Groups call for civilian review of police; Protesters doubt motive in clearing of officer


Protesters called for the creation of a civilian review panel yesterday to investigate new evidence that unexpectedly cleared a white Baltimore police officer last week in the 1993 fatal shooting of a black teen-ager.

"We think this alleged new evidence is questionable at best," said Jeff Bigelow of the All People's Congress, one of two groups that staged a noon rally outside police headquarters.

The groups say they are planning a larger rally for March 5.

Many of the more than 20 protesters said they were suspicious of the evidence because it was uncovered by a Police Department with a motive for clearing one of its own.

Bill Goodin of Unity in Actionsaid the circumstances merit an independent citizen review with full subpoena power.

"As long as citizens labor out of the process, these things will continue to happen," he said.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has resisted repeated calls during his five-year tenure to set up a civilian review board, arguing that his department can adequately police itself.

Prosecutors dropped involuntary manslaughter charges Thursday against Officer Edward T. Gorwell II after a police lab technician on his own initiative conducted a sophisticated new test that revealed gunpowder residue on swabs taken of the teen's left hand. That evidence suggests that 14-year-old Simmont Donta Thomas, who reportedly was left-handed, could have fired a gun during the incident. Tests performed in 1993 had revealed no residue.

Gorwell, who maintained he fired at the teen in self-defense, was minutes away from the start of his second trial when prosecutors disclosed the new evidence. When Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas could not be persuaded to postpone the trial, prosecutors dropped the charges and ordered a new test by an independent laboratory, saying they might refile charges later.

The case was one of the more debated cases of deadly force in recent Baltimore police history, prompting accusations of racism against the department from African-Americans.

Among the more outspoken protesters yesterday was Dennis Green, stepfather of Simmont Thomas.

"I want justice, and I will fight," he shouted through a bullhorn. "I'm not afraid of the system. I will not go away."

Pub Date: 2/16/99

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