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Family of man fatally shot by state police files claim Officers botched arrest, attorney says


The family of Antonio Carlos Towns, the owner of a West Baltimore barbershop who was shot to death in Towson after a high speed auto chase, has filed a $20 million negligence claim against the state of Maryland, the state police and the two troopers involved in the incident.

But an attorney representing Mr. Towns' parents, his 3-year-old daughter and the child's mother, Jacqueline Day, said a cash settlement will not erase his clients' grief.

"In our system of justice, the only thing available to Tony's family, and this child specifically, are money damages," said attorney Terry S. Lavenstein. "You can't get an eye for an eye, and that certainly wouldn't bring Tony back."

Nearly 100 people -- friends, relatives, neighbors and colleagues -- attended a quiet candlelight vigil for Mr. Towns last night in front of his Swann Street unisex barbershop. They came, they said, to show their support and sympathy for Mr. Towns' family and to express their rising concern about police officers who seem too ready to fire guns at young black men.

"We find that we are being stereotyped," said Verdina Hurt, 43, Mr. Towns' cousin. "There are some decent young black men around, and Tony was one."

Earlier, Mr. Lavenstein, the attorney, said the claim filed with the state treasurer's office Friday is required by law before a civil lawsuit can be filed in Circuit Court. The state could settle the claim, but Mr. Lavenstein predicted that "this case will ultimately wind up in litigation. We're just following the rules."

Police have said the shooting April 25 was accidental, that Trooper Chad P. Hymel's gun discharged inadvertently when he was thrown off balance as Trooper Nicholas J. Over Jr. tried to pull Mr. Towns' to the ground before handcuffing him. At the time, each trooper had a hand on one of Mr. Towns' arms.

But Mr. Lavenstein and his clients say that Mr. Towns' arrest was botched, and that if the police version of the events is accurate, the troopers shouldn't have tried to grapple with Mr. Towns while holding their guns.

Mr. Towns, 34, had no police record, and no weapons, drugs or alcohol were found in his car. The state medical examiner's office found no trace of drugs or alcohol in his body.

At last night's vigil, Lillian Makle, a friend of Mr. Towns', heard many people agree when she said, "Everyone is here because we know his death was no accident."

The Rev. Benjamin Jones, who led the group in prayer, thanked God for "the memory of Tony, a good young man" who lived an honorable life. Then, referring to the state police investigation, he prayed "that our government may be troubled tonight. They are looking, searching, trying to find reasons and causes to find an innocent man [Mr. Towns] guilty."

The state police internal affairs unit has completed its investigation, but the findings have not yet been presented to the superintendent, Col. Larry W. Tolliver, according to a spokesman, Capt. Johnny Hughes.

A parallel criminal investigation is expected to take several more days, Captain Hughes said. Those findings will be submitted to a Baltimore County grand jury, which will decide whether to bring charges. In the meantime, Trooper Hymel is performing administrative duties, his police powers suspended.

As Mr. Lavenstein spoke with a visitor to his office, Mr. Towns' daughter, Jamecia DeaShaun Campbell, played at her mother's feet. Asked if she understood where her father was, she answered, "He's with the angels."

Police say Mr. Towns sped off in his red 1987 Corvette after being stopped for driving 81 mph, as clocked by state police radar on Interstate 83 near Mount Carmel Road. With troopers in pursuit, he raced down I-83, York Road and Seminary and Bellona avenues to Charles Street and the Beltway before being stopped, police say.

It's behavior that baffles his parents, Charles and Barbara Towns of Kenilworth Park in Baltimore.

Mr. Towns, 72, said his son was "cool as a cucumber" and harbored no disrespect for police officers.

"His best friend is a state trooper," he said. "They went to California together, and he [the trooper, whom Mr. Towns declined to name] was going to be the best man at his wedding."

"He never talked back," Mrs. Towns, 53, said quietly. "He was always an obedient child."

Ms. Day, 31, of Leesburg, Va., said she met Mr. Towns at a club six years ago. In a sometimes tearful conversation, she described him as a quiet, easygoing man who enjoyed walks in the park, television and movies. He was absorbed in renovations at his Edmondson Village hair salon and worked long hours. He doted on his daughter, she said, and showed no signs of temper or impulsiveness.

"Even when I locked his keys in the car, with the engine running," she recalled, "he said, 'Don't even worry about it.' And I said, 'But, it's your 'Vette.' But he was fine."

Ms. Day said Mr. Towns loved to drive his Corvette. And, at least when she was along, he did not seem to be a speeder. "Sometimes I would tell him, 'Tony, don't you think you're driving a little slow? At least keep up with traffic.' "

Ms. Day recalled two previous occasions when police pulled him over, most recently in Virginia in March. He was issued a warning about one of the Corvette's retractable headlamps, which didn't work.

But since it was daytime and lights weren't needed, Ms. Day suspects the real reason for the stop was that Mr. Towns fitted a profile some police officers use to spot criminal suspects.

"He was a young black man in a nice car," she said.

But after running a computer check on Mr. Towns and his car, the officer was polite, she said, and Mr. Towns did not appear upset.

"I said to Tony, 'Why would they stop you for a light?' He said, 'I don't know. Don't worry about it.' "

Mr. Towns' friends have suggested that he may have fled police because he feared a speeding ticket would increase his insurance payments. But Mr. Towns said his son was not financially pressed. He was making regular payments to his parents, who had mortgaged their home to finance their son's new shop.

"Things were going sweet," Mr. Towns said. And if his insurance had become a problem, his son wouldn't have worried, "because I would pay it," he said.

"The family's position," Mr. Lavenstein said, "is that he wasn't the type who would run. If it's found that he did run, it's very uncharacteristic. He has never run in the past."

Mr. Lavenstein said he does not believe the trooper shot Mr. Towns out of anger. And he acknowledged that police may assume the worst when a motorist flees from arrest at high speed.

But whatever assumptions Trooper Hymel may have made, once Mr. Towns was out of his car, unarmed, "He [Hymel] didn't handle himself as police officers are trained to do. If he had, [Mr. Towns] would not be dead."

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