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Man killed in police-involved shooting is identified

Baltimore police identified the 25-year-old man Thursday who was fatally shot by officers in a Southeast Baltimore housing project, as people who said they saw the incident continued to question the decision to shoot.

The shooting occurred just before 7 p.m. Wednesday, when police said they pursued Donte Bennett through a courtyard of Douglass Homes and past a playground, fighting with him before he took out a handgun and was shot.

A top-ranking police official said that he was "proud of the work done by the officers" and that the man was violent.

Court records show that Bennett, of Northwest Baltimore, was being sought on a violation of probation warrant for a drug conviction. Bennett also had prior convictions for car theft, weapon and other drug charges.

His mother, Yvette Bennett, called for an independent investigation of the shooting.

"There's too many cracks in the story; there's too many witnesses at the scene," she said. Yvette Bennett said the police version of the story contrasts with witness accounts in the news that said her son did not have a gun in his hand.

She said she plans to travel Friday from her home in Philadelphia to begin making funeral plans.

"He was a good person," she said. "He had a rough childhood, but everyone out here does things they may regret, but pretty much he was a good person and was just trying to get his life together."

Meanwhile, frustration and questions continued to ripple through Douglass Homes.

Tyesha Teal, 29, said the man had his hands up when he was shot. He had been running from police officers and got stuck trying to jump a fence, she said.

"They were pounding on him, trying to get him down" from the fence, she said. "Next thing I know, I see his hands go up, like he was trying to surrender. … He died with his hands still up."

She took pictures of the man lying on the ground after the shooting and being taken away on a stretcher, and posted them to Facebook. In her pictures, a small, dark-colored object is lying on the ground next to the man's body.

Teal never saw him holding a gun, but said she had seen a blue-and-white cell phone in the man's hand.

Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said Wednesday night that the officers involved were being placed on routine administrative duty and the shooting would be the subject of an internal investigation. They have not been identified.

Rodriguez said officers had "very good information" about Bennett.

"The officers were in an area where they had gathered information that a crime was about to occur at a local business," he said. "Officers saw the individual that they had information as to [being] possibly involved in a crime."

Based on preliminary information, he said, it appeared that the three officers who shot at Bennett were justified in using deadly force. A handgun was recovered from the scene, he said.

The man was "violent" and "armed" and "looking to do harm to a local citizen here," Rodriguez said. "One can only guess what that person would do if they confronted a citizen who can't defend themselves."

Robert F. Cherry, the city police union president, said he spoke with the officers involved in the shooting and others on scene who didn't fire.

"The witness accounts are obviously going to be reviewed by homicide and the state's attorney, but what they saw is not the whole story," Cherry said. "We're confident that our officers did the right thing. Their lives were in danger."

Cherry, a former homicide detective who investigated police-involved shootings, said witnesses sometimes taint their version of the events due to a prejudice toward police.

"Sometimes it's not intentional, and that's when homicide has to do a thorough job sorting through everything," he said.

But other residents of Douglass Homes questioned the police version of events. Police are too quick to assume "every object they see" is a gun, said Denise Sheppard.

Sheppard said she watched police go past the complex's playground and little children scattering as the officers ran. She said she saw police catch up to the suspect, corral him and beat him. The suspect was on his back on the ground with police holding one of his wrists, she said. She doesn't understand why officers started firing.

Sheppard said police often chase suspects in the complex, and she fears innocent children are going to get caught in the pursuits or gunfire.

"Running every day, they don't have any regards for the kids," she said. "They're always running through this playground."

Donyea King, 44, saw the suspect run past him before the man turned a corner out of King's view with police running in pursuit.

"I never saw a gun," he said. "Even when he ran past, I never saw a gun."

Moments later, King said, he heard at least three shots.

King's brother, Mardio House, was shot and killed by a Baltimore police detective who mistook a cellphone for a weapon in 1999. Then-State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy declined to press criminal charges against the officer or convene a grand jury to review the evidence.

What he saw Wednesday makes King believe the same thing happened: "Police thought his cellphone was a gun, shot and killed him," he said.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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jgeorge@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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