Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said Wednesday that investigators did not recover a handgun from the scene where a man was fatally shot Monday after an hourslong standoff with police at his Northwest Baltimore home.
Harrison said an officer fired twice at Kevin Bruce Mason, 57, believing he was armed. Police had responded to the home after an assault call.
“After a lengthy search, we did not find or locate a gun on his property despite the fact, as you will hear [in the video] that Mr. Mason repeatedly said he had a gun and would shoot at officers if they stayed on his property,” said Harrison, before playing portions of different officer body-worn camera footage and 911 tapes from the incident, which captured threats Mason made to officers and the shooting itself.
This is the first time Harrison, who was sworn in earlier this month, is navigating a potentially tense confrontation between police and the community in Baltimore.
Mason’s family have questioned the shooting, saying they did not know Mason to have a gun, and demanded the department release footage from the incident, some of which it did Wednesday.
Mason’s youngest sister Kimberly Mason said Wednesday evening that the video raises further questions, including why police did not handle the situation differently instead of shooting her brother.
“This was a volatile situation. More officers get hurt on domestic violence calls across America than any other type of calls, so there’s extreme caution when responding to domestic violence calls,” Harrison said. “The situation was further exacerbated because of Mason’s dog, who chased officers off his property initially, followed by Mason’s verbal threats against the officers.
“No one ever wants to see a life lost. No one ever wants to have that to actually happen,” he said, “but this was probably one of the most dangerous situations that you can find.”
Police responded to Mason’s home at about 11:40 p.m. Sunday for a report of an assault. Officers initially believed they were responding to a domestic situation after a woman called police. Based on the first 911 call, police believed the woman was inside a house Mason was trying to enter, Harrison said.
After officers arrived, body camera footage showed Mason answering his front door and a dog barking at police. Mason yelled at police to “get the [expletive] off my property,” the camera footage showed.
A 911 recording indicated Mason then called dispatchers at 11:53 p.m., threatening to kill the officers surrounding his house.
In another body-worn camera video clip, Mason’s silhouette can be seen in the dark littered alley behind the house, but it’s difficult to see his hands.
“Hey, let me see your hands,” an officer yells.
Then an officer can be heard saying to other officers that Mason had a handgun. Mason can be heard swearing at the officers.
“Hey, hands up, sir,” the officer said. At this point, the officer’s camera is blocked by what appears to be his arm.
In another video, an officer can be heard telling another officer that Mason is armed with a gun.
“He already came to the back door with a handgun pointing it at us,” the officer said. “He pointed a gun at us, saying if we get in the yard, he’s going to pop us.”
The final video clip, with a time stamp at 12:13 a.m., captures the shooting by Officer John Johnson, a 25-year veteran of the force assigned to the Northwest District. The video from another officer’s body-worn camera shows Johnson holding a long gun.
“Come out, you’re under arrest. Hands up,” says the officer whose gun is also drawn.
Two shots can be heard, and the officer takes cover behind a police car.
Police said Mason went back into his house and did not emerge. SWAT members responded to the scene and later found Mason unresponsive inside his house.
Mason was pronounced dead at the scene.
Harrison said only one officer fired, but he said the medical examiner would have to say how many bullets struck Mason.
Johnson was identified as the shooter by Harrison. A police spokesman said Johnson is on routine administrative paid leave.
When a reporter asked whether an officer might have mistaken another object for a handgun, Harrison responded: “That would be speculation on our part right now.”
He said police are conducting an internal investigation with the state’s attorney’s office.
No officers were injured in the incident, police said.
A video clip from Johnson’s body camera of the shooting released Wednesday to The Baltimore Sun did not show much. The camera’s view was blocked because of the way his body was turned, police spokesman Matt Jablow explained.
Long guns are permitted under department policy to be used by officers who are certified in certain circumstances, such as barricades, where there is greater distance between officers and suspects, Jablow said.
Harrison said the video and audio compilation was made to show “the pertinent information.”
“What you see is just different angles from the different officers’ cameras put together so that you get a visual of what happened in the front and the back” of the house, he said.
The department is drafting body-worn camera policy with the U.S. Justice Department as part of the policing reforms mandated under the consent decree, Harrison said. The consent decree, reached in 2017 mandates widespread policing reforms after a Justice Department investigation found unconstitutional and discriminatory policing in the city — particularly in predominantly black neighborhoods.
The policy will discuss how, when and whether to release body worn cameras to the public, Harrison said.
Mason’s family has demanded answers about his death and for the department to release the body-worn camera footage.
Renee Greene, who said she was Mason’s longtime girlfriend and was inside the home during the incident, said Mason did not have a gun. She said she was asleep during much of the incident.
Kimberly Mason said she watched the footage that was released Wednesday several times but still is searching for more answers.
“We have more questions today than we did yesterday. I watched the video, I still don’t understand why after you shot him you called in a hostage negotiator,” rather than get him medical help, she said.
Mason said she does not condone her brother’s actions, but based on his 911 call “he was not mentally in his right mind.”
She mentioned a 2016 incident in which a man wore an animal suit and what police suspected was an explosive device into the FOX 45 television studios and was shot three times but survived. The suspect was a white man from Howard County, Mason noted.
“I don’t care what anybody says. He was killed because he was a black man,” Kimberly Mason said of her brother.
“It’s not acceptable,” she said. “We’re still in a process of trying to grieve. It hasn’t been easy finding out from the media. It’s really a hard pill to swallow.”
Ken Thompson, the head of the independent monitoring team helping to implement policing reforms mandated under the federal consent decree, said the shooting is under review.
“We will get the information. We will look at the body-worn camera footage ... to determine whether this was a violation of the consent decree,” he said.
Thompson, who responded to the scene, said he reviewed a portion of body-worn camera footage but said he would reserve judgment until collecting more information.
Findings by the monitoring team could be included in its next semiannual report, he said.
Mason’s death comes nearly 40 years after he exchanged gunfire with an officer as a youth. Mason, then 17, reportedly fired at a Northwest District officer, prompting the officer to return fire, according to Sun stories at the time. Mason was struck in the neck, chest and abdomen, while the officer was shot in the arm. The officer was wearing a bulletproof vest at the time.
Mason had been on probation for a stabbing at the time of the 1980 shooting and he was sentenced to 30 years for the shooting involving the officer.