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Crime

Long after police shoot people, findings are slow to emerge from Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, records show

The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office in February cleared three police officers — including one who had previously shot four people to death while on duty — for a March 2020 fatal shooting in East Baltimore, but withheld disclosure of their report until this week.

A review of officer-involved shootings over the past 18 months shows that such long delays are common. Records show the cases can languish for a year or longer without prosecutors issuing any report or an official “declination letter” — which is required by law and outlines reasons prosecutors declined to bring charges. At least six officer-involved shootings since remain open.

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One of them dates to April 2020, when Baltimore police opened fire across a busy street in the Belair-Edison neighborhood, striking a passing car and a 16-year-old boy holding a replica gun. Prosecutors still haven’t released their findings on whether the shooting was justified.

The teen’s attorney, Duncan Keir, said Thursday that it was “ridiculous” how long authorities were taking to review the shooting. “We’ve had no communication [from prosecutors or police] that they’ve been cleared or otherwise,” Keir said. “They closed ranks, and we haven’t been able to find out anything.”

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The one-year mark also passed this week for a shooting July 1, 2020, in Northeast Baltimore’s Ramblewood neighborhood, in which a man having a behavioral crisis pulled a gun on officers, who shot him. That case highlighted calls for mental health workers to play a larger role in responding to such calls.

The records also show that even when offices reach a conclusion, they can take months to make their findings public.

Zy Richardson, a spokeswoman for the office of State’s Attorney’s Marilyn Mosby, said of the delays:

“Police Use of Force evaluations are incredibly complicated and understandably time consuming. Each case undergoes an exhaustive and detailed investigation led by the Police Integrity Unit with consultation from SA Mosby and the executive team,” Richardson said in a statement. “Like all cases, each decision requires … a thorough legal analysis, where we consider the feedback and engagement from the victim’s family. In fatality cases, the victim’s family can be in shock, and have many questions, and deserve time and space to digest the rationale for our decisions, all of which we publish and present publicly.”

There is no time limit on prosecutors to make their decisions, but they are required to issue “declination letters” if they decline to file criminal charges against officers. Richardson said Mosby’s office is the only one that issues public reports on top of the declinations.

Officers involved in shootings remain suspended from street duty as the police department awaits word that they are cleared.

The prosecutor’s report released this week relates to Etonne Tanyzmore, 38, who was killed March 30, 2020 in the 1800 block of N. Chester St. by Sgt. Joe Wiczulis and Officers Christopher Mumey and Daniel Pevarnik. They had driven toward the sound of gunshots and saw Tanzymore holding a weapon. Tanzymore had exchanged fire with other men who had shot his cousin one block north, according to the report and police statements at the time.

Wiczulis has been involved in three prior fatal shooting incidents dating back to 2010 that killed four people; he has been cleared of wrongdoing each time.

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Records show prosecutors finished their report clearing the officers of criminal wrongdoing Feb. 3 and sent it to the police department as required. But prosecutors never posted it on an Internet page that houses all its use of force reports until Monday, after repeated inquiries from The Baltimore Sun.

While prosecutors released their report — which has limited information and doesn’t name the officers — they still have not released the “declination letter,” which is more detailed, is required by law and is also subject to disclosure under state public records laws.

The limited report shows that, according to surveillance footage, in the moments prior to the officers’ arrival on the scene, that Tanzymore had been exchanging gunfire with a pair of unknown males one block north.

Tanzymore’s family, who declined to comment this week, told The Sun last year that gunmen up the block had struck one of Tanzymore’s cousins, and when the officers arrived on the scene he was running back to protect a female relative trying to get into the home. Body camera footage shows the teenage girl standing less than five feet from Tanzymore when the officers opened fire.

The law requires prosecutors to judge such cases from the perspective of what was known to the arriving officers, who they noted pulled up to see an armed man standing near a wounded man, and a woman trying to get away.

“ … The armed individual was running towards them and could be an immediate threat to them if they didn’t take immediate action,” prosecutors wrote in the report for the public. “It would be objectively reasonable for the officers to conclude that their safety and the safety of others was at risk.”

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Prosecutors say a 9 mm handgun was found near Tanzymore’s body.

Wiczulis was the driver of the police car and fired two shots, while the other officers fired roughly two dozen shots, according to the report.

Police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said Mumey and Pevarnik have returned to active duty. She said she did not know Wiczulis’ status.

An attorney for the police union at the time of last year’s shooting called Wiczulis “an outstanding officer who has been assigned to some of the most dangerous areas in Baltimore City, and every one of his shootings have been justified and have been reviewed extensively by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.”

The State’s Attorney’s Office also took nearly a year to release a completed report from a February 2020 shooting in Northeast Baltimore. Records show that in April, 2020, prosecutors ruled the police killing of a fugitive form Pennsylvania was justified. But they didn’t make that information public until March of this year, despite public records request for their finding.

Still, many shootings remain open, including the November 2020 killing of Rodney Eubanks at the 3200 block of Westwood Ave. in West Baltimore’s Rosemont neighborhood. Police said at the time that Eubanks opened fire on plainclothes officers without provocation, at the same intersection where his brother had been gunned down two weeks earlier.

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A shooting involving Baltimore County officers, which occurred in downtown Baltimore in August 2020, also remains open, according to the county police department.


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