Baltimore police training instructor William Kern had an "unhealthy attachment" to his gun, prosecutors said in court Tuesday, alleging that the veteran officer twice pulled out the weapon by mistake during exercises — then refused to hand it over after the accidental shooting of a recruit.
The allegations came on the first day of Kern's trial in the Feb. 12 shooting that critically wounded University of Maryland police recruit Raymond Gray at the closed Rosewood Center in Owings Mills. He is charged with second-degree assault and reckless endangerment, both misdemeanors.
Opening statements are expected Wednesday, though the sides laid out many of their arguments in preliminary motions. The fact that Kern, 46, shot Gray is not in dispute, but the sides differ over whether the officer's mistake amounted to criminal behavior.
Kern's defense contends that he was expected to carry a weapon at the unsecured, off-site training exercise because he was one of only two instructors present — a notion the state disputes.
In Baltimore County Circuit Court on Tuesday, defense attorney Shaun F. Owens said his client had intended to fire a "simunition" training gun that shoots cartridges similar to paintballs, and which he had been carrying along with his service weapon.
Kern shot toward a group of recruits gathered in a hallway during training, Owens said, intending to demonstrate the danger of such areas.
The live bullet from Kern's gun struck Gray in the head, blinding the Baltimore resident in one eye and hospitalizing him for months.
John Cox, a Baltimore County prosecutor handling the case, said the state would call other officers who were there to testify about how Kern reacted following the shooting. He said Kern did not try to assist the victim and would not give up the gun to a fellow officer or to county investigators called to the scene. Kern had pulled out the service gun earlier in the day, Cox said.
But Owens said such evidence is irrelevant to Kern's intent at the time of the shooting, which jurors must evaluate as they determine whether Kern's conduct was reckless.
Owens also argued that the state should not be allowed to call Gray's family members as witnesses, because such testimony "goes directly to sympathy for the victim," rather than Kern's state of mind.
But Cox argued that Gray's long-term injuries were relevant. Judge Jan Marshall Alexander agreed but said he did not want to hear from a procession of witnesses discussing Gray's daily concerns about medical complications as a result of the shooting. The judge also allowed testimony about Kern's actions after the shooting.
Cox said Kern's response after the shooting was also relevant and speaks to the larger issue of whether Kern should have had his service weapon during the training.
"It's a contested issue whether he should have been armed in the first place," Cox said. He said city police rules do not permit live weapons during training.
Kern was carrying his live weapon in a holster on his waistband and the simunition training gun might have been tucked into a pocket or waistband, Owens said, when Kern unknowingly grabbed the wrong gun.
Owens said previously that the shooting was a "tragedy," and his client never meant to hurt anyone. "This does not require pointing the finger at someone," he said in March.
The shooting resulted in the police commissioner temporarily halting training exercises and the suspension of six academy officials.
In a separate civil lawsuit, Gray's family says the environment was unsafe and authorities should have known that at least some instructors were armed.
Baltimore police have acknowledged that commanders were not aware of the exercises at Rosewood, a former center for people with developmental disabilities, and that the city did not have permission to use the state-owned site.
However, during motions, Cox said the state's case will not address the issue over whether city police were authorized to use the facility.
The charge of second-degree assault carries a prison term of up to 10 years. The maximum sentence for reckless endangerment is five years.
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