Officers examine scene

Officers examine the crime scene in a parking lot at the southeast corner of W. Franklin and N. Paca Streets, north of Select Lounge where gunfire erupted Sunday morning. (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis / January 9, 2011)

The family of a plainclothes Baltimore police officer who was killed by friendly fire during a fight outside a downtown nightclub in 2011 is suing the city Police Department.

Officers shot William H. Torbit Jr. 34 times — without recognizing him as a police officer — after he fired eight times into a group of people who had knocked him to the ground and were attacking him in the Select Lounge parking lot on Jan. 9, 2011, according to a police investigation.

One of Torbit's bullets killed Sean Gamble, a man who had been attacking Torbit, police said. The department — and the club's owners and promoters — are also facing a lawsuit from Gamble's family, which maintains that he was running from the fight, not tussling with Torbit, when he was shot.

Both suits were filed this week, in the days leading up to the shooting's three-year anniversary.

The Torbit family's lawsuit accuses the police of "horrendous and outrageous breaches of duty" and says police accounts "left substantial gaps in how the situation unfolded." It also names the four uniformed officers who shot Torbit — all of whom were cleared of any wrongdoing in the investigation.

The suit, filed by Gamble's father, mother and son — John, Lucette and Sean Gamble Jr., respectively — lists 15 defendants, including club owners, the parking service and the Police Department.

Baltimore police acting Capt. Eric Kowalczyk said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

Torbit's sister and the Select Lounge's manager were both unaware of the Gamble family's lawsuit and declined to comment.

Attempts to contact Gamble's family were unsuccessful, and its lawyer, Michael Paul Smith, declined to comment on the suit.

An independent commission in November 2011 found that police supervisors failed to take control of the scene and that Torbit made a series of mistakes that exacerbated the situation and contributed to his own death. It made 33 sweeping recommendations that highlighted gaps in the department's training and problems with police investigations of controversial incidents.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin George contributed to this article.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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