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Friends seek answers in killing of woman

John Dickson wants to know why three city police officers shot his former girlfriend Gloria Hopkins, killing her as they responded to her 911 call for help.

"This is not a woman that was standing out on a park bench threatening people," said Dickson, who believes police could have used pepper spray or some other nonlethal method in the Friday night confrontation in Canton. "She was not hanging out her window yelling and screaming at neighbors."

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But police said this week that the shooting will likely be ruled a justifiable homicide. Police say Hopkins, 48, who suffered from mental illness, had lunged at the three officers with knives that she held in each hand.

"While the shooting is clearly terribly tragic, we believe, pending the outcome of our investigation, that it was justified," said police spokesman Matt Jablow. "It's hard to know how long the investigation will take, but it shouldn't take that long. It doesn't seem that complex. They'll do a thorough investigation."

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But that gives little comfort to Gloria Hopkins' son, other relatives and friends who describe her as a kind, caring woman who took immense pride in her home and loved decorating it -- inside and out -- during the holidays.

Here is the police account of what happened, as told by Jablow:

Sometime around 4 p.m. Friday, Hopkins called 911, said she needed help and hung up. Later, she placed a second call to 911, said, "I think I'm going to hurt someone," and hung up again.

At that time, Sgt. Duane Henry, 40, Officer Julio Jaramillo, 34, and Officer Scott Swenson, 25, were dispatched to her home in the 600 block of S. Streeper St.

Jablow said when the officers arrived in three cruisers, Hopkins was standing in the living room window and motioned for them to come in. Once inside, he said, the officers found Hopkins holding kitchen knives with 7-inch blades in each hand -- in a threatening manner.

"The officers yelled at her several times to put the knives down," Jablow said. "Neighbors confirmed that they heard that. Then she lunged at them, and they opened fire."

The officers entered Hopkins' house at 4:09 p.m. Two minutes later, at 4:11 p.m., they called for an ambulance, Jablow said.

All three shot at her

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He would not disclose how many times Hopkins was struck by bullets or where her wounds were. But Jablow said all three officers fired at her.

Henry has been on the Baltimore force for 10 years, Jaramillo for six years and Swenson for less than two years, Jablow said. All three have been placed on paid administrative leave, which is routine when an officer has been involved in a shooting.

Hopkins' death is reminiscent of the police-involved shooting death of Betty Keat, 63, who was fatally wounded in her North Baltimore home in January 1996.

Keat, who suffered from manic depression and paranoid schizophrenia, was killed after four officers entered her home in the 300 block of Taplow Road in Homeland by smashing a living room window. The officers went to her home after neighbors called, saying she had thrown bottles containing unlighted matches and an undetermined flammable liquid into their yards.

She was shot after officers twice sprayed her with pepper spray and after she failed to drop the knife she held, as police ordered. The officers who shot Keat were not prosecuted.

Dickson, Hopkins' former boyfriend, said she had been depressed over their recent breakup and the loss of her job at The Good Tidings, a division of Commerce Corp., a Pasadena wholesale lawn and garden distributor.

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'Taught to shoot'

Timothy Lynch, a use-of-force expert who trains instructors who train officers -- including some Baltimore police officers -- said it's valid to question whether lesser means of intervention would have been appropriate. However, he said, officers are "taught to shoot" when someone is brandishing a knife and refuses to drop it.

"Officers are taught in survival that a person wielding a knife within a distance of 21 feet can close that [distance] and kill you within a second and a half," Lynch said. "Even if you shoot and kill them in the process, there's enough commitment on the part of the person with the knife to kill you."

Lynch said it's easy for people to second-guess officers' actions.

"Keep in mind that threat perception is based on training and experience," Lynch said. "You have to put yourself in the officers' shoes and what threat perception level they were at, at the time."

Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore, said that while tragic, the shooting death of Hopkins is typical in large cities.

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"The person calls the police ... police either are not informed of what's going on, the mental status of the individual, and they walk into the situation and they end up shooting, injuring or killing the person," Ross said. "What happens is you have neighbors who have conflicting accounts. They're not there seeing what the police officer is seeing. It's fairly typical the police officer will say they lunged at them. We don't know. We're not there."

Questions that come to mind, Ross said, include why Hopkins called police to her home and why three of them showed up.

"The officers do have a wide variety of experience," said Ross, author of Making News of Police Violence.

He added, "One of the questions will be who did what first, and that sort of thing. Who gave the order to shoot first, if there was such an order. I guess the public would like to know. Her family would certainly like to know."


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