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Crime

State investigators release body camera footage from fatal Baltimore County Police shootings in Essex and Towson

The state unit investigating two recent Baltimore County Police shootings that left civilians dead released video footage Thursday from both incidents, as the probes continue.

Body camera from officers at the May 4 shooting in Essex shows 39-year-old Ralph Picarello III holding a knife and carving fork, stepping quickly toward officers before one deploys a Taser and two shoot their firearms at him.

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The other footage shows Joseph Robert Henry Thompson, 66, answer a Towson apartment door June 5 brandishing a handgun and pointing it at police, then appearing to fire it.

Both Picarello and Thompson were shot and killed by police, prompting investigations by the state Attorney General’s Office’s Independent Investigations Division. The unit is charged under state law with reviewing police encounters that lead to civilian deaths, including shootings, in-custody deaths and fatal pursuits.

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In the Towson shooting, one officer was shot in the hand and a woman was found inside the apartment suffering from gunshot wounds. No one but Picarello was injured in the Essex shooting.

The May and June fatal police shootings mark the third and fourth Baltimore County fatalities to be investigated since the unit started work Oct. 1. Baltimore County prosecutors declined to bring charges in the first two incidents, one of which was a shooting by a Baltimore County Police lieutenant and the other a fatal vehicle pursuit by Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

Baltimore County Police spokesman Trae Corbin said Thursday night all of the officers who fired weapons in the Towson and Essex shooting are on administrative duty. The officer injured June 5 in Towson has been released from the hospital but has not returned to duty.

In the Essex incident, officers arrive at a home on Boundbrook Way for a report of a physical domestic disturbance. The footage released Thursday shows Picarello standing in a kitchen asking a woman in the home for money and a ride. Picarello tells police he will go into “defense mode” if anyone touches him, as officers collect information.

Minutes later, one officer suggests Picarello let police take him to a hospital and the man refuses. The officer replies that “unfortunately” they’ll have to go there.

“No, we’re not. No, we’re not. I’m telling you right now,” said Picarello, bending down to grab a knife and carving fork from the ground.

Officers shout for him to drop the knife, but he does not do so. Picarello then moves quickly from behind the kitchen table toward the officers, and they fire shots at him, striking him. A Taser also can be heard.

In the footage, officers can be seen putting handcuffs on Picarello as he is apparently unconscious, then starting first aid.

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Picarello died on the scene, investigators from the Independent Investigations Division have said. The unit identified the officers who fired weapons on scene as D. Manning and E. Pellegrino, which a salary database identifies as Derrick Manning and Eric Pellegrino.

The officer who deployed a Taser has not been identified.

In the June 4 Towson shooting, the newly released camera footage shows one responding officer outside the front doors of the Virginia Towers apartment building when shots can be heard from inside.

“It sounds like gunfire,” says one bystander, before the officer enters the building.

Investigators have said police went to the apartment where “unknown trouble” was initially reported. At least five officers can be seen on video footage in the hallway, approaching one apartment door and knocking.

When it opens and Thompson appears in the doorway, officers call out, “Let me see your hands,” and “Hands, hands, hands,” before he raises his weapon. The video appears to show a muzzle flash from Thompson’s handgun.

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Several more shots ring out and Thompson falls to the ground.

The exact number of gunshots can’t be determined in the video footage. Investigators say three Baltimore County officers fired their weapons, along with Thompson, who died on the scene.

The officer who was shot runs to the end of the hallway and alerts the others of his injury. Two other officers can be seen standing by Thompson’s body.

Officials previously identified the Baltimore County Police employees who fired weapons as officers S. Johnson, C. Klapka and R. Fitzgerald. A county employee salary database lists officers Scott Johnson, Cody Klapka and Robert Fitzgerald, all of whose tenures with the agency correspond with the investigative unit’s information.

Information provided at the start of the video released Thursday states that the injured officer was shot in the finger and was not one of the officers who fired weapons.

The Independent Investigations Division also said a woman was inside the apartment suffering from gunshot wounds and was hospitalized. It has not identified her or specified who shot her.

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Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt at the time praised officers’ response in the Towson shooting to what they believed was gunfire, calling it in line with training. And she called the shooting “incredibly frightening.”

“I could very easily be coming out here to talk about a very different outcome for our police officers,” Hyatt said the night of the shooting.

Dave Folderauer, president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge representing Baltimore County Police, said Thursday that he was disappointed the video didn’t include “lifesaving efforts” by police for the woman inside the apartment.

“They went beyond their training in an attempt to save her life,” Folderauer said. “These are the things that our cops are doing every single day, but rarely get noticed for it.”

The Independent Investigations Division’s protocols call for the agency to “generally” release such footage within 14 days. Situations that could require a delay include technical delays to prevent civilian witness identification, the need to complete witness interviews or the need to allow family members to view footage, according to the division.

Baltimore County Police also shot and seriously injured a 19-year-old driver in April. That shooting was investigated by the agency and prosecutors presented it to a grand jury that determined it was justified.

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Officials have said Shane Radomski, the person shot by police, was not one of the homicide suspects police were attempting to arrest that afternoon. Radomski was accused of hitting an officer’s vehicle.


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