Baltimore Police on Tuesday released body camera footage from a fatal shooting last week in East Baltimore that involved an officer who has been involved in four previous fatal shootings.
The tape shows Etonne Tanzymore, 38, with his arm raised as the officers arrive to the scene of a reported shooting. Officers Christopher Mumey and Daniel Pevarnik open fire immediately after emerging from their vehicles. The driver, Sgt. Joe Wiczulis, emerges last and fires as well.
Police said Tanzymore was holding a gun and turned toward them, although the video shown Tuesday was not clear enough to determine what was in his raised hand.
Tanzymore’s family has said that he was standing with relatives after a gunman had fired and struck one of them, and that Tanzymore was protecting a female relative trying to get back into the home. The tape shows the teenage girl standing less than five feet away from Tanzymore when the officers opened fire.
She was not struck.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the investigation was pending, but made several statements in support of the three officers who fired, saying their actions were proof that officers were still working to combat violence amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“What you saw there was officers engaging, putting themselves at risk to engage,” Harrison said. “There’s still people who want to cause harm, and we’re still dedicated to removing them from the street.”
Asked if the fact that the people the officers encountered were all related and defending themselves from another shooter puts the circumstances in a different light, Harrison said: “When you’re dealing with an armed subject who’s firing a gun, you don’t ask questions. You try to protect as many people as you can from further harm.”
The Sun reported last week that Wiczulis had been involved in four prior fatal shootings. All were cleared by city prosecutors. Pevarnkis and Mumey do not appear to have been involved in any prior shootings.
Trina Roberts said Tanzymore was her cousin, and the man who was shot before officers arrived is her brother. Also outside were her husband and daughter, the girl standing near Tanzymore when he was shot.
After watching the tape, she maintained that police incorrectly sized up the situation.
“It was overkill,” Roberts said Tuesday. “How can the Police Department and citizens ever be together when you see things like this happen?”
Her attorney, Ivan Bates, said: “We look forward to seeing what the rest of the other parts of the investigation will show.” Last week, Bates said federal investigators should look at the case.
Police said at Tuesday’s news conference that the video showed Tanzymore turned toward the officers as they arrived. The car door obscures some of the view from Mumey’s camera; a parked car obscures the view from Pevarnik’s camera. Police also blurred out Tanzymore from the footage once the officers begin firing.
Wiczulis is assigned to the District Action Teams, and fatally shot people in 2010, 2013 and 2016, the latter in which two people were killed. Prosecutors cleared him and the other officers involved in those shootings of criminal wrongdoing.
Michael Davey, an attorney who works with the police union, could not be reached Tuesday for comment. Last week, he said of Wiczulis: “He’s an outstanding officer who has been assigned to some of the most dangerous areas in Baltimore City, and every one of his shootings have been justified and have been reviewed extensively by the Baltimore city State’s Attorney’s Office.”
The police department also performs “after-action” reviews on officer-involved shootings. In the past, the reviews began after police received a declination letter from prosecutors, but Harrison revised the policy for the reviews to happen within 30 days of the incident “to ensure a step-by-step investigative look at the incident” and provide recommendations for “corrective measures.”
Deputy Commissioner Brian Nadeau, who leads internal investigations, said that Wiczulis’ past performance review showed “no reason why he should not have been back on the streets that day.”
All the officers involved in last week’s shooting are on administrative leave pending the review, he said.
Experts say an officer being involved in five shootings — let alone five fatal shootings — is rare. But they also cautioned that each should be evaluated on its own factors.
Wiczulis “is statistically an aberration in the sense that most officers go through their entire careers without ever firing their guns in the line of duty,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor at the University of South Carolina. “Every shot fired has to be accounted for.”
David A. Klinger, a former police officer and criminology professor at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis, wrote a book about officers who shot people, including some involved in multiple incidents.
“What you may well have is an officer who is doing his or her job really well, or you may have an officer with a maligned heart, or an officer simply not up to the task of making an appropriate decision,” Klinger said.
“Unusual things in life are not evenly distributed across the population. Believe it or not, some people get struck by lightning more than once.”