Hours before a struggle at a Crofton townhome where an Anne Arundel County Police officer fatally shot an unarmed 20-year-old, another group of officers had responded to the home and concluded they couldn’t force him to go to a hospital, according to an investigative report released Monday by the state attorney general’s office.
The officers had responded to Dyonta “DJ” Quarles Jr.’s home at about 9 p.m. on Jan. 29 after Mikel Quarles, his mother, called 911 requesting an ambulance, according to the report. She told a dispatcher her son was “acting erratically” and “was talking about wanting to go to heaven,” the report says. When police arrived, Dyonta Quarles was “unwilling to go to the hospital and would become violent if he was forced,” but was “calm, coherent, and answering questions asked of him by the police,” according to the report.
Mikel Quarles did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the report.
Police later responded at 4 a.m. on Jan. 30 after Mikel Quarles again called 911 and told dispatchers her son was not letting her leave her bedroom, the report says. Body-worn camera footage released in March by the attorney general’s office’s Independent Investigations Division earlier this year shows Quarles charging at Officer Jonathan Ricci and punching him, and later biting Ricci’s finger before Ricci fires three shots at Quarles, killing him.
Ricci was diagnosed with a “concussion/mild traumatic brain injury and post-concussive syndrome” and was treated for bite injuries, according to a letter from local prosecutors, who declined to charge him. Last month, Ricci was placed on light duty status with medical restrictions, according to a police spokesperson.
The 17-page investigative report released to the public on Monday says that Ricci’s actions were justifiable in self-defense, and it would be “difficult to prove” any relevant criminal charges, such as second-degree murder and misconduct in office.
“Officer Ricci very likely reasonably believed that Mr. Quarles could severely injure or perhaps even sever his fingers,” the report says. “When faced with the risk of such injury, deadly force was reasonable under Maryland law at the time of this incident.”
The report notes that Officers Benjamin Steffes and Anastasia O’Neale, who also responded to the Danville Court townhome, had used a Taser on Quarles throughout the encounter but were unable to control him.
“Officer Ricci had no lesser level of force available that would have been appropriate,” the report says.
The Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office agreed with the attorney general’s office’s findings in September after receiving the now-public investigative report and declined to pursue criminal charges against the officers involved.
“Mr. Quarles displayed a continued intent to cause serious physical harm to Officer Ricci throughout this event,” Deputy State’s Attorney Brian Marsh wrote in a Sept. 7 letter to Attorney General Brian Frosh. “Officer Ricci, just like any other person in Maryland, had the right to defend himself and end the attack with deadly force.”
The fatal encounter is the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Quarles’ family in August. In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court against Ricci and the other responding officers, as well as the police department, the family alleges that Ricci used excessive force against Quarles, who was unarmed.
“At the time P.O. Ricci discharged his firearm, DJ was not an imminent threat of great bodily harm to anyone,” according to the complaint.
Chicago-based civil rights attorney Gregory Kulis, who is representing the Quarles family in the civil suit, said Monday he is “not necessarily surprised” with the conclusion, adding that independent investigations tend to clear authorities of criminal wrongdoing. Pursuing criminal charges against officers has “little to do with what we’re handling” in the civil court, he said.
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“I’m not saying I agree with [the report]” Kulis said.
Mikel Quarles told investigators she was sleeping next to her son and attempted to unplug a space heater because she was worried that it may start a fire, according to the attorney general’s office’s report, in which her name is redacted. Her son would push her back onto the bed every time she attempted to unplug it, stating, “We’re both going up. We’re going up together.” That led her to call 911.
During the approximately 15-minute-long 911 call, Mikel Quarles asked police to come to her home as her son was “holding [her] hostage” and wouldn’t let her out of the door. She said Dyonta Quarles had gotten physical with her and “may have smoked something that was laced with something else,” according to Marsh’s letter to the attorney general’s office.
Mikel Quarles told investigators that the week before, her son “did not want to be left alone in the house” and told her “he had been vaping and believed his vape was laced,” and agreed to see a doctor, according to the report. Medical information that follows is redacted.
When police arrived and told her to leave the bedroom, Mikel Quarles retreated into the bathroom and closed the door, the report says. She then “heard wrestling in the hallway followed by three gunshots.”
The case is the second deadly police encounter handled by the Independent Investigations Division in Anne Arundel County. In August, prosecutors declined to charge Anne Arundel Police Cpl. Joseph Burger, who fired fatal shots at 32-year-old Digno Ramon Yorro Jr. Yorro had approached officers while he was wielding a knife.
The division has not yet released body-worn camera footage for a fatal Sept. 17 shooting in Harwood where a group of Anne Arundel officers fired at 48-year-old Anthony Hopkins Sr., who police said had raised a gun at the officers.