Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Beer, a fight, fatal gunfire

The Baltimore Sun

On the night of his 44th anniversary as a Baltimore police officer, Norman Stamp drank beer at a strip club on Haven Street with members of the motorcycle club he helped found - a tight fraternity called the Chosen Sons.

Shortly after midnight, a dispute with another group led to harsh words and then punches.

A brawl spilled out into the parking lot and drew three uniformed police officers. Stamp, brass knuckles on his fist, rushed out a side door. He apparently didn't hear or notice the uniformed Officer John Torres or his orders to stop.

Torres, a five-year veteran, felled Stamp with an electric jolt from a Taser, and the off-duty officer pulled out his service weapon.

Torres fired his gun twice, hitting Stamp at least once in the chest. The 65-year-old struggled to his feet and said: "I didn't know you were a cop," according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Stamp died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center about 1:30 a.m., leaving police stunned at how one of their colleagues - a person with more than four decades of police experience - challenged a fellow officer and ended up fatally wounded on a grimy lot.

"The Norm Stamp that I know would not have pulled a gun on police," said Paul Blair, the police union president. "Maybe it was tunnel vision and he didn't realize they were officers. It is an unbelievable way to end a career. It is a hell of a way to end a career."

Blair defended the officer who shot Stamp, saying: "Officer Torres did everything by the book. That officer was devastated."

Bleary-eyed police commanders stood at a morning news conference and concurred, saying it appeared that Torres followed department policy when he fired.

"Torres was issuing commands," said Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. "He deployed his Taser. He followed his training; he did what he was taught to do in terms of dealing with these types of situations."

City police officers have shot 10 people this year, killing seven. Last year, they shot 33, killing 13.

About Stamp, the commissioner said: "He was a mentor to some and a friend to many."

Bealefeld said one man involved in the incident broke his leg while resisting police, and that person was arrested. Police had not released his name yesterday.

"This is an incredibly difficult time," Bealefeld said. "The men and women of your Police Department will remain focused, vigilant and undaunted."

Men from the Chosen Sons, the other brotherhood that defined Stamp's life, shed quiet tears. They put on a pot of coffee and sat around their clubhouse, smoking cigarettes and telling stories about the man who they said founded their organization with other police officers and firefighters in 1969.

"He's a survivor," said Paul "Nitro" Treash, the sergeant-of-arms of the club. "This [biker] lifestyle, it isn't for everybody. These guys will fight and die for each other."

As Treash talked about his friend, he was frequently interrupted by phone calls.

"Norm's dead," he told a caller. "I know, I know. They are going to try to cover this up," he said shaking his head.

Like the police, none of the bikers could believe Stamp would pull a weapon on an officer. "That is stuff that he has preached to us. When a cop gives an order you should comply. We're just beside ourselves right now."

They said that the night began with an initiation. Stamp, as a founding member of the club, played a key role. The members, as part of a hazing, told a new guy he had been rejected and ordered him to leave the clubhouse.

But Stamp, 65, ran out after him, saying: "Get back here and tell those guys to [expletive] off," then tossed him a wadded-up jacket with the club's colors - or patch - emblazoned on the back, said Michael Privett, who became the newest member of the club.

The men celebrated at the club for a while. Some went home. Others walked two blocks to Haven Place, a strip club that bills itself as "a gentleman's tavern" with "go-go girls."

That is where the fight broke out. Police, who interviewed many of the people in the bar, said the fracas started over women. Members of the motorcycle club interviewed by The Sun did not mention the women.

Treash, who was not there but spoke to many of the club members yesterday, said Stamp had tried to stop the fight in the bar.

Outside, police Officers Raymond Buda, a 27-year veteran, and Jason J. Rivera, who has seven years on the force, tried to break up the fight. One person was brandishing a broken bottle, police said, and as the officers were trying to arrest people, Torres positioned himself by the bar's side door to keep others from joining the fight.

It was then that Stamp emerged from the club with brass knuckles, Bealefeld said.

Treash said he thought Stamp knew that police had been called and intended to mediate the situation. But he also noted that his friend always liked a good fight.

Torres commanded Stamp to stop and he did not, said the police commissioner. There was "no indication" that Stamp identified himself as an officer, Bealefeld said.

Charles Thrasher, owner of the Haven Place, said he has worked hard over the years to keep the club free of trouble.

He inherited the business from his father in 1980. Three years before, a 35-year-old Sparrows Point man was stabbed to death outside the bar with a broken bottle, in what police suspected was a robbery.

One of two suspects was a man on a motorcycle, according to an article in The Evening Sun at the time. "I think I've settled it down quite a bit over the years," said Thrasher, who said he was a friend of Stamp's and knew him for 30 years.

Yesterday, a white rubber glove and an unused oxygen mask lay on the parking lot near pools of blood. A police field interview card also lay on the ground with a bloodstain.

The parking lot where Stamp was shot is isolated, surrounded by a BGE transmission station. Gang graffiti are sprayed on a back wall.

Several cars stopped by in the morning. People said they had heard about what happened and were curious to see the place where a city police officer killed his off-duty colleague.

A viewing will be held at Bruzdzinski Funeral Home, 1407 Old Eastern Ave., on Saturday and Sunday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. A memorial service will be held at the funeral home Monday at 11 a.m.

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