A 14-year-old boy was shot and killed yesterday morning in his Southwest Baltimore home after a visit by a police officer turned into a deadly fight.
Baltimore police defended the shooting as justified, saying the youth had hit the officer and threatened him with a jagged broken broom handle. It was the second fatal shooting by a city officer in a little more than week. But by late afternoon, the family of Kevin Cooper had already hired an attorney, who presented a different account and questioned the officer's decision to fire.
The youth's mother - a state correctional officer - called police to her home in the 300 block of Font Hill Ave. about 9:30 a.m. with a report that her son was assaulting her, according to Lt. Col. Glenn Williams, the department's Area 2 commander.
Two officers responded, and after the situation appeared to be under control, one left, Williams said. But when Officer Roderick Mitter was taking information for a report, Williams said, the youth "became very agitated."
Williams said the boy attacked Mitter with a broom handle. As Cooper's mother - identified by family members as Greta Carter - attempted to step between the two, the officer used Mace on the boy several times.
The Mace "had no effect," Williams said, and the youth hit Mitter over the head with the broom handle, breaking it in two.
At that point, Mitter - who has been on the force for a year - drew his gun, Williams said, and when Cooper moved toward him with a jagged piece of the handle, Mitter shot the boy in the shoulder.
The youth, who police said had no criminal record, was taken to St. Agnes Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Police said Mitter was taken to Mercy Medical Center to be treated for a concussion and lacerations, and was released later in the day.
Carter would not speak to reporters yesterday, but her attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, gave a different version of events.
Pettit said that the youth was not assaulting his mother, but that the two were having an argument when he threw a television in his room and tossed some clothes into the alley behind the house.
"She was thinking the police would talk to him, put some apprehension in him," Pettit said outside the family's home yesterday afternoon. "It was a regular teenage disagreement thing. She was a mother raising a teenage son."
Pettit agreed with the police account that by the time the first officer left the house, the situation was under control and the youth had calmed down. But the attorney charged that Mitter followed Cooper up to his room, and then back down to the kitchen, heckling and provoking him.
"It was like two kids bickering," Pettit said. Downstairs, Cooper was holding a long-handled dustpan, the attorney said, but "never touched the police officer."
Pettit said the officer used Mace and then shot the youth, while Carter, holding her granddaughter, stood between them.
"It doesn't get any worse than this," Pettit said. "She's devastated. She's looking for help, and it ends in the demise of her son."
In a neighborhood of large brick rowhouses near Southwestern High School, only a few blocks from the nearby police district station, residents remembered Cooper as a nice, respectful youth who always spoke to his neighbors and offered help carrying groceries.
"He was a delightful child. I've known him since he was a baby," said Nita Bellamy, 33. She said she has lived on the block for 15 years and has been close friends with Cooper's mother.
"This woman works hard," Bellamy said. "She's doing the same thing they're doing, trying to protect people, and she has her son murdered. It's immoral."
Cooper's friends described him as a harmless, regular guy who liked to hang out and had just started playing Pop Warner football as a wide receiver on the Harlem Park Bulldogs.
"He was not disrespectful," said Allen Chappell, 17, who took Kevin to the movies and parties and said he thought of the youth as a younger brother.
Cooper's friends were having T-shirts made yesterday in memory of their friend.
Police spokesman Troy Harris said yesterday that there have been 14 shootings this year by Baltimore police officers, but he could not confirm how many were fatal. He said the number of shootings was the same last year at this time.
Just over a week ago, a plainclothes officer on patrol shot and killed a 39-year-old Brooklyn man as he fled a suspected drug deal. In July, an officer fatally shot a 38-year-old man who refused an order to drop a handgun in the 100 block of S. Carey St.
"My heart and the condolences of the whole city go out to the mother and the family of the 14-year-old boy who lost his life today," said Mayor Martin O'Malley. "Police officers do a very dangerous job, and we strive always to give them the equipment, the proper staffing, the backup and the training they need to protect lives and do that incredibly tough job for all of us."
Having a situation turn deadly is "one of the worst things that can happen to the officer," Williams said.
Mitter had recently completed his probationary period. Williams said Mitter will be assigned to desk duty until an investigation into the shooting is complete, in keeping with department policy.
Sun reporter Phillip McGowan contributed to this article.