The Harford County Sheriff's Office is continuing its investigation into Saturday night's fatal shooting of a break-in suspect who police and the victim's family and friends believe may have been under the influence of a synthetic drug similar to those that can be bought legally in Maryland.
The shooting of 19-year-old Seth Jacob Beckman, of Bel Air, which occurred outside a closed snowball stand in the Rock Spring BP station parking lot, happened less than six weeks after a federal DEA official warned local parents and community leaders about the dangers of synthetic drugs.
Police have said Beckman was reported acting aggressively and irrationally at a number of nearby businesses in the hour before Deputy David Feeney, who was responding to complaints about Beckman's behavior, encountered him at Sharon's Shaved Ice during the alleged break-in attempt.
Police say Beckman resisted and was shot at 10:44 p.m. by the deputy, who feared he would be harmed. Beckman was airlifted to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he died about two and a half hours later.
Feeney, 43, who has been a deputy sheriff less than 15 months, has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation being conducted by the Sheriff's Office's criminal investigation and internal affairs units. He has been interviewed by investigators, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff Jesse Bane, who said earlier he believes the deputy's actions were justified, said through a spokesman Thursday afternoon, that the agency is "fast tracking" the investigation and will give the media a full briefing once the probe has been completed.
Beckman's father, Glenn Beckman Sr., said his son acted out of character based on the descriptions of police and other people who saw his son in the time leading to his death. He also said his son, who was being treated for depression and taking an injectable medication for it, had fallen in with a bad crowd since he graduated from Fallston High School in 2012. Similar views have been expressed by others who knew Beckman from school and from his Brentwood Park neighborhood north of Bel Air.
The father speculated that some kind of "bad drug" was responsible for his son's behavior Saturday night which, according to police, included damaging property at two businesses near the shooting scene and allegedly punching a younger acquaintance who encountered him at the Bynum Road 7-Eleven.
In late June, Chip Cooke, a DEA special agent with the agency's Baltimore office, spoke to about 250 people at Patterson Mill High School in Bel Air about how synthetic drugs, commonly known as "bath salts" and "spice," are made and sold, their effects on users, which include violent outbursts, hallucinations, serious injury and even death, and legal efforts to combat the drugs.
"There is no one true expert when it comes to synthetic drugs," Cooke, who was the keynote speaker at the county's annual symposium on Drug Prevention, Intervention and Treatment, said. "We are all still learning."
Cooke also said that while federal law bans many of the chemical compounds used to make the drugs, manufacturers regularly make slight tweaks to their compounds to get around such restrictions.
Edward Marcinko, public information officer and a special agent with the Baltimore district office of the DEA, said Thursday that synthetic drugs appear to be a "safe, legal way to get high," but the effects on the user can be extremely dangerous and unpredictable.
"You don't know what you're putting into your body," Marcinko said, noting the compounds affect "the physiological makeup of your body."
"You're literally playing Russian Roulette with these substances," he said.
Common synthetic drugs, which are sold over the Internet or in businesses such as gas station convenience stores, include "spice," or synthetic marijuana, and "bath salts," which Marcinko said mimic methamphetamines and cocaine.
Marcinko said the changes to the chemical formula allow manufacturers to stay ahead of law enforcement. "Education is the biggest thing we can do out there for people," he said.
Hopkins, of the Sheriff's Office, said Thursday that investigators are waiting to receive the autopsy report on Beckman from the Office of the State Medical Examiner, which is expected in the next three weeks. He declined to answer specific questions about the investigation.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun