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Man shot by police near Freddie Gray protest goes to trial

This is the scene of an incident where police shot suspect Dawan Hawkins on April 18, 2015.
This is the scene of an incident where police shot suspect Dawan Hawkins on April 18, 2015. (Justin Fenton/The Baltimore Sun)

As hundreds rallied at the Western District police station for Freddie Gray on April 18, the day before his death, Dawan Hawkins was shot five times by a police officer about a mile to the west.

Hawkins' case never garnered widespread attention.

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This week, the 28-year-old went on trial on a charge of first-degree assault, with prosecutors saying he fled a traffic stop and pointed a gun at an officer.

Hawkins' attorney, public defender Martin Cohen, said during closing arguments that the gun found on Hawkins had been planted by officers because one of them had shot an unarmed man.

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He pointed to an admission by police that the gun had been washed and cleaned before it could be tested for DNA or fingerprints. Cohen also said Hawkins can be heard in the background of police dispatch tapes saying, "I don't got nothing, sir!"

But Assistant State's Attorney Adam Chaudry told the jury not to be deceived.

"I love a good conspiracy theory, ladies and gentlemen, but what you just heard is beyond," Chaudry said.

Hawkins' trial happened to take place in front of Judge Barry G. Williams, who also is overseeing the trials of the Baltimore police officers charged in Gray's death. But it was held in his normal courtroom, not the larger one used to accommodate media and spectators. There were just two people watching this proceeding: Hawkins' uncle and sister.

"It's basically a part of what's going on in Baltimore, and racism toward black people," Hawkins' uncle, Jeff Brown-Bey, 58, said of the charges his nephew faces.

Hawkins, who was convicted of having an illegal handgun in 2011, was a passenger in a vehicle traveling through West Baltimore that officers pulled over because they said the occupants were not wearing seat belts.

Officer David Bodine responded to back up the primary officer. He testified that the vehicle had tinted windows, and the occupants could only be seen through the windshield, which Cohen said raised questions about the officers' justification for the stop.

The vehicle fled the officers, eventually pulling into the lot of a school, and Hawkins jumped out and started to run. Bodine testified that he could see Hawkins holding a gun.

"You could see him fumbling with a dark, metallic handgun," Bodine testified. "It popped out of his front waistband. He used both hands to shove it down back into his pants."

Hawkins continued to run and jumped behind a large pipe running along the ground, which Bodine referred to as Hawkins taking a "tactical position." He said Hawkins raised the gun, pointing it in his direction, and Bodine fired.

"In fear of my life, of being shot, I began discharging," Bodine said.

At the scene, police located two witnesses and took down their names. But Cohen said the investigative file includes no notes of any comments the two might have made, and they were not called as witnesses. He said Bodine did not say over the police radio that Hawkins had been observed with a gun, only that he was pursuing someone who bailed out of a car.

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Chaudry said that the gun was mistakenly cleaned as part of the process of test-firing it to see if it was operable. Still, he said, the officer's testimony that he had recovered the gun from Hawkins was more important than DNA testing.

"If a child is stealing cookies out of a cookie jar, are you going to DNA-test the cookie jar?" Chaudry said. "In a perfect world, maybe DNA would've popped up. … At the end of the day, this defendant had this weapon on him."

Cohen said unlike a child getting a timeout or being denied dessert for stealing cookies, there were serious stakes for Hawkins. He said police should have done a thorough job.

The jury was deliberating Wednesday afternoon. In addition to first-degree assault, Hawkins faces charges of second-degree assault and reckless endangerment, as well as gun-related charges.

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