A Baltimore police officer who shot and killed an apparently unarmed teen-ager in 1993 was given a letter of reprimand and his police powers were taken away in October, city police officials disclosed yesterday.
The shooting led to a six-year saga in criminal courts for Officer Edward T. Gorwell II. It culminated in 1999 when prosecutors dropped manslaughter charges as a result of new evidence.
The department was seeking to fire Gorwell, but reached an agreement with him that revoked his police powers but kept him on the Police Department payroll - instead of taking him before an internal police board - for a variety of reasons, said Sean R. Malone, head of the legal affairs unit of the department.
The case would have been difficult to prove nine years after the event, and the police hearing board might have acquitted Gorwell, allowing the officer to go back on the street, Malone said.
"This is a very old case," Malone said. "We needed to ensure the officer was not put back on the street where an incident like this could happen again."
Malone said that evidence showed that Gorwell might have been fired upon - as the officer contended at the time of the shooting. But Gorwell did not follow department guidelines for using force when he fired his gun without having a specific target, Malone said.
Under the agreement, the 11-year veteran was allowed to continue earning a police salary and retain eligibility for a future pension. But he had to give up his badge and gun, and has been assigned to the department's communications division, Malone said.
Gorwell shot and killed 14-year-old Simmont D. Thomas, who was fleeing from a stolen car in a densely wooded area at the edge of Gwynns Falls Park in West Baltimore. Gorwell said at the time that he heard a gunshot and then opened fire, hitting the running teen. No gun other than Gorwell's was found at the scene.
Gorwell was indicted within weeks of the shooting. His first trial in 1993 ended in a mistrial when one of the jurors failed to show up for deliberations. After a series of appeals that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Gorwell was scheduled for trial again in 1999.
Two days before the trial date, a police laboratory technician decided to conduct a sophisticated forensic test - unavailable to police in 1993 - that detects the presence of gunshot residue. The test revealed traces of gunshot residue from Thomas' left hand, police said at the time. Prosecutors then dropped the case on the morning of Gorwell's scheduled trial.
Gorwell could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Union officials said Gorwell should not have been punished, but that the officer had decided to put the case behind him. "I don't think he should have lost his police powers," said Gary McLhinney, president of the local police union. "This has hung over this officer's head for nine years."
Relatives of Thomas could not be reached for comment last night.