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Man gets 4 years in prison for bulletproof vest shooting stunt gone awry

Darnell Mitchell, of Ellicott City, was shot dead in 2014 in the basement of this rowhome in what prosecutors said was a "Jackass"-style stunt gone awry. Mark Ramiro was sentenced to four years in prison for the killing.
Darnell Mitchell, of Ellicott City, was shot dead in 2014 in the basement of this rowhome in what prosecutors said was a "Jackass"-style stunt gone awry. Mark Ramiro was sentenced to four years in prison for the killing. (Colin Campbell/staff / Baltimore Sun)

After a night full of booze and drugs in July 2014, Mark Ramiro and his friends thought it would be funny to pull out a video camera and film a "Jackass"-style stunt in his southern Baltimore basement.

Darnell Mitchell strapped on a bulletproof vest, and instructed Ramiro to shoot him in the chest. "I'm going to put Baltimore on the map," Mitchell declared, in hopes the video would go viral online.

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Instead, Ramiro aimed too high, and Mitchell took a .22 caliber bullet in his upper chest.

Ramiro was sentenced Monday to four years in prison for the fatal stunt, following a guilty plea to second-degree murder last year. His attorney, Christopher Flohr, argued that Ramiro already had paid a heavy price for the death of his friend, and should be spared jail and allowed to continue with a treatment program.

Prosecutors acknowledged that there was no malicious intent on Ramiro's part, but said what happened was a "colossally stupid action" involving a gun that caused a death and required punishment.

"Presumably, this was going to go on YouTube or some other streaming service," said Assistant State's Attorney Gerard Volatile. "People [will] think this is a joke if nothing happens to him."

The stunts gained popularity from the reality TV series "Jackass," which featured people performing various dangerous, crude and self-injuring stunts.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn said the incident was akin to causing a friend's death in a crash while driving under the influence. Ramiro's full sentence was nine years, with five of those years suspended.

Ramiro, initially charged with first-degree murder and held without bail, had been free since last year, when he was released to pursue counseling, and he successfully participated in several programs, his attorney said.

More recently, Flohr had arranged a meeting between Ramiro, his family, and Mitchell's family, in which they could discuss the incident. After months of discussions, the meeting took place Sunday. Flohr observed the meeting, and told Phinn that Mitchell's family asked questions such as what his last words were, and by the end had expressed forgiveness.

Still, Mitchell's brother, Terry Mitchell Jr., told Phinn that he believed Ramiro deserved jail time.

"If you were a true friend, you shouldn't have allowed that to happen," Mitchell said in court.

Ramiro and Mitchell were friends for 15 years, and Ramiro was renting a home in Westport. Flohr described his client as "adrift," and said he picked up occasional work and sometimes performed tattoos in exchange for goods. Once, he accepted a bulletproof vest as payment for a tattoo.

He also owned video equipment, and along with friends sometimes recorded stunts.

On July 16, 2014, Mitchell and three others were at Ramiro's home, and were drinking and taking drugs such as Xanax and Percocet. Just before 4 a.m., they ventured into Ramiro's cinderblock basement to film another video.

"They were in such a do-what-feels-good-chapter of their lives," Flohr said.

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On the recording, someone can be heard asking Mitchell if he is consenting to the act, and to repeat aloud what is about to happen. They could tell Ramiro, standing six feet away, was aiming too high at first, and Mitchell instructed him to lower the weapon. But Ramiro's arm rose again just as he fired.

The friends rushed to get Mitchell to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, and Ramiro is seen on hospital surveillance video jumping out of a vehicle and flagging down medical staff. A team of doctors and nurses emerged, working on Mitchell in the street, but he died soon afterward.

Ramiro stayed at the hospital, and would be taken into custody.

The two others left the hospital. Volatile, the prosecutor, said the vehicle was burned, and the gun and bulletproof vest were never recovered. But only Ramiro was charged. When Flohr met with him at Central Booking, he still was covered in Mitchell's blood.

Mitchell's mother, Carolyn Sandiford, said it was "hard to see this young man take all the brunt of this foolish action."

Volatile responded that "people get away with things" all the time, but that shouldn't mean Ramiro should be let off the hook. He said a message needed to be sent to people who post reckless videos online.

Flohr told the judge that Ramiro was confronting substance-abuse problems, and after being released last year in a rare move on the court's part, he completed a 28-day treatment. He also enrolled in a year-long program with the recovery program Helping Up Mission.

Flohr and Mitchell's mother and brother asked that Ramiro be allowed to finish that program through June, regardless of the sentence.

Ramiro spoke briefly, saying he made foolish choices and that he can't erase the memory of what happened that night. After Phinn handed down the sentence, Flohr asked if it could begin after Ramiro completed his treatment program in the summer.

"He's had plenty of time. No," Phinn said.

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