A grand jury cleared two Baltimore police officers yesterday in the October shooting death of Larry Hubbard, prompting outrage from the victim's family, which maintained that the unarmed man was executed.
State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said the 23-member jury heard eight days of testimony from about two dozen witnesses, including police experts and the officers involved, and determined that the officers acted in accordance with "law and their training."
"This is a very unfortunate incident. A young man's life is lost. We do not take that lightly," Jessamy said at a news conference announcing the decision. "We were very serious in the presentation of this case, but the grand jury has spoken."
Jessamy refused to discuss specific testimony but said several witnesses changed their stories under oath, which bolstered the case against criminal indictments.
That Jessamy did not argue for an indictment - which is common when prosecutors convene a grand jury - sparked criticism that she is not serious about curtailing alleged police misconduct in Baltimore.
"You can take it to the grand jury to get an indictment or you can take it a grand jury to make mumbo-jumbo out of it," said A. Dwight Pettit, one of the attorneys representing Hubbard's family. "This gives her political cover. She can say 'We took it to the grand jury, and they did nothing.' [This] is political hogwash and a farce."
The jury findings conclude the criminal investigation against officers Barry W. Hamilton and Robert J. Quick, who could have been indicted on manslaughter or murder charges.
"I can say without hesitation that we have presented every witness and, in this case, justice was done," Jessamy said.
Hamilton, then 55, shot Hubbard in the back of the head on Oct. 7 when he allegedly resisted arrest and tried to grab then 26-year-old Quick's gun, the officers said. Witnesses of the shooting said the partially handcuffed Hubbard was not resisting arrest and was shot while pleading for his life after the officers beat him in the 2000 block of Barclay St.
The shooting by the two white officers of an unarmed black man became a rallying point for those opposed to Mayor Martin O'Malley's plan for zero tolerance-style policing in Baltimore and led to seven public and private investigations.
Deborah C. Carr, Hubbard's mother, called the grand jury findings "an insult" yesterday and vowed to press ahead with a $60 million wrongful death suit that was filed in Baltimore Circuit Court last week.
"All I can say is, justice wasn't served, and I feel the officers just got away with murder," said Carr.
Fraternal Order of Police attorneys for Quick and Hamilton applauded the decision and said the Hubbard family and their lawyers should apologize and shake the officers' hands.
"They should come in here and say 'We are sorry, Barry [Hamilton], we are sorry, Officer Quick. We made a mistake, and let's go on with our lives,' " Henry Belsky, an FOP attorney representing Hamilton, said at an afternoon news conference downtown.
Hamilton, a military veteran who has been on the force for nine years, spoke briefly at the news conference, thanking his supporters over the past eight months. "I am just glad it's finally over," he said, noting that he still fears for his family's safety.
Quick, a five-year department veteran, was on vacation in Florida and unavailable for comment, attorneys said.
He and Hamilton have been on administrative duty since the incident, and their lawyers said yesterday that they hope the officers can return to street duty soon.
Ragina C. Averella, the chief police spokeswoman, said Quick and Hamilton will remain on administrative duty until an internal department investigation is concluded. No timetable was provided.
Jessamy said there was "not overwhelming evidence" for an indictment or a ruling of justifiable shooting.
Because grand jury proceedings are secret, Jessamy refused to discuss the jury's racial makeup or whether the decision was unanimous.
"There were discrepancies in what the eyewitnesses initially said that would raise some questions" about the officers' conduct, Jessamy said. "When the witnesses were all sworn and had to tell the truth, the discrepancies were not as obvious."
Jessamy has seldom prosecuted police officers involved in shootings.
In 1997, she gained national attention when, despite videotape evidence, she refused to convene a grand jury to investigate the action of Baltimore police officer Charles M. Smothers II, who shot and killed a knife-wielding man outside Lexington Market.
Since Jessamy was appointed in 1995 and elected state's attorney in 1998, she has pursued two city police officers for prosecution in fatal shootings.
Sgt. Stephen R. Pagotto was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in February 1997, but the Court of Special Appeals overturned the conviction.
Jessamy planned to prosecute Edward T. Gorwell II on manslaughter charges for shooting an apparently unarmed teen-ager in 1993, but she dropped the charges in February 1999 when new test results found gunpowder residue on the teen-ager's left hand.
Prominent black leaders, including NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, noted Jessamy's record in handling shootings involving police officers when they pushed last fall for a Justice Department investigation into Hubbard's death. That investigation is continuing, officials said yesterday.
Asked whether her handling of such shootings would harm her chances of re-election, Jessamy said her office has prosecuted more officers for illegal conduct than any other state's attorney in Maryland has.
"We have a track record of doing the right thing," Jessamy said.
Residents of Barclay, where Hubbard was killed, condemned the grand jury's decision.
"I was here when Hubbard got shot, and for the grand jury to say the officers did nothing wrong is bogus," said Gary Washington, 44, standing by a weathered, spray-painted memorial to Hubbard near the shooting scene. "I ask you, if you had your hand cuffed and your hands behind your back and a cop said, 'If you move again I will blow your brains off' and then he shoots, is that acting appropriately?"
Eastern District Maj. Elfago Moye said he did not expect civil unrest because of the verdict. "The majority of the citizens up there are law-abiding and will stand behind the decision made," Moye said. "But if something develops, we will deploy as necessary."
Many Barclay residents sat silently when told of the grand jury decision. "You talk about justice, there ain't no justice for us," said Brian Wingate, 20.