Balto. Co. police release video to defend officer who killed unarmed suspect

This clip provided by the Baltimore County Police Department shows a September 23 police-involved shooting in Reisterstown.

Baltimore County police defended an officer who fatally shot an unarmed suspect in a Reisterstown alley, saying Friday that the officer believed the man was pulling a gun.

Officials released a video showing the man charging the officer with his hand behind his back before swinging his arm around.


"My police officer had one second to make a life-or-death decision," Police Chief Jim Johnson said as he released the 50-second video of Wednesday's shooting. "Any reasonable police officer or citizen encountering this situation would feel that they were facing imminent harm or death."

Johnson posted the video on the department's Facebook page after the Baltimore County NAACP and many on social media called for its release. The video, from the security camera of a nearby business, shows an officer with his gun drawn walking rapidly forward and then retreating as a man runs toward him with his hand behind his back.


The man begins to swing his arm around and is shot by the officer and falls to the ground. The suspect continues to struggle as the officer appears to try to restrain him. The two are scuffling as they move out of range of the camera.

Officials said the officer's last name is Earomirski — union rules call for only surnames to be released in shooting incidents — and he joined the force in December 2005. A county database lists only one officer with that last name, David S. Earomirski.

Johnson said Earomirski fired and struck the suspect three times in the upper torso, and investigators are trying to determine when in the encounter each shot was fired.

Police identified the suspect as Keith Harrison McLeod, 19, of the 1200 block of Faraday Place, N.E., in Washington.


Johnson said witnesses told police that "the officer pleaded with the individual, saying, 'You don't want to do this, you don't want to do this, you don't want to do this.' The suspect, according to the witnesses and others, repeatedly used profanities, screamed and yelled at the officer, 'I'm going to kill you, I'm going to kill you, I'm going to kill you.'"

There is no audio on the video.

Police had been called to the Nature Care Pharmacy in the Reisterstown Village shopping center about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday by a pharmacist who suspected that a customer was trying to fill a forged prescription for narcotic cough syrup. When police arrived, the man was in the parking lot and ran across the street and into an alley surrounded by fences and a building, Johnson said.

"The suspect had nowhere to go except to go back through the officer," Johnson said.

Earlier Friday, Tony Fugett, president of the Baltimore County chapter of the NAACP, had urged the Police Department to release the video. Users on Twitter and other social media made similar calls, urging followers to call the department and demand the footage. Earomirski is white and McLeod was black.

"I don't want to take the [the police account] at face value," Fugett said. "If it vindicates the officer, I'd think they'd want to make it public."

Fugett said he is concerned that there have been instances of county police saying they believed a suspect was armed and it turned out the person did not have a weapon.

"That seems to be a pattern of that being the story at the end of the day," he said.

Fugett could not be reached for comment after the video was released.

After the shooting, McLeod was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

At the home listed as McLeod's address, a woman said she could not talk to anyone.

A next-door neighbor, Mary Jackson, 68, said McLeod's grandmother lived there and that he had been staying with her. McLeod was one of many young men in the neighborhood who called women like her "Ma," she said, and the news of his death hit her hard.

"It really hurt me; I've got grandkids that age. I don't know what happened," Jackson said. "All I know really is we lost another little angel, younger than 20. He was just trying to find himself."

Jackson said she has seen other men from the neighborhood die young.

"The women, we are left with a big burden. We love our men. We love our children. We only want the best for them," she said. "I'm not just saying this for my angel Keith, I'm saying this for all my angels. I got a lot of angels."

James Davis, 18, who also lives on the street, said McLeod "was a good man, tried to keep him a job, keep himself moving."

Andre Winfield, 18, described McLeod as a jokester. "He was my little man," Winfield said.

Both said McLeod had graduated from high school, though they didn't know which one. Davis said McLeod had a job at Safeway. McLeod also found work recently at the Washington Nationals' stadium, according to Davis, Winfield and Jackson.

"He was so happy about that," Jackson said.

"He tried to stay out of trouble," said Davis. "I don't know why he was out in Baltimore."

After initially withholding the footage of the shooting, Johnson called a news conference late Friday afternoon to release it to the media and then on the department's Facebook page.

"It's been my policy and practice in the agency to release information, certain information and footage when we have it, images, when the state's attorney's had an opportunity to review the footage and I've had an opportunity to speak to the state's attorney's office," Johnson said. "This is the new normal."

Earomirski, who Johnson called "one of my finest officers," was placed on routine administrative leave while the investigation continues.

Johnson said McLeod's family has an attorney who has been in contact with the department.

Earlier this month, Johnson and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced a $7.1 million plan to equip county officers with body cameras starting in July.

Johnson said Friday the incident shows why "we need to embrace" body cameras.

"This footage stresses the importance of capturing images on film," he said.

Baltimore County police have shot six people this year, four fatally. In the three previous fatal shootings, two suspects were armed — one with a knife and one with a gun — and one was unarmed. State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger declined to file charges in the earlier cases.

Johnson said Friday that he believes the officers have used the force necessary to protect lives.

By comparison, Baltimore police, who contend with more crime in the city, have shot seven suspects and killed one.

In June, county police shot and killed Spencer Lee McCain, 41, while responding to a call at a home in Owings Mills. Police said at the time that they believed that McCain, who was black, had a weapon. He did not.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.