As lawmakers discuss introducing a bill that would give the power to make charging decisions to the attorney general in police killings, protesters hit the streets Thursday afternoon demanding justice for 18-year-old Donnell Rochester of Odenton.
Family, friends and local residents gathered in front of the office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates on Thursday. They demanded justice following Bates’ decision to not press charges against the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Rochester, despite the attorney general’s investigative unit’s finding that criminal charges could be possible.
“We are protesting because he [Ivan Bates] made a decision to not prosecute the officers that killed my son,” said Danielle Brown, Rochester’s mother. “How can you look at the report and see the attorney general’s office recommendations and still come out with I’m not pressing charges on these officers.”
As the protesters stood outside the state’s attorney’s office, which was locked, the crowd chanted “No justice, then we get no peace.” After nearly an hour of chanting and demanding entrance into the building to speak with Bates, police officers showed up.
When officers arrived to speak with the peaceful protesters, conversations between protesters, security guards and police officers started to flare. After nearly 20 minutes of chanting in front of police, officers left, and protesters continued to demand a conversation with Bates.
Protesters plan to be out in front of the state’s attorney’s office at 120 E. Baltimore St. once a week, Brown said.
A spokesperson for the state’s attorney’s office on Thursday declined to comment.
Bates has said the officers had acted “reasonably and lawfully” when they fired weapons at Rochester because he drove a vehicle toward an officer and created a life-threatening situation.
Rochester was killed by a police officer last February. Police had attempted to stop him for outstanding warrants connected to his failure to appear in court.
Charging documents show he and his female cousin were accused of ordering an Uber and then threatening the driver and taking his vehicle in November 2020. While trying to stop initially, Rochester fled.
He was found again after a brief search in the 1800 block of Chilton Street and again attempted to flee in a vehicle. The encounter escalated quickly into gunfire when Rochester tried to flee.
Baltimore Police officers Robert Mauri and Connor Murray fired into Rochester’s car, police said.
Murray fired three rounds at the vehicle. As he tried to get out of the way of the car, he fired a fourth. Mauri saw the car drive toward Murray and fired two rounds at Rochester.
After being shot, Rochester got out of the car and the officers arrested him. Body camera footage showed Rochester stepped out of the car with his hands up, then fell to his knees.
According to their statements recorded on body camera footage, the officers located a gunshot wound to his chest while trying to render aid. Rochester was taken to an area hospital where he died, police said.
The state’s attorney’s office’s Public Trust and Police Integrity Unit wrote in an 11-page report that Rochester drove a vehicle toward one officer, creating a “life-threatening situation,” as he attempted to avoid capture. For that reason, prosecutors wrote, both officers were justified in firing their weapons.
However, further investigation into the incident found the Baltimore Police officer who shot and killed Rochester fired the fatal fourth shot when Rochester “no longer posed a threat” to the officer or any others, according to the Maryland Attorney General’s Independent Investigations Division.
Murray already had dodged Rochester’s vehicle and was beside the car when he fired a fourth time, with no other officers or people in harm’s way — a circumstance where deadly force would not be “reasonable, necessary or proportional,” per Baltimore Police policy, said a report.
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“As a parent knowing my child isn’t here, I don’t need a report or to see a video to know my son was taken for no reason,” Brown said at Thursday’s protest. “He was just a young child trying to get away from the police, so I don’t need to see a video or report to know my son should still be here.”
Ultimately, it was up to the local state’s attorney’s office to decide whether the officers should face charges. Protesters said Bates’ decision to not press charges against the officers came out of fear.
“It didn’t matter that they weren’t in a life-threatening situation,” said J. Wyndal Gordon, a Baltimore-based lawyer. “The message he sent us was clear. It’s open season on African American children. We want to send a message now. We want to tell them we will not tolerate it. We are looking for courage from a prosecutor. No man is supposed [to] be above the law. Ivan Bates has declared these officers are elite citizens.”
Now, an influential lawmaker and Maryland’s new attorney general hope to see change in the process for making charging decisions in police killings.
Sen. Will Smith, a Democrat from Montgomery County, plans to introduce a bill that would give the power to make those decisions to the attorney general. Smith introduced a similar bill in 2022, but the legislative effort failed. Butprotesters are hoping Bates will change his decision in the Rochester case.
“You need to reconsider your decision,” Gordon said, “but I know you won’t.”
Mauri has been a Baltimore police officer for 4 1/2 years and Murray for 3 1/2 years, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Both officers are still on duty as the department’s Special Investigations Response Team conducts an internal investigation into this incident, said BPD spokesperson Niki Fennoy.