A man killed by a police officer Thursday evening in East Baltimore was shot in the back of the head -- a revelation that raises questions about a shooting that has enraged residents in the Barclay Street neighborhood.
Homicide detectives are sorting through two distinct versions of what happened when two officers confronted Larry J. Hubbard, 21, after he ran from an Oldsmobile that was reported stolen from Montgomery County on Tuesday.
The officers describe a violent struggle with Hubbard before the fatal shooting on a street near the city school headquarters. Seven witnesses interviewed by The Sun said the officers kicked and punched Hubbard, knocked him to the ground and then shot him as he pleaded for his life.
"That entire block heard [Hubbard] shouting, 'Please don't shoot me, please don't shoot me,' and then we heard a muffled pop," said Kelly D. Brown, who said she saw the incident from less than 10 yards away.
"[The officer] said 'If you don't get off that officer, I am going to blow your brains off,' " said another witness, Dana Rhone, 28. "Three seconds later, you heard pop."
Police would not identify witnesses, but said they had talked to more than a dozen by yesterday evening.
Robert W. Weinhold Jr., the department's chief spokesman, said homicide detectives have heard different stories -- some opposing the police version and others "who said they saw a struggle for the gun."
Weinhold told reporters at a headquarters news conference that officials will be honest. "The department understands the community concern and would ask that citizens not rush to judgment before a thorough and credible investigation is completed," he said.
But residents along Barclay Street didn't accept that yesterday. Shouts of "murderers" echoed as a police cruiser sped by the shooting scene. Area residents held a peaceful vigil at the site last night.
Police worked hard yesterday to calm tensions in the neighborhood, and officers who counsel youths who witness violence were dispatched to talk to residents and ease their concerns.
'A lot of hostility'
The Eastern District commander, Maj. James L. Hawkins Jr., visited with community leaders in a closed-door meeting last night.
"We got a lot of hostility," said Sgt. Richard Hite. "But at the same time, we got assurances from community leaders for calm heads to prevail."
The officer who fired his 9mm Glock handgun was identified as Barry W. Hamilton, 55, an eight-year veteran. The officer who was engaged in the apparent struggle is Robert J. Quick Jr., 26, who has been on the force four years. Both plainclothes officers are white and are members of a gun recovery unit. Hubbard is black.
Quick is one of three city officers named in a federal lawsuit filed in March by an East Baltimore man who says he was subjected to "crude racial epithets" during an arrest three years ago for possessing an open container of alcohol.
15th police shooting
Police officials said they placed both officers on administrative duties. Once homicide detectives complete their probe, the case will be turned over to the state's attorney's office, where prosecutors will determine whether to present evidence to a grand jury.
Thursday night's incident was the 15th police shooting this year, and the fourth to result in a death. It comes nearly a month after an officer shot and killed Baltimore resident Mardio House after apparently mistaking a cellular phone for a gun.
The city state's attorney's office said yesterday that it is reviewing that case.
Yesterday, Hubbard's family visited the shooting scene, wept over the spot where the young man had been killed and demanded answers.
"I feel like I am in a nightmare, an endless nightmare," said Hubbard's mother, Deborah C. Carr.
Relatives remembered Hubbard, who lived on East 20th Street near where he was shot, as a shy child who enjoyed rap songs and played basketball. He attended Fairmount/Harford High School and had worked for a flower shop on East Chase Street scrubbing floors and pruning flowers in his early teens. He often peddled flowers door-to-door to earn extra cash.
"I think he would have grown up to be a florist," Carr said.
Hubbard was the father of a 2-year-old girl and has another child due next month.
He had been arrested about a dozen times since 1994, though only one conviction could be found last night: a misdemeanor drug charge last year for which he was sentenced to one year in jail. At the time of his death, felony drug and robbery charges were pending against him.
Police recovered a surveillance video that scans from a police substation at the corner of Barclay and East 20th streets toward the site of the shooting, less than a block away. Investigators and top police officials reviewed the tape but said it revealed little information. They plan to digitally enhance the footage to get a clearer image.
"All you see is shadows," said Col. Bert Shirey, a patrol chief. "There are steps from a porch that obscure much of what is going on."
Preliminary information released by police Thursday night described a violent altercation during which Hubbard and the officers fought for control of a police gun, which discharged during the struggle.
Shot in the head
Weinhold also said that early police statements that Hubbard had been shot in the side of the head came from an emergency medical technician who examined the wounded man at the scene. Preliminary autopsy results released last night confirmed that Hubbard had been shot in the back of the head.
The department's chief spokesman, Weinhold, gave a more complete version of events yesterday, based on statements from the officers, who he said were cooperating with investigators.
The officers reported seeing an Oldsmobile speeding up Greenmount Avenue shortly before 6 p.m. They followed the car two blocks to the 300 block of East 20 1/2 St., where the passenger and driver jumped out. Hubbard ran through an alleyway that leads onto Barclay Street. The officers drove around the block and intercepted him. The other suspect was not captured.
Tried to handcuff him
Weinhold said the officers ordered Hubbard to sit on a curb, but that he became agitated and restless. Thinking he was about to run, Quick stood Hubbard up and tried to handcuff him.
Quick attached one cuff to Hubbard's left wrist, but Hubbard resisted, the officers said. "According to the officer, [Hubbard] suddenly reached down and grabbed his service weapon with both hands, attempting to pull it from its holster."
The spokesman said a violent struggle ensued. Hamilton grabbed Hubbard from behind, but was unable to separate Hubbard and Quick. During the fight, Weinhold said, Quick fell to the ground with the 250-pound Hubbard on top of him. He said Hubbard bit Quick on the hand and arm and pulled at Quick's weapon until the gun popped out of its holster from a broken safety snap.
Weinhold said the gun lodged between Hubbard's and Quick's chests. "He got my gun, get off my gun," Quick yelled several times, police said. Police said Hamilton fired one shot, striking Hubbard in the back of the head.
Henry Belsky, the lawyer for the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3, would not comment on specifics of the case nor would he say what Hamilton told investigators. "My position is that what they did was appropriate," he said. "I am confident that their actions will be vindicated."
But seven people who said they saw the shooting said the officers threw Hubbard against a wall and kneed and punched him. They said one officer turned him around and used his hands to snatch Hubbard's feet from under him, causing him to slide down the brick wall.
The officers took off his boots and then stood him back up facing the wall. Witnesses said the officer later identified as Quick cuffed his right hand and Hamilton grabbed his left leg, causing Hubbard to topple over.
"An officer grabbed him, took him to the ground, and another officer put a gun to his head and said he would kill him," said Rhone. "He was pleading 'Don't kill me!' and then you heard a pop."
Hubbard's relatives angrily sought answers last night. "Although he did get in trouble in the past, he did not have to die like this," said Larry Hubbard Sr., the victim's father. "We have to fight tooth and nail to find out what happened."