A judge convicted Baltimore Officer Gahiji Tshamba on Thursday of voluntary manslaughter and a handgun violation in the shooting death of Tyrone Brown, a Marine veteran who was gunned down last year after a quarrel outside a city nightclub.
The officer could be sent to prison for up to 30 years when he is sentenced in August.
Defense attorney James L. Rhodes said he would appeal the ruling — a rare finding against a city officer — even as some of Tshamba's friends called it the fairest outcome given the circumstances, which left a father of two dead and an officer of 15 years disgraced.
"The court could not come to any other decision," said Constance Ellis, a friend of Tshamba's who watched the weeklong trial. "It's a tragic incident for everyone. It changed a lot of lives."
Others were less measured in their reaction . Brown's mother, Vivian Scott, said she forgave her son his faults, but she had no mercy for Tshamba. "Cops are not above the law," she said.
In a lengthy, five-page order read into the courtroom record, Circuit Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon said he found that Tshamba, 37, was under the influence of alcohol when he drew his weapon to defend a female friend's honor in the early morning hours of June 5, 2010 — a fatal mistake.
"He drew his gun when it was not at all necessary," Hargadon said in court, finding that Tshamba lied about the incident and never identified himself as an officer. "The defendant grossly overreacted and in fact exacerbated this whole tragic set of events."
Yet Hargadon also found that Tshamba was not the legal aggressor and that the officer was indeed afraid of Brown, a much bigger man, who set off the fateful chain of events by inappropriately groping a woman's buttocks after a night of drinking.
"The defendant was acting honestly, but unreasonably, in defense of himself," Hargadon said, rejecting harsher verdicts of first-degree and second-degree murder.
Assistant State's Attorney Kevin Wiggins, who prosecuted the case, called the verdict just. "A bad cop is now off the streets," he said, adding that Tshamba "does not represent the many men and women who risk their lives every day" to protect city citizens.
In his analysis, the judge visited the scene behind Red Maple lounge in Mount Vernon on Wednesday and considered the testimony of more than 20 witnesses. He also reviewed a portion of Brown's military medical records, which were entered into evidence Thursday morning by the defense, shortly before closing arguments.
Those records show that Brown, a former Marine who had served in Iraq and other war zones, had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. He had abused alcohol in the past and reacted violently toward others, including his wife and stepfather.
The defense offered the records to show that Brown had a history of volatility, but they successfully fought to exclude a similar history concerning Tshamba, who was disciplined in 2005 for drunken driving while off duty and shooting a man in the foot.
Hargadon presented his decision about 3 p.m. to a full courtroom of about 100 people — many of them curious law students and attorneys.
Tshamba's supporters sat on one side, behind the defense table, while Brown's friends and family were on the other. Both groups looked stricken, with members of each silently wiping away tears as Hargadon spoke.
His findings were largely based on the testimony of one woman, he said: Chantay Kangalee, Brown's sister.
She was called as a hostile witness for the defense to show that Tshamba was retreating as Brown advanced, which could be viewed as a defensive move. Yet she wound up making the state's case by proving to the judge that Tshamba overreacted and that her brother was trying to defuse the situation.
"Of all the witnesses who testified, her testimony was the most credible, and the court believes that her version of what occurred is in fact what did occur," Hargadon said, outright rejecting the statements of three other defense witnesses — all friends or acquaintances of Tshamba's.
Hargadon recounted what he believes occurred that morning:
Both men were out partying with friends — Brown was with his sister and two other women — when they collided as strangers in an alley parking lot behind Red Maple, where Brown "inappropriately" touched a woman.
That was the first of three acts of aggression that night, Hargadon found. The second came when Tshamba overreacted and drew his weapon and began waving it around, escalating the situation. And the third followed when Brown pushed the officer, making the Marine veteran the legal aggressor in the situation, the judge said.
After the shove, Tshamba taunted Brown to "do it again" and told him to get on the ground, but he never identified himself as an officer, Hargadon said. Brown moved to protect his sister and another woman from Tshamba, and began walking toward him with his hands up and out, trying to reason.
"The defendant was taunting Mr. Brown, and Mr. Brown was saying, 'Let me just talk to you,'" Hargadon said. Brown turned for a moment to tell his sister to move out of the area, and Tshamba opened fire when he turned back.
The only credible portion of Tshamba's testimony, Hargadon said, was that the officer was afraid.
"Mr. Brown was continuing to walk toward him even though the defendant had a gun on him, and Mr. Brown was a large man," Hargadon said, adding that a reasonable officer would have removed himself from the situation.
Still, he said, "the defendant believed he was in imminent danger" leading him to "act imperfectly to defend himself," committing voluntary manslaughter, which carries a 10-year-maximum sentence.
The last time a Baltimore officer was convicted of manslaughter was 15 years ago, though an appeals court later overturned that decision. Rhodes, who along with attorney Adam Sean Cohen is being paid by the Fraternal Order of Police to defend Tshamba, is hoping for a similar outcome.
"I don't agree with the [judge's] decision," Rhodes said Thursday outside the courthouse, raising questions of whether it is legal to find that the officer was scared, yet still unreasonable in taking lethal action.
Rhodes also defended Tshamba's account of events as truthful and said he didn't regret putting Kangalee on the stand.
She told the judge that her brother was walking toward Tshamba and that Brown tried to push the gun away, which contributed to the officer's fear, the judge found, and a lesser finding of manslaughter instead of murder.
Standing outside the courthouse steps Thursday afternoon surrounded by family, Kangalee wept.
"All I could do was tell the truth, and that's what I did. The truth spoke," she said. "My brother was my best friend, and it was only right for me to stand up for him."
She and several other members of Brown's family, including his two young children, have filed a $270 million federal lawsuit against Tshamba and the Police Department. Their attorney in that case, A. Dwight Pettit, called the criminal verdict "historic."
"It sends a message that officer are going to be held accountable," Pettit said.
Baltimore officers accused of overreacting with deadly force
2010: Officer Tommy Sanders was acquitted of manslaughter for shooting an unarmed man in the back at the Hamilton Park Shopping Center.
1997: State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy declines to pursue charges against officer Charles M. Smothers II after he fatally shot a man wielding a knife outside Lexington Market. The shooting was captured on videotape and sparked communitywide protests over the use of deadly force.
1996: Sgt. Stephen R. Pagotto was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for shooting a man during a traffic stop. He had argued he accidentally fired his gun when it hit the side of the vehicle he had pulled over. The jury agreed with prosecutors that he violated so many departmental rules that his negligence was criminal. The Court of Appeals overturned the conviction.
1994: A jury acquitted Officer Shean D. Camper of criminal charges in the fatal shooting of a man in a dark alley
1993: Officer Edward T. Gorwell II's first manslaughter trial for the shooting of a 14-year-old boy as he ran through a dark park ended in a mistrial. He was unexpectedly cleared minutes before his new trial, six years later, when fresh evidence surfaced.
SOURCE: Sun archives
The truth, according to Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon's order
This case involves the death of Tyrone Brown on the morning of June 5, 2010. There is no dispute that the Defendant shot Mr. Brown 12 times and that the shooting was the cause of Mr. Brown's death.
There is also no dispute that the Defendant and three female friends were at the rear door of the Red Maple at Eager & Morton Streets at around 1 AM. Mr. Brown, his sister, Ms. Kangalee and [her friend] Ms. Dodge were walking south on Morton Street. Ms. Ramsay, one of the Defendant's friends, was on the ramp outside the Red Maple, when Mr. Brown touched her inappropriately on the buttocks.
From this point forward, the versions of the various witnesses differ. … The court believes that Ms. Kangalee was a very credible witness … and the Court believes that her version of what occurred is in fact what did occur. …
Ms. Kangalee stated that Mr. Brown touched Ms. Ramsay's buttocks and Ms. Kangalee grabbed Mr. Brown's wrist and stated, "That's disrespectful." Mr. Brown said, "My bad."
Ms. Ramsay then spoke to the Defendant, approached Mr. Brown and then tried to slap Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown blocked the slap and Defendant pulled his gun.
Mr. Brown pushed the Defendant, and Defendant said "Go ahead do it again do it again" and "get your m/f ass on the ground."
The Defendant did not show a badge or otherwise identify himself as a police officer. So, Mr. Brown said he was not going to get on the ground. Mr. Brown did however state, "Dude, you need to calm down."
Mr. Brown had his hands up while Defendant was waving the gun around, including in the direction of people on the ramp. Ms. Kangalee said "Stop waving that gun around."
Defendant was in front of Mr. Brown and in his face. Mr. Brown moved around to block his sister and Ms. Dodge from the Defendant. Mr. Brown then began walking toward the Defendant and away from the ramp, with his hands up and slightly outward and said "Calm down. Let me talk to you."
The Defendant was taunting Mr. Brown, and Mr. Brown was saying "let me just talk to you."
Ms. Kangalee then shouted for someone to get the police (2 police cars were on the corner), and one of the women on the ramp said "He [meaning the Defendant] is a cop."
Ms. Kangalee said, "Are you [expletive] serious?"
Ms. Kangalee still did not believe the Defendant was a cop, but she went to Mr. Brown and said "Stink [his nickname], come on."
Mr. Brown turned to speak to Ms. Kangalee and told her to move back. He turned back around toward the Defendant, with his hands upright and not outward, and the Defendant began shooting. The Defendant was approximately five feet away from Mr. Brown when he shot him.
The Defendant initially shot Mr. Brown twice. Ms. Kangalee said that Mr. Brown was then trying to push the gun away awhile shots were being fired. She went over and then attempted to give her brother CPR.
SOURCE: Baltimore City Circuit Court order