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Driver shot by Baltimore police was stopped for not wearing seat belt, police say

Baltimore Police officers investigate the scene at 3400 block of Piedmont Avenue where a driver was shot by police officers as he backed his SUV into an unmarked police vehicle and injured one of the officers.
Baltimore Police officers investigate the scene at 3400 block of Piedmont Avenue where a driver was shot by police officers as he backed his SUV into an unmarked police vehicle and injured one of the officers. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

The suspicious activity that led four plainclothes Baltimore police detectives in two unmarked vehicles to surround Jawan Richards' sport utility vehicle on a residential street in Northwest Baltimore late last month was that he wasn't wearing a seat belt, police say in court records.

Richards allegedly put his vehicle in reverse and struck the door of a police vehicle, which struck an officer, according to a summary of the incident written by police. Two of the detectives opened fire, shooting Richards once in the neck.

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Richards, 22, was hospitalized for about a week after the Jan. 27 incident. He is now in jail without bail on gun and traffic charges.

Police said after the incident that two detectives assigned to a special unit targeting guns and drugs had "reasonable and articulable suspicion" to approach Richards' vehicle, but declined to elaborate on that suspicion.

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The summary, filed in District Court, provides the most complete description of the incident to date.

Police say the officers were in the area conducting traffic enforcement when Richards drove past.

After Richards was shot, police say, his vehicle "lodged in a snowbank." They say they saw marijuana in the SUV's center console and a SIG Sauer 9mm semiautomatic handgun with an obliterated serial number and eight rounds in the magazine on the driver's side floorboard.

A search of the vehicle turned up additional small bags of marijuana, police say.

Officers recovered less than 10 grams of marijuana, police say. Maryland decriminalized possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana in October 2014, and no drug charges have been filed against Richards in the incident.

Police assigned to the anti-gun program Ceasefire shot a motorist on a residential street in Northwest Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon, police said.

Police say Richards did not have a valid driver's license at the time of the shooting, did not have a permit to carry a handgun, and was prohibited from carrying a handgun because he had committed multiple offenses when he was a juvenile.

Richards does not have an attorney listed in court records, and his family could not be reached for comment.

Two passengers in Richards' vehicle at the time of the incident were taken in for questioning immediately afterward but were not charged. Police have not released their names.

Police have identified the detectives who opened fire as Officer Robert Hankard and Officer Carmine Vignola.

The two Baltimore police officers who fired their guns at the driver of a vehicle on Wednesday, injuring the 22-year-old man in the neck, were identified by police on Thursday as Officer Robert Hankard and Officer Carmine Vignola.

Hankard and Vignola are nine-year veterans assigned to the city's Ceasefire program, which focuses on shutting down drug markets and targeting individuals with known links to drugs and violence to reduce shootings.

Lt. Jarron Jackson, a police spokesman, said Wednesday that it is "not unusual" for officers to conduct traffic stops if they observe offenses, regardless of the unit they serve on.

He declined to answer additional questions, noting that the department's Special Investigations Response Team, which investigates police shootings, is investigating the incident.

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Hankard and Vignola are on routine administrative leave pending the outcome of that investigation.

Two days after the shooting, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said a conflict of interest — a Baltimore assistant state's attorney is in a personal relationship with one of the police officers involved in the shooting — had led her to turn the SIRT review and Richards' case over to the Carroll County state's attorney's office.

Kathleen Murphy, chief deputy state's attorney in Carroll County, said Wednesday that she could not comment on the open investigations.

"Right now, it's all under review here," she said.

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