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Trial begins for Baltimore detective accused of lying about shooting himself

A trial is underway for a former Baltimore city homicide detective charged with lying about shooting himself in a downtown parking garage in early 2011.

The criminal charges brought by prosecutors conflict with the police investigation, which was open and inconclusive 18 months later when Det. Anthony Fata was charged. Fata faces charges of perjury, misconduct in office, and making false claims to obtain worker's compensation.

Det. Valencia Vaughn, a fellow homicide detective, testified Wednesday that she visited Fata at Maryland Shock Trauma on the night of the shooting, Jan. 18, 2011, and he described having encountered an armed man a parking garage stairwell.

"He was visibly shaken, crying a little bit," Vaughn testified, adding that he asked her to stay at the hospital until his wife arrived. 

But Sgt. Ray Woodward, a supervisor with the city police SWAT team, testified that hordes of officers converged on the parking garage within minutes of Fata reporting the shooting, and found no evidence of a suspect. Exits were locked down, and SWAT members moved throughout the garage clearing it floor-by-floor. They scanned the garage roof, then the roof of the nearby Ram's Head Live, and even made forced entry into a law office in the complex. They did not check individual cars, he said.

"There were no signs I saw - or any of my officers saw - of any suspect," Woodward said. 

Vaughn testified that Fata told her that the gunman was a black man, in his 30s or 40s, with a scruffy beard and an "80's style" jean jacket. He told her that the man fired at him, then Fata returned fire, discharging several shots from his department-issue weapon. He had been in the garage getting running shoes, he said. 

A man who happened to be at the garage at the time, Christopher Lesjak, testified that he heard two bangs, a muffled "struggle," then heard several louder gunshots. But he also didn't see anyone or hear anyone identify themself as an officer. He said he couldn't be sure if he heard one voice or two, but thought he heard someone say, "Get off me, man."

Fata is not charged with lying to police, but instead with giving false testimony at a June 2011 worker's compensation hearing. There, according to transcript read in court, he told commissioners that he struggled with the gunman, who took off running up the stairs as Fata returned to fire. Fata said he had given chase but retreated, believing he was out of bullets. He then fell down the stairs, injuring his shoulder. 

As for the gunshots, he suffered only a graze wound to his right inner thigh, which came from a downward trajectory. Det. Lt. William Simmons, a former homicide supervisor, testified Wednesday that police found multiple .40 caliber shell casings - the type fired from police service weapons - and other fragments, but could not find casings that they could determine came from another weapon. 

On Wednesday morning, jurors left the courtroom to visit the parking garage, at South Frederick Street between East Baltimore and Water streets. 

Prosecutors and Fata's defense attorney, Shaun Owens, declined to comment about the case, which will resume with testimony on Friday.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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