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Crime

No criminal charges for Baltimore County Police officers who fatally shot man with knife in Essex, prosecutors say

Investigators from the Independent Investigations Division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, who are responsible for investigations of police-involved fatalities, were at the scene with Baltimore County Police after two Baltimore County Police officers fatally shot a man during a domestic disturbance call around 4 p.m. in the 900 block of Boundbrook Way in Essex.

Two Baltimore County Police officers who fatally shot a man brandishing a knife and carving fork in Essex in May will not face any criminal charges for their conduct, prosecutors said.

Baltimore County Deputy State’s Attorney John P. Cox wrote in a Sept. 8 letter that there are “no appropriate criminal charges to be brought or prosecuted regarding any of the officers.” Cox said his office had reviewed body camera footage and a report completed at the end of August by the Independent Investigations Division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

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Ralph Picarello III, 39, was shot and killed by the two police officers after investigators said he moved quickly toward officers with a knife and carving fork in his hands.

The state report identified the officers as Derrick Manning and Eric Pellegrino. Together, they fired four shots that struck Picarello in the chest, hand and forearm, according to investigators. A third officer deployed a Taser.

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The Independent Investigations Division, which is charged under state law with investigating fatalities involving police, including fatal shootings, in-custody deaths or police pursuits, found that officers “only used deadly force when Mr. Picarello created a situation in which the officers had reason to believe they and others faced an immediate threat of serious physical injury.”

The division evaluated potential criminal charges of intentional second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and other charges — and concluded it was “highly unlikely” the state could prove officers didn’t act in self-defense or with law enforcement justification, a defense that says officers can use “force necessary to discharge his official duties.”

The report also said it’s unlikely that prosecutors could prove the officers who fired their weapons “acted unreasonably” by not first deploying a Taser.

Picarello was “moving quickly towards them” when Manning and Pellegrino fired, plus they couldn’t get farther away from him due to the layout of the house, and he could have posed a threat to others in the home, the report said.

The Essex case marks the third fatal police shooting in Baltimore County to be investigated by the Independent Investigations Division, leading to no criminal charges. Two officers involved in civilian deaths in separate incidents last October were cleared by the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office earlier this year.

The two October incidents were the first to be investigated by the state unit, following 2021′s law directing the Attorney General’s Office to look into police-involved deaths. The division does not make charging decisions; it prepares investigative reports with findings and legal analysis, then shares them with local prosecutors, who make a determination on criminal charges.

Baltimore County Police previously said that officers responding to a reported physical domestic disturbance arrived May 4 at a home on Boundbrook Way, where they encountered Picarello. Body camera footage released in July showed Picarello standing in the kitchen and speaking with a woman in the home as officers collected information.

State investigators wrote in their report that a family member told police that Picarello had held knives to his throat and the throat of a family member earlier that afternoon. A family member reportedly told police he had just been discharged from the hospital for an overdose and was “withdrawing badly.”

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Attempts to reach Picarello’s family members Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Manning and Pellgrino spoke to Picarello for “approximately six minutes,” the report said, with Picarello “consistently agitated” during that time.

When one officer suggested he let police take him to a hospital, Picarello refused. The officer then told Picarello that “unfortunately,” he would have to go to Franklin Square Medical Center.

“No, we’re not. No, we’re not. I’m telling you right now,” said Picarello, who then picked up a knife and carving fork from the ground.

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Officers yelled for him to put down the knife, but he did not. Picarello then can be seen in the footage coming from around the kitchen table toward the officers. They fire shots at him, striking him. A Taser also can be heard.

Footage shows officers putting handcuffs on Picarello as he is apparently unconscious, then starting first aid. The state investigators’ report said paramedics responded eight minutes after the shooting and pronounced him dead.

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The report said neither Manning nor Pellegrino had shot anyone before Picarello’s May 4 death. Manning had one prior Internal Affairs complaint, which was unsubstantiated and had “no bearing” on this incident, according to the investigation; Pellegrino had none.

Baltimore County Police spokesman Trae Corbin said Tuesday that Manning and Pellegrino were back to full duty. He declined to comment further on the prosecutors’ decision.

The Independent Investigations Division is still investigating another fatal police shooting by Baltimore County Police in 2022, according to an online dashboard.

Joseph Robert Henry Thompson, 66, was shot to death in early June after he answered a Towson apartment door with a handgun that he pointed at police and appeared to fire. One officer was shot in the hand, and a woman was found inside the apartment suffering from gunshot wounds.

Baltimore County Police also shot and seriously injured a 19-year-old driver in April. A grand jury found the officers’ actions in that shooting justified, following an investigation by the police department.


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