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Westminster man shot by police is charged with assault for allegedly wielding air rifle

Police look at a rifle left in the grass at the scene of a police-involved shooting behind a business in the unit block of East Green Street near the Maryland Midland Railway tracks in Westminster Friday evening, April 3, 2020.
Police look at a rifle left in the grass at the scene of a police-involved shooting behind a business in the unit block of East Green Street near the Maryland Midland Railway tracks in Westminster Friday evening, April 3, 2020. (Dylan Slagle)

A Westminster man faces charges after he allegedly pointed an air rifle at police, refused to lower it and was shot three times by officers who fired 28 rounds but were found legally justified in their use of force.

Thomas C. Henson, 29, who is listed in online court records with an unknown Westminster address, was charged with three counts each of first- and second-degree assault, plus one count of failing to obey a reasonable and lawful order given by a police officer, online court records show. However, the state had abandoned the first-degree assault charges as of Tuesday, records indicate.

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Thomas C. Henson
Thomas C. Henson (Carroll County Sheriff's Office)

He was arrested Monday and is being held without bond, court records show. An arrest warrant was issued May 29.

Ned Coyne, deputy state’s attorney for Carroll County, did not directly address why the first-degree assault charges were dropped.

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“The second degree assault charges were the appropriate charges based on the law and the facts [of the case],” he said Tuesday. Coyne declined to comment on other aspects of the case, stating he cannot comment on pending cases.

Westminster Police Department responded at about 5:10 p.m. on April 3 to the railroad tracks near East Green Street at the bridge for a report of a man with a rifle, according to charging documents. The person who contacted police said the man was “staggering” up the hill, the documents state. Police later identified the rifle as a Winchester Air Rifle – Model 1100S, according to charging documents.

The first officers to arrive saw the man, later identified as Henson, walk up a hill from the railroad tracks to a grassy area behind 6 E. Green St., carrying what appeared to be a black rifle pointing upward, charging documents read. The officers yelled at Henson to put the firearm down, but he refused and walked in circles saying, “no” repeatedly and “I don’t have to put the gun down,” police wrote.

Officers continued to shout orders, then Henson raised the rifle to his shoulder and took up a “fighting stance,” pointing the rifle at Officer James O’Brien, Pfc. Ashley Stahlman and Sgt. Christopher Workman, according to charging documents.

Henson did not initially put his hand hear the trigger, but as officers continued to try to get him to lower the weapon, Henson moved his finger to the trigger area, and then officers fired “numerous shots” at him, charging documents state. Henson fell to the ground, dropping the weapon, and officers immediately provided medical support until emergency medical services arrived, charging documents read.

Henson was taken to University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore and has undergone several weeks of treatment, police wrote, though the documents did not include any further details on his medical condition.

An investigation conducted by Maryland State Police found the officers were legally justified in their use of force. The officers fired 28 rounds and struck Henson three times, twice in the abdomen and once in the knee, investigators found. No officers were injured, according to Westminster police news release issued April 3.

Carroll County Public Defender’s Office confirmed Tuesday it is representing Henson, but declined to comment on the case or his medical condition.

Henson has a trial scheduled for Aug. 25.

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