Baltimore County authorities dropped charges of attempted murder against the 19-year-old man police had accused of opening fire at Towson University last month after prosecutors said they don’t have direct evidence the teen pulled the trigger.
Prosecutors dropped seven criminal charges against Samuel Nnam of Greenbelt during a preliminary hearing Friday in Baltimore County District Court. The teen remains charged with two misdemeanor counts of possessing a handgun.
His defense attorney, Gary Bernstein, argued that a bullet hole in Nnam’s clothes showed he was shot from behind. The teen was a victim, not the gunman, Bernstein said.
“I appreciate, so does Samuel, so does his family, the hard, almost never-ending work of Detective [Charles] Hardesty and the state’s attorney’s office to try and get to the bottom of this and try and do what’s right,” he said.
Three people were wounded, one of them Nnam, who’s not a Towson University student, when gunfire erupted during an unsanctioned party and concert at the heart of campus in the early morning hours of Sept. 4. Police initially believed Nnam shot himself while opening fire; now Bernstein said they believe someone else pulled the trigger.
“My client was in a physical dispute with someone and, apparently, got shot by one of that person’s friends,” the defense attorney said. “He said, ‘Test my clothing; you’ll see I didn’t fire any handgun. I was shot.’”
Deputy Baltimore County State’s Attorney John Cox said the office plans to file new charges against Nnam related to the fistfight.
“There is not currently available direct evidence that Nnam fired a gun but we believe we will be able to show that he possessed a handgun that night,” Cox wrote in an email.
Baltimore County police spokeswoman Joy Stewart said the case remains open.
“Detectives are continuing to investigate,” she said. “We will continue to work with our partners at the State’s Attorney’s Office throughout the investigation.”
Around 9 p.m. police began receiving calls about loud music and disorderly conduct at a back-to-campus party at the edge of Baltimore City near Parkville. When police shut down the party, crowds moved on to the Towson campus. Videos posted to social media showed the crowd partying at the campus square with a rapper, DJ booth and cash raining down from the air before shots were fired.
Nnam told police he couldn’t remember anything about the night, what happened, who he was with or how he got to the party, police wrote in charging documents.
Bernstein said the gun charges remain against Nnam because police and prosecutors allege that surveillance video shows him toss a gun from his pants after the fight, though authorities did not recover the gun.
In charging documents, police wrote that surveillance footage initially shows three men, including Nnam and another of the victims, walking across the courtyard toward an unknown person. Nnam hits in the person in the head, police wrote.
Then, the video shows the crowd scatter, and Nnam lying in the courtyard where police later found two spent shell casings.
Police wrote that they analyzed the video and it shows Nnam reach down the front of his pants to pull out a gun and throw it away; someone else grabs the gun and runs.
The Towson police union and university administrators were at odds in the days after the shooting. Administrators announced they were placing one officer on paid leave while investigating whether he or she followed procedures that night.
Union President Joe Gregory condemned the suspension, saying officers were told to “stand down” and not break up the party. Campus administrators denied that any such order was given.
In an email Friday, Towson Police Chief Joe Herring said the university will continue to help county police investigate the shooting.
“No students or TU affiliates are suspects in this incident, and furthermore, we remain confident in the safety of our campus community,” he wrote.