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Decorated officer at center of police custody death investigation

A decorated officer who was shot in the line of duty and testified before lawmakers about tightening gun laws is one of three officers being investigated in the death of an East Baltimore man during a drug arrest.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed that Todd A. Strohman and two other officers — Gregg Boyd, a 16-year veteran, and Michael Vodarick, a seven-year veteran — were involved in the arrest. Strohman, a three-year veteran, had been lauded by the mayor and others for his police work.

Anthony Anderson, 46, was injured during a drug arrest Sept. 21. He died a short time later, and this week he state medical examiner's office ruled the death a homicide caused by blunt force trauma.

Guglielmi declined to comment further. Police and prosecutors continue to investigate whether charges will be brought against the officers.

The case has stirred anger in East Baltimore, where some residents say police are overly aggressive with citizens. The Police Department had withheld the names of the officers, citing safety concerns. It has named all 13 officers involved in police shootings this year, in accordance with a policy dictating that those names be released within 48 hours of police-involved shootings. The department said Wednesday that that policy should be applied in this case.

All three officers involved in Anderson's arrest have been suspended with pay since the incident, and Anderson's family has called for criminal charges. Relatives, some of whom say they witnessed the encounter, say Anderson was unnecessarily thrown to the ground and that officers ignored his rapidly deteriorating condition.

Strohman's attorney, Michael Belsky, said: "We are confident that if a thorough and fair investigation is conducted through the appropriate channels, it will reveal that these officers did absolutely everything by the book."

On Nov. 27, 2010, Strohman was seriously wounded after being shot during a running gunbattle up North Calvert Street. Strohman had been on the force just a year when he was struck above his bullet-resistant vest, with the bullet ricocheting off a small metal plate on his uniform and missing an artery by one millimeter and lodging 2 inches above his heart.

Convicted in the case was Franklin Gross, who had been arrested 10 times, including five times for having illegal guns. The shooting occurred just 17 days after Gross was released from prison.

Strohman recovered and returned to work shortly after getting out of the hospital. He went with the Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III to testify before the legislature in Annapolis in favor of tighter gun bills. Rawlings-Blake also praised Strohman during her State of the City address last year.

Robert F. Cherry, president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police lodge, has maintained that the officers were acting within the scope of their duties and should be cleared. He called Strohman a "hero" for his prior police work.

"We've asked for patience while our officers do an investigation," Cherry said. "But the family [of Anderson] wants to make this out to be a crime. It turns out one of the officers involved is a hero with a good record who not only took a bullet for this city but busted his ass to get back healthy enough so he could get back to the street and keep people safe. It says a lot not just about his character but the others out there."

Vodarick's attorney, Catherine Flynn, said the officers are "happy that the case is being thoroughly investigated" and are "quite confident that they will be cleared of wrongdoing as a result." 

An attorney for Boyd declined to comment.

In an unusual move that has rankled some veteran prosecutors and police, the Police Department hand-delivered the autopsy results to the Anderson family on Tuesday, which veteran investigators say is uncommon because of concerns that the dissemination of key facts could compromise the case.

Asked about the case Wednesday, Rawlings-Blake said she could not comment but praised Police Commissioner-designate Anthony W. Batts, who has taken over the agency in advance of his City Council confirmation. Batts has not commented publicly on the case, but he visited Anderson's family last week to tell them that the case was being taken seriously.

"I'm very impressed with the way Commissioner Batts has addressed this issue," Rawlings-Blake said after the Board of Estimates meeting. "Any death is a tragedy. He's been on it from the beginning, making sure that it's investigated and investigated properly. He's gone out and spoken to the family. He was very clear when he walked in the door that there was going to be zero tolerance for abuse. We expect in every encounter our police have with the public that it is done in a respectful and proper way."

David Rocah, staff attorney with the Maryland ACLU, said the agency should have released the names of the officers involved immediately.

"Those police reports are like the police reports about any other arrest — they always have been and are public record," Rocah said.

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