Prosecutors interviewing witnesses to Mount Vernon police shooting

Baltimore homicide detectives have completed an initial inquiry into Saturday's fatal shooting by an off-duty police officer of an unarmed man outside a Mount Vernon nightclub, and a decision on criminal charges rests with prosecutors who plan to repeat interviews with key witnesses over several days.

Police said they have focused on seven people who viewed the altercation between Tyrone Brown, a 32-year-old former Marine who served in Iraq, and Officer Gahiji A. Tshamba. Those witnesses, they said, are not connected to the victim or the officer, who was allegedly angered after Brown touched the behind of Tshamba's female companion as two groups of friends gathered near an entrance to a club.

Prosecutors do not have a timetable for when charges might be brought.

Police confirmed Monday that Brown was hit from just feet away by nine of 13 rounds fired from Tshamba's service weapon. Initial reports indicated that Brown had been wounded by six slugs. The Glock service weapon holds 14 rounds, and there were no bullets left in the magazine analyzed by investigators.

Anthony Guglielmi, the department's chief spokesman, said the facts of the shooting had created a "high sense of urgency" among top officials, but added that they would "review every shred of evidence to present a fair case."

Asked if investigators had encountered evidence that Tshamba, a 15-year veteran, had reason to fear for his life, Maj. Terrence McLarney, commander of the homicide unit, said only that Tshamba had not yet provided a statement.

"We don't know what was in the officer's mind," McLarney said.

The Baltimore Sun has reported that Tshamba had been involved in two previous shootings, including in 2005 when he was determined to have been intoxicated. Guglielmi said that Tshamba was "disciplined" for that incident, but refused to provide more details, citing confidentiality of internal disciplinary records.

Tshamba, whose police powers have been suspended, remains on desk duty as the investigation into Saturday's shooting continues.

Under the state Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights, police are unable to suspend an officer without pay unless he or she has been charged with a felony. As a sworn officer, Tshamba was authorized to carry a weapon and to use it under certain circumstances. Officials said they continue to review whether Tshamba had been drinking and whether he feared for his life. Several witness said Tshamba had identified himself as a police officer before firing the shots.

The department formally released Tshamba's name Monday, in keeping with a policy of waiting 48 hours after an incident before publicly identifying the involved officer. The Baltimore Sun learned his identity Saturday.

Guglielmi said detectives determined that Tshamba spent part of the evening inside the Red Maple in the 900 block of N. Charles St., and not Eden's Lounge on W. Eager Street, as police previously said. Detectives fanned out to Mount Vernon clubs over the weekend, seeking witnesses and trying to determine whether Tshamba had been drinking before the confrontation with Brown near a back door to Club Hippo at N. Charles and W. Eager streets.

McLarney said Tshamba had been observed "with a beverage" in hand, but were not sure if the drink contained alcohol.

Police also sought surveillance video from private businesses in the area, but the cameras appeared to be out of operation.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III has not participated in media briefings about the shooting. Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the commissioner "seemed quite troubled, very upset," when the two had a conversation about the matter.

Cheatham said the department had not been transparent enough in its handling of the case, and was frustrated by what he said was silence from city and state elected leaders.

"The commissioner is putting labels on the bad guys with guns, but he needs to put the same label on bad police," Cheatham said. "I think the community would like to see that a little bit more."

Tshamba and a female companion left the Red Maple early Saturday as Brown, his sister and a friend left Eden's Lounge, police said. The two groups ended up in an alley off East Eager Street about 1:30 a.m.

Brown patted the officer's female friend on her rear end. Police have characterized this as a "grope," while Brown's sister, who witnessed the incident, said it was a joke. Police have said the gesture led to an argument between Brown and Tshamba that escalated into a "physical confrontation." Brown's sister, Chantay Kangalee of Baltimore County, said that there was no fight and that the officer taunted and threatened her brother.

At some point, police said, Tshamba pulled out his service weapon and fired at Brown, hitting him in the chest and groin.

Officers are required to carry their weapon while off-duty, and police said they were reviewing rules regarding officers' conduct when consuming alcohol. But Guglielmi stressed that the department did not believe the rules were flawed.

"This didn't happen because our rules were lax," he said. "This was a judgment call."

In the September 2005 shooting, Tshamba shot a man in the foot while off-duty. He told investigators that he was threatened outside a bar or restaurant by a group of men who shouted racial slurs, threw a bottle and drove their car into his.

Police and prosecutors ruled the shooting justified but disciplined him internally for being intoxicated. Additional details were not provided Monday.

In July 1998, Tshamba was involved in another police shooting while on duty in East Baltimore. Police at the time said he shot a man in the back during a foot chase, after hearing a gunshot and thinking the suspect he was after had fired a gun. They said another officer a block away had fired at another fleeing suspect but missed.

But an officer involved in that incident said a gunman was pointing a weapon at him and that Tshamba shot him in the back. "He saved my life," Officer Dino Gregory, a 19-year veteran, told The Baltimore Sun on Sunday.