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Family of man shot by police commander in Morrell Park at a loss for a reason

John DeVault Jr. and his mom, Dianna Warren, future sister-in-law of John Joseph Rau, a man shot in the leg by a police commander on Monday night, speak about the incident. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun video)

Thirteen-year-old John DeVault Jr. can't understand why a police officer shot his uncle.

Sitting on the porch of his Morrell Park home Tuesday, John's eyes welled with tears as he recalled watching a black police SUV drive slowly up Washington Boulevard on Monday evening. An officer — later identified as the Southwestern District commander, Maj. Byron Conaway — got out, yelled, pointed his gun and pulled the trigger, the teenager said.

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"I thought he was going to die," he said.

His uncle, John Joseph Rau, 40, was released after being treated for the gunshot wound to his left leg. Police have not said why Conaway stopped Rau in the 2400 block of Washington Boulevard just after 7 p.m. Monday. But they said Rau refused to follow an order to show his hands, causing Conaway to fire.

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John had finished an art class he takes after school at a studio up the street from his house and was waiting outside for his uncle to walk him home. That's when he witnessed the shooting, he and his mother, Dianna Warren, said.

Warren, 36, and her family were infuriated that police say the officer immediately rendered aid and applied a tourniquet.

She disputed that account, saying Conaway instead stood over Rau with a gun and ordered others away as he lay on the street. She said a medic who arrived with the ambulance was the first to address the bullet wound.

Warren said her son was up all night grappling with what he saw. The teen can't help but wonder what could've happened if the incident had happened moments later — when he would have been with Rau.

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"How do you explain that to a 13-year-old?" Warren said. "He's asking me, 'If police stop me, should I run?' I don't want my child to run, but ..."

On the porch Tuesday, Rau, who has been relegated temporarily to a wheelchair, put his hand on his tearful nephew's shoulder. Rau pulled up a bandage to show the bullet wound and said it "hurts bad," but otherwise declined to comment on the incident. He said he plans to file a lawsuit against the Police Department.

Conaway, a 16-year-veteran of the department, has been placed on routine administrative duties, a rare situation that will leave Capt. Steven Holman at the helm of the district.

Conaway was involved in a departmental shooting in 2009 when he was still an officer. A woman slipped him a note that said she was in danger. Conaway saw the man who had been in a car with her reach for a handgun, and shot him. The man survived and in August 2010 was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for being a felon in possession of a handgun.

Last year, Conaway received the departmental Bronze Star for the incident.

In 2011, the city paid $67,500 to settle a claim made by a Baltimore resident, Terrell Perkins, that Conaway and other officers had beaten him unprovoked during a robbery-related interrogation in 2007, after the store where Perkins worked was robbed.

In charging documents in the case, Conaway said he "pushed the defendant to the ground" after Perkins reached for his service weapon. Perkins said he was "physically battered" by the officers when he tried to leave the room, after being told he was not under arrest.

Perkins was charged with assaulting Conaway and with resisting arrest, but the assault charge was dismissed and a jury acquitted Perkins of resisting arrest. He then sued, saying the officers had violated his rights.

Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson and Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

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