Protesters rally for more serious charges against officer indicted in teen's death

Protesters rally for more serious charges against officer indicted in teen's death
At a rally for Christopher Brown, the Randallstown teen who died in an altercation with an off-duty police officer, Brown's mother, Chris, left, and the Rev. C.D. Witherspoon protest what they believe is preferential treatment of the officer. (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina Perna)

Christen Brown won't ever forget the phone call she received just before 4 a.m. June 14 — when she learned her little brother had died after an altercation with a police officer.

"I just wouldn't believe it," she said Monday evening at a rally in Towson, describing the phone call from her mother. About 50 members of Christopher Brown's family and community, as well as others, gathered outside the Baltimore County Courts Building to protest what they believe to be preferential treatment of an off-duty officer charged in the 17-year-old's death.

Last week, a Baltimore County grand jury indicted James D. Laboard, an officer with the Woodlawn Precinct, charging him with manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Laboard, who faces up to 10 years in prison, was released the same day without having to post bail, further angering Brown's family, who felt the officer deserved a more stringent second-degree murder charge.

But officials with the police department and state's attorney's office have said repeatedly that the investigation and charges were not affected by Laboard's position as a county officer.

In a statement issued last week, Shaun Owens, the attorney representing Laboard, said: "It is important for the community to bear in mind that tragedy does not require blame. Officer James Laboard acted in full accordance with his rights and responsibilities under the law."

"It really just doesn't make sense," Christen Brown said. She remembered her brother as extremely outgoing, recalling taking him around campus at Morgan State University, where she is a graduate student.

"He knew every girl I knew," she said.

"He didn't need me" to introduce him, she added. "He was just so friendly."

In the fading afternoon sunlight, the protesters stood in the shade of the building, which was closed due to power outages from the weekend storms. They carried signs that read, "Stop Police Abuse Now," "Justice For Christopher Brown" and "The Law Should Work 4 Every One Not Just Law Enforcement."

They marched around the block, through the county government complex. They chanted "Justice for Christopher Brown," receiving a handful for honks on Bosley Avenue.

But largely, the business district of downtown Towson had been deserted for the day.

Betty Allen, Brown's great-great-aunt, who lives in Baltimore, said, "We're truly dissatisfied with the charges."

Russell A. Neverdon, the Brown family's attorney, said "the family wants accountability."

He said the state's attorney's office should have opted for a second-degree murder charge, which would require prosecutors to show Laboard's intent to kill Brown.

"This young man suffered a very brutal death," said Tony Garcia, Neverdon's co-counsel in representing the family. He added that the officer must have been able to tell from Brown's breath, eyes and reactions that the teen was dying in his hands.

Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore City branch of the NAACP, said, police "have to think before acting."

She mentioned the death of Trayvon Martin, who was killed by a community member who said the teen had threatened him in a Florida community. She railed against what she described as too many instances of "people taking action in the street."