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News Maryland Harford County Forest Hill

Police involved shooting Saturday was fourth in Harford since October

Saturday's fatal police involved shooting north of Bel Air was the fourth such incident in Harford County dating back to October in which a law enforcement officer discharged a firearm.

Seth Beckman, 19, of Bel Air, Beckman was shot by a Harford County Sheriff's Office deputy late Saturday night outside a snowball stand he was suspected of breaking into in the lot of the Rock Spring BP gas station at Route 24 and Red Pump Road.

Police said Mr. Beckman was reported to have been acting disorderly at several businesses in the area prior to being shot by the deputy, identified Tuesday as David Feeney, a patrol officer since June 2012 who had been a corrections officer in 2011. Other details about the shooting also have not been made public. Mr. Beckman's father has said his son's behavior, as described by police, was out of character, and the father suspects his son may have been on some kind of drugs at the time of the fatal encounter.

The availability of detailed statistics about police involved homicides, appears to depend on what agency does the tracking.

The FBI does not collect that information, according to Stephen Fischer Jr., of the bureau's criminal justice information services division.

There have been no fatal police-involved shootings in Harford County since at least 2010, when the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention began keeping such statistics, according to spokesman Bill Toohey.

The Governor's Office of Crime Control has seen an increase in police-involved fatal shootings in Maryland for the three and a half years it does have figures, Toohey said.

Statewide, there were eight police-involved fatalities in 2010, 16 in 2011, 24 in 2012 and nine so far in 2013, he said.

Maryland State Police also show an small increase in "justifiable homicides," which are police-involved fatalities, spokeswoman Elena Russo said. The State Police had one such case in 2010, two in 2011 and two in 2012, according to Russo.

The Harford County Sheriff's Office has not formally kept statistics of shootings in which deputies killed or injured suspects, but spokesman Edward Hopkins said there have been approximately seven fatal shootings since 1990. Nor, he said, does the Sheriff's Office have a listing of non-fatal shootings involving deputies.

Hopkins said he did not know in which years the fatal shootings occurred and said he just learned Tuesday that such incidents had not been tracked.

"That will change and I believe they will now start being tracked and recorded as a separate statistics," Hopkins wrote via e-mail, after the request for the information was made by an Aegis reporter. "Several of us who have been around the longest met and reviewed your request (anecdotally) and identified the [seven] cases."

Three recent incidents

In Harford's three most recent police involved shootings prior to Saturday, suspects in two were wounded but survived. No one was shot in the other incident, but the officer who discharged his weapon, also a sheriff's deputy, was later indicted in connection with the incident and remains on administrative duty while the case is pending in court.

There have been past instances, in Harford and elsewhere, where police involved shootings result from an irrational person, typically armed, who forces the issue deliberately, situations law enforcement people call "suicide by cop."

One such incident occurred last October, when a White Hall man was shot and wounded after he allegedly pointed a shotgun at a Maryland State Police trooper responding to an attempted suicide call at the man's home.

Maryland State Police TFC Quinn Dobbins, of the Bel Air Barrack, told investigators he was in fear for his life after the man, John Murphy, allegedly told his girlfriend he was armed, suicidal and wanted police to kill him. According to State Police at the time, Murphy confronted Dobbins behind the home, and the trooper shot him.

Murphy, 52, who was hit with a shotgun slug in the shoulder, has since pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree assault and received 10-year jail sentences for both, with all but the 180 days he had served suspended. Charges of first-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two weapons violations were dropped by prosecutors, according to court records.

Dobbins is away on military duty and is expected to resume his duties as a trooper in January, State Police spokesperson Elena Russo said Monday.

Harford Sheriff's DFC Christopher Behles was on his way home and off-duty in April, when he discharged his service weapon during an altercation that followed a minor traffic accident near Norrisville involving his unmarked police car.

Behles told investigators he was rear-ended by another driver who was uncooperative and then attempted to flee the scene, dragging Behles with him when the deputy, who was in plain clothes but who had identified himself, tried to pull the other man from his car.

Behles, the Sheriff's Office's initial news release on the incident said, became "concerned for his safety and believed that he was at risk of being seriously injured or killed," and fired his weapon. The number of shots fired has not been made public.

The other driver, whom police identified as William R. Harvey V, 33, of Jarrettsville, drove off and was pursued by Behles into Baltimore County, where Harvey crashed his vehicle and bailed out on foot, according to the Sheriff's Office, which said Behles was able to catch Harvey and hold him at gunpoint until other deputies arrived and arrested him on multiple traffic and assault charges. Both men suffered minor injuries, according to the Sheriff's Office's account of the incident.

In April, however, Behles, 37, who had been assigned to the Sheriff's Office's Violent Crimes Task Force, was charged with reckless endangerment in a criminal information by Harford County State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly. Then, on July 2, a grand jury indicted Behles on one count each of first- and second-degree assault. Cassilly has declined to discuss the case other than to say that initial charge was based on the sheriff's investigation that Behles had fired his weapon in the altercation.

Behles' law enforcement powers are suspended and he is working in an administrative capacity pending the outcome of his case, Hopkins said earlier this month. Harvey, who was charged with second-degree assault, resisting arrest, failing to obey a lawful police order and obstructing and hindering police, has a trial date coming up later this month, according to court records.

On July 29, an Aberdeen Police Department officer shot and wounded a man who allegedly displayed a handgun near the Economy Inn on Route 40, where police had responded to a call for shots fired in the area.

Officer Thaddeus Tomlinson, who has been with the department about a year, was returned to full duty after a review of the incident by the Harford State's Attorney's Office, as well as an internal review, Aberdeen Police spokesman Lt. Fred Budnick said Monday.

Terrance D. Kisto, 34, of the 1300 block of Tralee Circle in Aberdeen, was charged with first-degree assault, use of a firearm in a violent crime, possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, a handgun violation and possession of marijuana in connection with the incident, according to Aberdeen Police and court records. Kisto is being held for trial without bail at the Harford County Detention Center, according to court records.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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