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Baltimore prosecutors clear officers in fatal shooting of father, son

Prosecutors clear officers who fired 56 unanswered rounds that killed armed father and son

Baltimore prosecutors have decided not to charge two police officers who this spring fired 56 unanswered rounds at a father and son who were armed with loaded guns in East Baltimore, killing both.

The state's attorney's office did not publicly disclose the decision, which was handed down on Sept. 23. Police noted that the case had been declined on a new "use of force" section on their website.

Prosecutors wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun Tuesday that they "have concluded that there is no legal basis to charge these officers, who appear to have prevented even further violence on the streets of Baltimore."

Sgt. Joseph Wiczulis and Officer Norman Jones were in plain clothes with another officer in the 400 block of E. Lanville St. on March 31 when they saw Matthew V. Wood, 43, and Kimani Johnson, 18, drive into the block near a playground, and emerge from a vehicle holding weapons, police said.

Police said at the time that they believed the men were poised to shoot a group of people across the street. After the flurry of gunfire police determined Wood and Johnson had not fired any shots.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis hailed the officers at the time for confronting the men and said they prevented a shooting.

Tawanda Johnson, Kimani's mother, said Tuesday that she had not been told that prosecutors had declined to charge the officers. She said she was upset with that decision, and with an overall lack of information provided about the case.

"They wouldn't shoot a stray dog 56 times," she said. "They shot my son as if he meant nothing."

Johnson pointed to the third officer, who was at the scene with Jones and Wiczulis but did not fire his weapon.

The fact that one of the officers did not fire "sets the tone to me," she said. "That says to me his life was not in jeopardy. Something is fishy. It's been fishy from day one."

Despite increased scrutiny on police shootings across the country, charges against officers remain rare, with prosecutors affirming police actions.

City prosecutors this year cleared a commander who shot an unarmed man who police said refused to take his hands from his pockets, saying the commander couldn't risk the possibility that the man was holding a weapon.

But prosecutors also won an assault conviction against an officer who fired an unprovoked shot into the groin of a burglary suspect.

City officers have shot nine people this year, killing four. Six cases remain under review by the Baltimore state's attorney's office.

Documents provided under a Public Information Act request show police investigators located only two non-police witnesses to the Lanvale shooting, a couple who looked out of a bedroom window after hearing shots fired.

One of them, whose name was redacted by prosecutors, said he saw Wood standing in front of a vehicle pointing a rifle. He said he believed he saw Wood firing, while Johnson was lying behind a vehicle.

Officer Reginald Jones, the officer who did not fire, told police investigators that the officers had been in the area due to violence and drug complaints when they saw Wood open the driver's side door and emerge with the rifle in his lap, the documents show.

"You all wanna talk s---?" Wood said to a group of three people before raising the rifle, Reginald Jones told investigators.

Reginald Jones said he yelled "gun!" and said Wood turned toward Norman Jones. Reginald Jones took cover. He said Wiczulis fired and he saw Johnson go down.

An autopsy showed Johnson was shot 12 times in his body, arms, legs and head. Wood was struck eight times, also in the body, arms, legs and head.

"Our decision to decline prosecution in this case was based on a thorough investigation where the statements of at least two independent witnesses at the scene of the shooting were consistent with the police officers' account of the event that both men were armed — one with a loaded assault rifle and the other with a loaded handgun," prosecutors said Tuesday.

Police said in a report that there were "several" closed-circuit television cameras in the area but they captured "nothing of evidentiary value."

Wood's rifle, a Smith and Wesson M and P 15-22, was loaded to capacity with 25 rounds, police said. They said Johnson had a 9 mm Ruger handgun loaded with seven founds.

"We don't run from bad guys with guns. We engage them," Davis said in April. "We fired 56 rounds yesterday until this threat was eliminated."

Wiczulis has been involved in two other fatal shootings since 2010, including an incident in which he shot a man who had shot two officers. In 2013, he shot and killed a 25-year-old man who police said was being chased through Douglass Homes when he took out a handgun. He was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in both cases.

Police said both Wiczulis and Norman Jones have returned to full duty. An internal review of the case was still pending.

Both Johnson and Wood had gun charges on their records. Johnson was free on $100,000 bail awaiting trial for a handgun charge, court records show. His mother said Tuesday the charge was "trumped up" and "bogus."

Wood was on probation after receiving a sentence of time served — about three months — in October for a gun charge.

The charge Wood pleaded guilty to should have brought a mandatory sentence of five years in prison without parole, but Judge Alfred Nance said prosecutors agreed to "step off" that requirement, according to a tape of Wood's plea hearing.

Police union president Gene Ryan said prosecutors' findings showed the officers "conducted themselves in a professional manner and did what they had to do."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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