or PTSD after combat in Iraq meet "criteria for alcohol misuse or aggressive behavior." The researchers found that between 9 percent and 31 percent of National Guard soldiers returning from combat in Iraq show some degree of depression and PTSD.

Terry M. Lee-Wilk, a psychologist at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center, assessed Brown in a January 2009 report.

"Mr. Brown's clinical profile suggests that he has a history of acting-out behavior, mostly notably involving alcohol abuse," wrote Lee-Wilk, who is listed as a potential defense witness in the criminal case against Tshamba, 37. "Responses suggest that the patient exhibits aggressive behavior, such as being easily provoked and not exhibiting complete control over his temper."

Tshamba, a 15-year veteran of the Baltimore force, has been disciplined at least three times in his police career. He received a letter of reprimand and a suspension after he shot a man in the foot during an off-duty altercation involving alcohol in 2005, and a similar sanction after he crashed his car into a light pole while driving without insurance the following year.

Tshamba was administratively disciplined in 1999 for "neglect of duty," according to police records.

In the early morning hours of June 5, 2010, Tshamba was hanging out at the Red Maple lounge on the 900 block of N. Charles St. with several female friends. At some point before 1:30 a.m., the group left and headed south on Morton, according to a preliminary police report.

"While on the 900 block of Morton Street Officer Tshamba became involved in a verbal altercation with an individual later identified as Tyrone [Antoine] Brown," the report states. "At some point, during this continued verbal altercation Officer Tshamba discharged his weapon. … Mr. Brown was struck numerous times and fell to the ground."

Brown was shot a dozen times in the chest and groin. He was pronounced dead at Maryland Shock Trauma Center at 2:18 a.m. An autopsy showed his blood alcohol level to be between 0.18 and 0.22 percent — more than twice the legal limit.

In a telephone interview this month, Brown's birth father sobbed as he talked about his son. He said his battles with addiction stunted his relationship with Brown, which was just beginning to develop when the shooting occurred.

"I think about it every day when I walk down to my living room and I see my son's pictures," Reginald Dargan said. "I was getting ready to know him, right, [Tshamba] took him away from me and now I will never know my son at all."

Brown's two companions and two independent witnesses say that he was harmlessly backing away when Tshamba attacked. Tshamba's three friends say Brown lunged in the officer's direction and refused to follow an order to "get on the ground."

A jury will determine which version is more plausible. They'll also hear the details of Brown's mental health history. Tshamba's defense lawyer, James L. Rhodes, filed a notice of intent to introduce the records earlier this month in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Prosecutors declined to comment, as did several of Brown's relatives through their lawyer. Pettit says he counseled them to keep silent. They have filed a $270 million civil lawsuit against Tshamba, police and the city.

Shay, the psychiatrist who studies combat veterans, was skeptical about the correlation between Brown's mental health history and his killing.

"It sounds more like one of those dreadful, needless, random deaths that happen when you put young men and alcohol together in the middle of the night and one of them is carrying," Shay said. "It's a lethal mix."

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
    Related Content
    Comments
    Loading