Trial to begin for officer charged in Randallstown teen's death

It took Chris Brown months to return to work after the death of her 17-year-old son. She has left her old home and is still hesitant to look at pictures of the teen.

On Monday, a little more than a year after Christopher Brown died, the Baltimore County police officer accused of killing him is set to be tried for manslaughter. And Chris Brown will have to relive her loss through agonizing courtroom testimony.

"Now I am faced with all those feelings again," said Brown, who plans to watch as prosecutors try to convict Officer James D. Laboard. Police said the off-duty officer chased down the Randallstown High School student after a group of youths threw rocks at his front door.

The teen died of asphyxiation during an apparent struggle June 13, 2012, and jurors in the case will have to sort through accounts of that night to determine whether Laboard was acting appropriately during the altercation. The officer was trying to resuscitate Brown when police got to the scene.

Laboard has maintained his innocence, and a union representative has maintained his actions were consistent with training as a police officer.

The case will pose a challenge for both prosecutors and defense lawyers, said Andrew I. Alperstein, a former Baltimore County prosecutor who is not involved with the case.

"The state's got the sympathies related to his [Brown's] age and his lack of responsibility in the underlying crime," said Alperstein, who now works as a defense attorney. One of Brown's friends told The Baltimore Sun in the days after the teen's death that Brown was not the one who threw the rock at Laboard's door. "If nobody died from this, I can't believe the officer would have been charged with assault or anything else."

As an officer, Laboard would have been expected to investigate a crime he witnessed while off duty, he said.

"When a police officer sees a crime, they are on duty," he said. "Chasing Mr. Brown is what he should do. We want our police to protect us."

State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger and Robin Coffin, the prosecutor trying the case, declined to comment before the start of the trial. Laboard's attorney, Ezra S. Gollogly, also declined to comment.

On Thursday, Chris Brown returned to the crime scene for the first time since her son's death.

"I have made it through because I don't think about it. … I don't want to remember him not being here," Brown said as she scanned the empty street.

She had fought through Beltway traffic to reach the quiet, winding suburban street where Christopher Brown hid in some bushes out front of a tidy brick home on Starbrook Road. That's where Laboard found him, police said, and ordered him to come out.

The teen refused, and Laboard allegedly pulled him out of the bushes. Brown fell unconscious during the ensuing struggle and died.

The beginning of the summer has meant several graduations and parties for Christopher's friends, and a heightened sense of loss for his mother. The teen was a rising junior who played lacrosse and football and wrestled.

"I hated it. You feel so deprived," Chris Brown said. "We had plans for him to graduate."

She has tried to cope by joining a support group for mothers who have lost children to violence, which Brown said she feels has become all too-accepted in communities across the country. They are planning a "million mom march."

She's been mentoring a group of girls at Randallstown High School. And she says she will continue to lobby for statewide legislation that would improve law enforcement training for CPR, proper use of force and sensitivity to cultural and gender diversity.

Brown plans to spend every day at the trial, but she asked prosecutors to warn her about testimony that might upset her. She does not want to see any autopsy or crime scene photos, or hear the coroners' report, she said.

"The rest of it I am just going to try and take a deep breath," she said. "It's hard to start a case after you have gone through hurdles of healing."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad