Family gather opposite from police to honor Officer William H. Torbit

Family gather opposite from police to honor Officer William H. Torbit (Sun photo by Justin Fenton / February 3, 2012)

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Friday dedicated a street in Southwest Baltimore to William H. Torbit, the city police officer fatally shot by fellow officers last year outside a city club. The block was where Torbit's family resides; the date was picked because it would have been Torbit's 35th birthday.

Dozens of family members and police officers packed the corner of Wildwood Parkway and Edmondson Avenue, wearing memorial t-shirts and holding signs. But the family made clear that they remain frustrated with the outcome of the investigation of the case.

"We don't believe that his death was an accident," said Tiffany Clark, 40, who spoke on behalf of the family.

Torbit was in plainclothes when he responded to the Select Lounge on North Paca Street to help disperse an unruly crowd. The investigation found that Torbit and patron Sean Gamble got into an altercation, and Torbit was taken to the ground. He discharged his service weapon, killing Gamble, and other officers returned fire, unaware that he was an officer.

The city state's attorney's office declined to press charges against any of the officers involved or the patrons involved in the fight; Rawlings-Blake appointed an independent commission to analyze the incident and the department's response, issuing a report with a litany of recommendations. None of the officers involved in the incident cooperated with the panel under advice of counsel.

In addition to appointing the panel, which cost the city $75,000, the city also paid $45,000 in funeral expenses for Torbit's family that included a horse-drawn carriage and doves.

Torbit's sister, Clark, said she pushed the city to name the street in her brother's name, and said the police commissioner's office helped the event come to fruition.

Rawlings-Blake called the shooting an event that "shook us to our deepest core." She noted the panel's review and training improvements that grew out of it. "As much as we all wish we could change, we cannot chnage the past," she said. "We can, however, work to make sure his death was not in vain, so nothing like this ever happens again."

The commander of the Central District, Maj. Dennis Smith, recalled Torbit as the "kind of officer we all strive to be."

Clark, in her remarks during the ceremony, said the family wanted to "fight for justice" and asked for the support of their friends and neighbors. Asked to clarify her remarks, Clark said the family wants to know what "really happened that night."

"The police stood over and shot him; you've seen the video," she said. "We hope someone will come forward with the truth."

She also said the family believes that one of Gamble's friends, who prosecutors said punched Torbit and helped bring him to the ground, should be charged, noting that police recently charged a man who assaulted an officer, in the captured-on-tape case of a man who punched and tackled an officer who was making an arrest.

After the ceremony, another relative spoke to Rawlings-Blake away from the crowd. Asked what was discussed, she said: "That's between me and the mayor."