After the teen allegedly killed a county officer, police picked him up down the street, drove him to headquarters and sat him in an interview room to get to the bottom of Officer Amy Caprio’s death.
Over the next 14 hours, a homicide detective unspooled Dawnta Harris’ account, asking question after question. The 16-year-old changed his story from claiming he knew nothing to admitting that he shut his eyes, ducked and gunned the Jeep he was driving.
“Did you stop when you hit her?” Det. Alvin Barton asked.
“No, I didn’t even know,” the boy said.
A Baltimore County jury watched the interview film Friday — the fifth day of Harris’ felony murder trial. The ninth-grader from Gilmor Homes in West Baltimore is the first of four teens to stand trial for Caprio’s death last May. Prosecutors say the teens drove to Perry Hall in a stolen Jeep and burglarized homes before neighbors called police.
Also Friday, Baltimore County police released to the public video from Caprio’s body camera, which the jury had first seen Tuesday. In the video, she can be heard several times telling Harris to stop and get out of the Jeep. The footage also showed her gun drawn before the Jeep accelerates forward and strikes her. Caprio fired one shot before she was struck. After falling, she could be heard moaning as panicked residents tried to help. The footage showed Caprio’s blood pooling on the street.
An edited portion of the video is viewable here.
On Thursday, an assistant medical examiner testified that Caprio suffered broken ribs and crushing injuries to internal organs. Neighbors testified that they found the officer of four years — age 29, a wife and graduate of Loch Raven High School and Towson University — lying with tire marks on her legs and blood pooling around her on the pavement.
Her death set off a firestorm of debate, much of it racially charged. Caprio was white; the teens, black. Prominent Baltimore defense attorney Warren Brown said he received threats after agreeing to defend Harris.
Brown has said the boy was frightened and trying to leave. Caprio stood in his way. She fired her gun once through the windshield — missing him — before she was run over.
The felony murder charge requires prosecutors to convince the jury that Caprio was killed in the course of another felony crime. So Brown sought to distance Harris from the other teens allegedly burglarizing homes. Prosecutors have said Harris was their lookout.
“There’s no evidence that this boy was inside these homes?” Brown asked the detective Friday.
“Correct,” Barton said.
“No evidence he asked or encouraged these three burglars? That these crimes were his idea?”
“Correct,” Barton said.
The detective disagreed firmly when Brown suggested Harris may have been unaware they were burglarizing homes.
Now 17 years old, Harris sat through the proceedings Friday with his eyes downcast and writing on a legal pad. A slight boy — 5 foot 7, 120 pounds — he had told the detective that he lived with his mother and sister and attended his freshman year at Francis M. Wood High School in Baltimore. During the police interview, detectives brought him dinner from McDonald’s: cheeseburger, chicken nuggets, sweet tea.
“What’s going on today?” Barton asked.
“I don’t have a clue,” Harris said as they began. “All I know is I seen a whole lot of police coming down the street.”
Then Barton methodically teased out Harris’ account of facing down the officer in the suburban cul-de-sac. The detective was conversational and chatty, saying “just curious” or “no big deal.” He would leave and walk back in, calling Harris “boss” and “bud.”
“You seem like a decent kid,” Barton told him.
First, Harris denied being in the stolen Jeep Wrangler.
“They’ll be cameras out there that show who parked the Jeep,” the detective explained. “They’ll be a picture of you … I’m sure your fingerprints will be in the Jeep because you weren’t driving with gloves on.”
Barton pressed on. He asked gently — he did not raise his voice — but with insistence.
“When was the first time you were in the Jeep?”
“When I seen it up the street,” Harris admitted. “I don’t know why I got in.”
After one break, Barton walked back in the interview room to discover the Jeep’s key tossed under his chair.
“You stuck it there because you didn’t want the Jeep key in your pocket?” he asked. Silence. “Just be honest.”
Hours later, Barton and Harris came to the tense moments of Caprio’s death.
“I didn’t want anything bad to happen,” Harris said.
Caprio ordered him out of the car. “Stop! Stop! Get out of the car!” she screams in footage from her body camera.
The teen saw her point her gun.
“What was going through your mind?” the detective asked.
“I just wanted to go home,” Harris said.
Her police car was blocking the way, but the youth saw an opening to the side.
“Once I seen the gun, I put my head down and closed my eyes,” he said. “It was like five seconds before I pushed on the gas.”
In an instant, the Jeep lurches forward and she cries out — then the wrenching sound of impact. In the courtroom, some cried and bowed their heads as the footage from her body camera played. Her family couldn’t bear to watch. They waited outside.
Assistant State's Attorney Robin Coffin wanted to know if Harris showed any signs of remorse.
“At any time did the defendant ask the condition of the officer?” she asked the detective.
“Objection!” Brown shouted. But the judge overruled.
“Did the defendant ask the condition of the officer?” Coffin repeated.
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“No,” the detective said.