The Justice Department will investigate the death of 21-year-old Larry Hubbard, who was shot in the back of the head Thursday by a Baltimore police officer during an arrest attempt.
The decision came on a day when several organizations and politicians weighed in on what some view as a racially tinged shooting that has enraged an East Baltimore community and caused city leaders to appeal for calm.
Yesterday, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume called for a federal probe of Hubbard's death and said the Baltimore-based civil rights group would conduct its own investigation. He warned that Baltimore risked falling into "ultimate anarchy" without a federal inquiry. Hubbard, who was black, was killed in a struggle with two white officers.
"The community cannot support a police department if it cannot be trusted to carry out its duties without prejudice," Mfume said. "We have a long way to go in this country in getting away from the racial overtones."
Although Mfume said he sent Attorney General Janet Reno a letter asking for the probe and personally called several Justice Department officials yesterday, a department spokeswoman would not say what sparked the federal investigation.
A probe of questionable police shootings or misconduct is not unusual, said Christine DiBartolo, spokeswoman for the Justice Department's civil rights division.
"We are taking a look at it; it is an open matter," DiBartolo said. "We are taking a look to see what, if any, federal, criminal or civil rights violations may have occurred."
DiBartolo said the Hubbard case will be examined by the FBI's Baltimore bureau, which will forward its findings to the Justice Department's civil rights division. The Justice Department will then decide whether to pursue federal civil rights or criminal charges against the officers involved, DiBartolo said.
Hubbard was killed Thursday evening in an encounter with plainclothes Officers Barry W. Hamilton, 55, an eight-year veteran, and Robert J. Quick, 26, who has been on the force for four years.
In a version of events that sharply contradicts some eyewitness accounts, police said that shortly before 6 p.m., the officers pursued a stolen Oldsmobile to the 300 block of E. 20 1/2 St., where the passenger and driver jumped out. One suspect escaped; police caught Hubbard in the 2000 block of Barclay St.
Police said Hubbard resisted attempts to handcuff him and reached for Quick's gun. Hubbard fell on Quick, bit his hand and pulled at his gun until it popped from its safety holster, police said.
With the gun between them, Quick yelled that Hubbard had his gun. Hamilton then fired one shot into Hubbard's head, killing him, police said.
Witnesses said that Hubbard was unarmed and never reached for the officer's gun, that the officers punched him, partially handcuffed him, tripped him and then shot him as he pleaded for his life.
The officers have been placed on administrative duty.
Yesterday, the acting police commissioner, Col. John Gavrilis, and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke again reassured Baltimore residents that police and the state's attorney's office will conduct their own investigation into Hubbard's death.
Gavrilis welcomed the federal probe and said the department's investigation will run concurrently with the FBI's. Baltimore police are awaiting results of forensic tests, such as DNA and fingerprint analysis, and the enhancement of a police surveillance video from a nearby substation that might have captured the incident, Gavrilis said.
"Every investigation is a search for the truth. We have confidence in our investigative process," Gavrilis said.
Meanwhile, the Barclay Street community, near the city school headquarters on 25th Street, remains upset. Several state legislators and both mayoral candidates also questioned the shooting yesterday.
Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, an outspoken critic of Baltimore police tactics, attended Mfume's announcement yesterday and said that the Hubbard case could become the first to be investigated by the city's new 12-member police civilian review board.
Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the city's Senate delegation, said Hubbard's death at the hands of city police troubles political leaders. "The police have some serious questions to answer," he said. "It was clear this gentleman was shot in the back of the head."
Former Sen. Larry Young organized a meeting last night at the Shake & Bake Family Fun Center on Pennsylvania Avenue, where community and state political leaders discussed the shooting.
"We are frustrated, emotional, and we have had enough," said Brandy Fauntleroy of Cherry Hill, one of the more than 160 people who attended.
Young warned that the issue could divide the city along racial lines.
Republican mayoral candidate David F. Tufaro called the shooting a "serious tragedy" that should not have happened. "We have too much killing, both by our violent criminals and, in some instances, by our police," he said.
Tufaro, who outlined his anti-crime strategies at a news conference outside Northeast Market on East Monument Street, warned that similar incidents could occur under his opponent's "zero tolerance" policing plan.
The Democratic nominee, Martin O'Malley, called Tufaro's comments irresponsible and accused him of using a "tragedy that occurred in our city" to score political points during an election. He said he supports an independent probe of the incident but also called for a "time out" from the rhetoric to let detectives complete their investigation.
O'Malley said he spoke to Mfume early yesterday and left a message at the home of Hubbard's mother.
"We have a very serious life-and-death issue," O'Malley said. "This is not a high school student council election where you can play with rhetoric like that."
Tufaro's comments prompted a terse response from Officer Gary McLhinney, president of Lodge 3, Fraternal Order of Police.
McLhinney said he supports the Justice Department probe if is "fair, impartial and without political influence," but said Tufaro's comments are already undermining the investigation.
The political jockeying comes as the Hubbard family prepares for his burial today and several community groups are sponsoring a rally to protest the shooting this evening in front of the Enoch Pratt Central Library on Cathedral Street.
Hubbard's mother, Deborah C. Carr, said yesterday that she has qualms about an internal police investigation and said she welcomes the Justice Department probe.
"I want everything done," Carr said. "I want this cop put away forever."
Sun staff writers Erin Texeira, Peter Hermann and Ivan Penn contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 10/13/99