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Baltimore police district commander shoots man in Morrell Park

A commander with the Baltimore Police Dept. shot a man in Morrell Park on Monday night.

A commander of the Baltimore police department's Southwest District shot a man in the leg in the Morrell Park neighborhood on Monday night, police said.

Police on Tuesday morning identified the officer as Major Byron Conaway, a district commander and a 16-year-veteran of the department. He will be placed on routine administrative duties.

Conaway had been on his way to a community meeting just after 7 p.m. when he stopped a man in the 2400 block of Washington Blvd., police said.

It's unclear why Conaway stopped the man, police said. The man refused to show the officer his hands on command, and he fired once, striking him in the leg, police said. The wound is nonfatal, police said. No weapon was found on the man, police said.

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said the person who was shot was a white man.

Ronald Birmingham, 41, said the victim was his brother, John Joseph Rau, 40.

He said Rau had just stopped by Birmingham's porch a block away for a cigarette before he was shot.

"He got up off the steps, he walked up the street. There was a crowd coming down the street, the officer jumped out and told my brother to put his hands up," Birmingham said. "He put his hands up, and he shot him."

Rau's nephew, Michael Kirby, 30, said Rau had been in a good mood. Both Kirby and Birmingham said Rau was unarmed and did nothing wrong when the officer confronted him.

"Whatever [the crowd] was doing, he had nothing to do with it," Kirby said.

Birmingham, Kirby and their family members heckled police officers from their porch and turned down a ride to the hospital offered by a homicide detective.

Conaway was involved in a departmental shooting in 2009 when he was still an officer. A woman slipped him a note that said she was in danger. Conaway saw the man who had been in a car with her reach for a handgun, and shot him. The man survived and in August 2010 was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for being a felon in possession of a handgun.

Last year, Conaway received the departmental Bronze Star for the incident.

In 2011, the city paid $67,500 to settle a claim made by a Baltimore resident, Terrell Perkins, that Conaway and other officers had beaten him unprovoked during a robbery-related interrogation in 2007, after the store where Perkins worked was robbed. In charging documents in the case, Conaway said he "pushed the defendant to the ground" after Perkins reached for his service weapon. Perkins said he was "physically battered" by the officers when he tried to leave the room, after being told he was not under arrest.

Perkins was charged with assaulting Conaway and with resisting arrest in relation to the incident, but the assault charge was dismissed and Perkins was acquitted of resisting arrest by a jury. He then sued, saying the officers had violated his rights.

The shooting will be a first test for the Police Department's Special Investigation Response Team, a new detail created to investigate police shootings and use of force in place of former Commissioner Anthony W. Batts' Force Investigation Team.

The homicide unit was assisting with the investigation, Smith said.

"Both teams are here," he said. "They work out of the same office, so they all will be working together on a case like this. But the Special Investigation Response Team has primary [jurisdiction] on a case like this.

"Although the name of the unit is new, the personnel are skilled, experienced and seasoned investigators," Smith said. "So this isn't their first time dealing with scenarios such as this."

Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson and Kevin Rector contributed to this story.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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