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Attorney says video disputes police account of shooting

Attorney for man shot by Baltimore police in 2013 claims surveillance video contradicts police account.

The lawyer for a man shot by Baltimore police three years ago is claiming a new video shows that officers lied about the circumstances that led up to the shooting.

When police officers shot Shaun Mouzon in January 2013, an officer wrote in charging documents that they did so because Mouzon had driven his car at them. But attorney A. Dwight Pettit said surveillance camera video he obtained from the city under a public records request tells a different story.

"The car was stopped in traffic," Pettit said. "The allegation that their lives were in danger by the movement of the car is absolutely ridiculous and is an absolute misstatement of the facts."

The video, also obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a records request, shows Mouzon's vehicle pulling into traffic at a stoplight on Edmondson Avenue, with several officers following in an unmarked patrol car, their lights activated.

Officers run up to the driver's and passenger sides. It is unclear when the officers begin firing, but none appear to be standing directly in front of the car as it slowly pulls off and then flees the area.

Pettit said he believes the video shows officers firing even before the vehicle starts to move.

Mouzon eventually crashed his vehicle several blocks away. Police found no weapon, but nevertheless Mouzon was charged with two handgun-related counts. All charges were eventually dropped.

The three officers who opened fire on Mouzon's car — Chris Szakolczai, Charles Mewshaw and Kevin Saliba — were cleared of wrongdoing by the Baltimore state's attorney's office in July 2013. In a letter explaining the decision not to charge, homicide chief Donald Giblin wrote that the officers were "acting reasonably in self-defense when they fired upon Mr. Mouzon." The police investigative report said Mouzon had pulled off "almost striking the officers."

Mouzon filed a lawsuit in April 2014 against the Police Department and several officers involved in the incident. He filed an amended suit this week in part based on his attorneys' observations on the video. His attorneys broadened the scope of the lawsuit to allege a "pattern and practice" of brutality by the Police Department.

An attorney for the officers, Chaz Ball, declined to discuss the allegations, but said in a statement that "officers are tasked with balancing the duty to the public to protect and serve with the duty to their families and loved ones to go home safely at the end of the day."

"That balancing act often involves deeply complex decisions that must be made in an instant. This case is no different," he said.

The officer who wrote the charging documents, who also spoke to detectives investigating the shooting, is Fabian Laronde, a veteran who has been under fire in recent months amid misconduct allegations.

Laronde was suspended in October in relation to an off-duty incident. In November, he was banned from the city courthouse after an incident in which he was accused of filming a witness and a TV reporter in the hallway the day of a hearing about his internal affairs file. Photography is prohibited inside the courthouse.

This month, in a rare move, more than 20 defense attorneys banded together seeking Laronde's internal affairs files, citing "a multitude of incidents that raise questions about his credibility," including allegations he omitted key information under oath.

Laronde has previously been accused of illegally strip-searching a man in a civil case the city settled for $155,000. In another case, a jury awarded $40,000 in damages to a court clerk who said Laronde and other officers accosted him inside the city courthouse. In such agreements, neither the city nor the officers admit wrongdoing.

Following the defense attorneys' motion, city prosecutors said they are analyzing the evidence in "each and every case" involving Laronde that's open and pending "to determine the viability of those cases," said Rochelle Ritchie, a spokeswoman for Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby.

Laronde wrote in charging documents for Mouzon, filed two months after the shooting due to Mouzon's hospitalization, that he and two other officers were watching Mouzon standing outside of a vehicle about 6:20 p.m. and could see "what I believed to be the handle of a handgun in the defendant's waistband."

He wrote that Mouzon looked in the officers' direction, got into his vehicle and took off. The officers activated their lights and sirens and tried to pull him over, but said he continued to flee. "Mr. Mouzon proceeded to drive at speeds greater than reasonable, committing a host of traffic violations, endangering himself and others in an attempt to flee and elude our vehicle," he wrote.

The officers caught up to Mouzon at the stoplight on Edmondson Avenue at Hilton Street, and Laronde said he told Mouzon to shut off the vehicle and keep his hands visible. He said in the charging document that he saw Mouzon reach down with his right hand between the seat and center console.

He wrote that Mouzon "let off the brakes and began to accelerate toward the officers in front of the vehicle. At this time, a police involved shooting occurred."

The video shows one officer who steps toward the vehicle, but steps out of the way as the car inches forward.

Laronde's account from the night of the shooting, summarized in the homicide unit's investigative report, differs somewhat from the later charging document. There is no specific mention of Laronde observing a handgun, but the report says he believed Mouzon was "displaying characteristics of an armed person."

He said Mouzon rolled up his window and locked his door as the officers ran up to his car at the stoplight, and that he saw Mouzon "reach away from his body," which he believed could have been Mouzon reaching for a handgun, the report shows.

The officers who fired the shots did not give statements to investigators conducting the criminal review, which is their constitutional right.

Five officers did give accounts. One of them, Officer Michael Johnson, said he believed the shots were fired by officers standing in front of Mouzon's vehicle. Lt. Torran Burrus, who was with Mewshaw and Laronde, did not describe any officers standing in front of the vehicle when the officers opened fire.

Pettit said his interpretation of the tape was that Mouzon's car did not even begin to pull away until after the video shows muzzle flash from the officers' guns.

None of the other officers who talked to detectives could corroborate Laronde's account that Mouzon had reached for something. They said they heard officers telling Mouzon to put the car in park and saw him rolling his window up, according to the homicide unit's account of their statements.

Mouzon was charged with one count of having a handgun in a vehicle, one count of illegal possession of a handgun, a charge of failing to obey a lawful order, and traffic violations. The first charge was dropped four months later; the second gun charge was dropped about a month after that.

"No gun was found," Pettit said. "To charge him with having a gun after searching his car and his person is a bold, outrageous lie."

With the gun charges dropped, Mouzon was indicted in July 2013 on the traffic charges and failing to obey an officer, and those charges were dropped two months later.

Mouzon was hospitalized in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds, and his medical bills totaled more than $500,000, the lawsuit says. The suit seeks more than $1.2 million in damages.

In March 2014, records show Mouzon was investigated as a suspect in a murder and officers raided his girlfriend's apartment. Police found several guns, and he was charged with multiple counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Those charges were dropped in May 2015. Prosecutors declined to give a reason.

Mouzon now has pending drug distribution charges in Baltimore County.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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