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City officer gets 15 years in fatal shooting of Marine veteran

A Baltimore judge had harsh words Tuesday for city police officer Gahiji Tshamba, calling his actions "repugnant" and sentencing him to 15 years in prison in the shooting death last year of an unarmed Marine veteran outside a Mount Vernon bar.

"None of this had to happen," Circuit Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon told Tshamba. "You seriously overreacted."

Hargadon sentenced the officer to seven years for voluntary manslaughter and eight years for using a handgun in a crime of violence, with an additional two-year term held in suspension. He called the early morning incident between two intoxicated men — Tyrone Brown, who touched a woman inappropriately, and Tshamba, who pulled his service weapon to defend her honor — "truly tragic." And he chastised Tshamba for showing no apparent remorse after the shooting; instead, talking with a fellow officer about "hot chicks" that had been with him that night.

"You showed a serious lack of insight into what you had just done and a disturbing sense of detachment," Hargadon said.

He ordered Tshamba, 38, to undergo assessments for mental health and alcohol abuse upon release and to serve two years of probation.

Brown's family and friends had argued for the statutory maximum of 30 years during the lengthy and emotional hearing, while Tshamba's supporters pleaded for mercy. Members of each side wiped away tears as the sentence was announced.

The prison term is on the high end of sentencing guidelines, which recommended five to 18 years, based on Tshamba's history and convictions. It closes a painful case for the families and for the city's law enforcement authorities, who were faced with the reality that one of their own had exploited his powers and the faith placed in him by citizens and fellow police officers.

"The defendant grossly abused that trust," Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein told reporters after the hearing.

The case should "serve as a lesson to those who feel they can use deadly force simply because of a belief that they were 'disrespected,'" Bernstein said. "That is not how a civilized society resolves such disputes."

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Tshamba, who had been under suspension without pay, will be terminated from the force.

Tshamba, who has been an officer for most of his adult life, spoke briefly during the proceeding, his hands cuffed in front of him.

"I'm sorry for the tragic event that brings us here today," he told Brown's relatives and friends, adding that he prays they "find peace and closure." He also called his defense "sincere," reiterating claims made during his weeklong trial in June that he was in fear for his life the night he shot Brown a dozen times.

It's "a recurrent incident in my mind that I live with for the rest of my life," said Tshamba, who plans to appeal his conviction.

Tshamba and Brown were at separate bars the night of June 4, 2010, into the morning of June 5, when their worlds collided in an alley behind the Red Maple lounge.

Brown had been out with his sister, Chantay Kangalee, and others, when he spotted an attractive woman — a friend of Tshamba's — and drunkenly groped her. The woman moved to smack Brown, who blocked the blow.

Tshamba, who was off-duty, drew his gun and began waving it, escalating the situation, the judge found during the trial. Hargadon re-created the night's events in a five-page order largely based on Kangalee's trial testimony, which he said he found the most credible.

Brown pushed Tshamba, who began taunting the bigger man, telling him to "go ahead, do it again" and to "get your [expletive] ass on the ground," Hargadon wrote. Brown raised his hands and warned his sister to stay out of harm's way. When he turned back toward the defendant, Tshamba "began shooting" and didn't stop until 13 bullets were emptied from his gun. Brown was hit a dozen times.

"My brother bled for 48 minutes," Kangalee said Tuesday in the somber courtroom, again taking the stand to speak for Brown.

She spoke of Brown's two children and their loss of a father, and her own sleepless nights. She bemoaned the many options Tshamba had that night, but didn't take. And yet, she found it within herself to forgive him.

"I can't live with this hate and anger toward you," she said.

Kangalee was among a dozen people who addressed the court on Brown's behalf during the sentencing hearing.

His 15-year-old son said in a letter that a piece of him had died along with his father, and Brown's 9-year-old daughter called him a "great man" in a letter of her own. His wife, Loren Dean-Brown, said she'd lost her best friend and support system.

Others recounted Brown's heroics as a Marine, serving in Iraq and other war zones.

"He took many Marines under his wing," one man said. "He always made sure that everyone around him was safe," said another.

Brown wasn't perfect, and touching that woman wasn't right, a friend conceded. But "it shouldn't have cost him his life," the man said.

They spoke for nearly an hour, one after the other recounting Brown's best characteristics.

The speeches from Tshamba's supporters were brief in comparison. His parents said they raised their son to be a good Catholic, with respect and compassion for all. His girlfriend described him as charismatic and jovial, with a "zest for life."

"My son is not a bad guy, he is not a bad guy at all," Tshamba's father said. "I can't turn things around. I wish I could."

Prosecutor Kevin Wiggins asked Hargadon to sentence Tshamba to the maximum of 30 years, noting that the officer had been involved in prior alcohol-fueled incidents. Police records show that Tshamba was driving drunk in 2005 before firing his weapon at a group of men who allegedly tried to ram his car.

Brown's family has filed a multimillion-dollar civil suit against Tshamba, as well as against the city government and the Police Department, alleging that the agencies failed to control the officer.

"We all know this isn't his first infraction for being impaired," Wiggins said.

The judge eschewed the minimum sentence of five years in favor of a 15-year term.

"I'm not going to go through all the facts which led me to find you guilty," Hargadon said. "However, I do need to point out the truly tragic nature of this, because none of this had to happen."

He ticked off a list of things the officer could have done to avoid the deadly confrontation.

Tshamba should have left his gun at home, shown his badge, called for backup, kept his weapon holstered, or, at the least, "reacted reasonably," Hargadon said. "If you'd done any of those things, we would not be here today."

After the hearing, Tshamba was taken to the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center to determine where and how he will be imprisoned, a process that could take a week or longer, according to one of his attorney's, James L. Rhodes.

A spokesman for the state's corrections department said Tshamba's police background will be considered in deciding where to send him. He could be transferred out of state or put in protective custody or into administrative segregation if officials believe he might be in danger.

Rhodes said he would have safety concerns if Tshamba were housed among the general population at any prison.

"All of the inmates have access to the computer," Rhodes said, adding that there are not too many Gahiji Tshambas out there.

An earlier version of this story had a headline that incorrectly stated the year Tyrone Brown was fatally shot. It was 2010. The Sun regrets the error.

Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

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