Body-camera footage released by the Baltimore Police Department on Tuesday shows a city police officer rushing toward the sound of gunfire as it erupts half a block away, then making an arrest of an alleged gunman.
Officer Joseph Rodgers’ swift response to the deadly April 19 shooting drew fresh praise from the department this week after WMAR-2 News first published the footage Monday.
“This is a threat that the officer ran directly towards, without any hesitation whatsoever,” said T.J. Smith, a department spokesman.
Smith said Rodgers was previously recognized for his bravery at a roll call by then-Commissioner Darryl De Sousa. He also commended the officer for “his quick and decisive action,” which he said saved lives.
“Any person bold enough to shoot and kill a man a half a block from a uniformed police officer, undoubtedly poses a continued threat to public safety,” Smith said.
The shooting killed 30-year-old Walter Baynes and badly injured his grandfather, 69-year-old George Evans.
The footage shows Rodgers talking to a tenant and landlord in a dispute when more than a dozen shots break out just down the street. “I got shots fired!” Rodgers said as he ran toward them.
As he turned a corner, he saw a suspect. “Put the gun down!” he screamed, his own gun drawn. The suspect — later identified as 17-year-old Eric Gilyard — stopped, sat and put his hands in the air. Gilyard has since been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder and other charges.
“He looks just like the dude I just saw shooting,” Rodgers said to another officer at the scene, with Gilyard on the ground at his side.
Rodgers repeatedly told other officers to look in the alley for a discarded firearm, where he said he believed Gilyard may have tossed a gun. He said he wanted to review his body-camera footage to see if it confirmed his belief that Gilyard was the shooter. And he asked Gilyard what he was doing in the area.
“Aside from the shots, why was you running? Why was you in the alley? And you just happen to appear when the shooter come out, right?” Rodgers said to Gilyard.
“Bro I was walking up the alley to walk up North Avenue, bro, and I heard some s---. That’s why I started running,” Gilyard responded.
“Right. We’ll find out once I look at my video,” Rodgers said.
The footage police released does not show anyone shooting. And Tony Garcia, Gilyard’s attorney, said the video “does not prove anything” against his client.
“It doesn’t show my client being aggressive, pointing a gun at anyone,” he said. “What it shows is my client doing what is done all over America. When you hear gunshots, you run.”
Garcia said he had not seen the entirety of the video, which starts well before the shooting and continues well after, and that it had not yet been turned over to his office through discovery in Gilyard’s murder case.
In a hospital bed in the days after the shooting, George Evans told The Baltimore Sun that he hadn’t seen whoever it was who left him with a bullet lodged in his neck and bullet wounds throughout his buttocks and legs, including a shattered right knee and a fractured femur.
“I don’t know who did the shooting or where they came from,” Evans said. “These kids coming around, they ain’t got no remorse. They ain’t got no respect. They just take a life as a joke.”
The footage of Rodgers rushing toward the shooting comes at a time of deep scrutiny and criticism for the police department, which has been struggling with a series of high-profile scandals in recent years — including the federal Gun Trace Task Force case, in which a team of detectives was convicted of robbing residents and stealing and reselling drugs on the street.
The department also has struggled against high levels of violent crime since the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody led to unrest in 2015. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby charged six police officers with crimes related to Gray’s arrest — none was convicted — and some in the department expressed a hesitance to police proactively in light of the charges.
The idea that policing has slowed in the city since then has stuck in the minds of many, even as police commanders have stressed that most officers are brave and do their jobs well — including by running toward danger.
Smith said Rodgers’ actions in the face of an “active shooter situation” show that officers are doing their jobs, and are more representative of the actions of officers than the scandals that have made headlines lately.
“We hope that the public understands that Officer Rodgers is more what officers in Baltimore are, than what they are not,” Smith said. For anyone who thinks officers aren’t working in Baltimore, he said, “I direct their attention to this.”