Jury finds Baltimore Police Officer Wesley Cagle guilty of assault in shooting of unarmed man

Officer Wesley Cagle found guilty of assault, not guilty of attempted murder in shooting of unarmed man.

A Baltimore police officer faces at least five years in prison after a jury convicted him Thursday of two charges in the shooting of an unarmed burglary suspect.

In a rare conviction in a use-of-force case against a police officer, jurors found Wesley Cagle, 46, guilty of first-degree assault and a handgun charge. Prosecutors said Cagle shot Michael Johansen in the groin as he lay in the doorway of an East Baltimore corner store after two other officers had shot the man.

"There was no need for him to take that final shot," said jury foreman Jerome Harper, 64, after he and other jurors left the courthouse.

Cagle was acquitted of the more serious charges of attempted first- and second-degree murder in the shooting.

Cagle, a 15-year veteran of the Police Department, stood silently at the defense table with his attorneys as the decision was announced. Behind him, members of his family wept as they heard the verdict.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said the case demonstrates their willingness to hold police officers accountable.

"Today's serious criminal charges against a Baltimore police officer happened because our internal investigations worked," Davis said in a statement.

Police officials said Davis would take "immediate action" to terminate Cagle's employment. He has been suspended without pay. He earned $76,021.76 in 2015 on a base salary of $69,296.

The two other officers who shot Johansen — Isiah Smith and Keven Leary — were cleared in the shooting and testified for the prosecution.

"I commend the witnesses who willingly testified against Mr. Cagle's reckless behavior as well as my prosecutors who presented such a strong case," Mosby said. "I'm glad to know that the jury looked at the facts and evidence presented in this case and ensured that justice was served."

Cagle's attorneys, Chaz Ball and Joe Murtha, left the courthouse without commenting.

Both Cagle and Johansen are white.

Johansen, who testified last week about getting shot, did not attend the court proceedings Thursday. On the stand, he described how he has long been addicted to heroin and went to the store the morning of Dec. 28, 2014, to "get some money."

In an interview Thursday, his attorney, Jerome Bivens, praised Mosby's office and the police officers who testified.

"We need more police officers to stand up," Bivens said. "We need more good cops to stand up against the bad cops. If we get that more often, our country will be in much better shape than it is now. This case is a conviction because the police policed themselves."

Cagle testified that he shot at Johansen because he saw a shiny object that could have been a weapon, but Harper said jurors did not believe him.

"That was thrown out," the jury foreman said. "We didn't believe that."

At a time when the public often sees video footage of police encounters, it could become harder for officers to defend their actions by saying they thought someone was armed, said A. Dwight Pettit, a Baltimore attorney who has represented clients in numerous lawsuits against police.

"With all the things the public is seeing, that defense is running kind of thin, especially when there's no evidence to corroborate," Pettit said. "I think juries are going to want more than just, 'I thought I saw him reaching [for a weapon].' That's worn out."

Prosecutors said Smith's and Leary's actions were justified in the shooting because Johansen had refused their commands to show his hands and moved toward his waistband.

Johansen told the jury that Cagle called him a "piece of [expletive]" before shooting him.

While both Smith and Leary said they heard an exchange between Cagle and Johansen, neither could make out the words. Cagle testified that he was giving Johansen commands to show his hands.

Judge Wanda Keyes Heard said Cagle could remain free on bail until his sentencing Nov. 18.

"I'm allowing you on bail as a courtesy because I have no reason to believe you're not going to show up," Heard said.

The firearms conviction — use of a handgun in a crime of violence — carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison without parole. The assault charge carries a sentence of up to 25 years.

Cagle was the first Baltimore officer to be charged in an on-duty shooting since 2008. In the 2008 case, a jury acquitted the officer, Tommy Sanders III, of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man.

In recent years, other Baltimore officers have been convicted on criminal charges related to their duties.

In 2013, Officer Kendell Richburg pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with a drug conspiracy. In 2014, Sgt. Marinos N. Gialamas was convicted of malfeasance and Officer Anthony Williams was found guilty of assault related to a drug arrest.

This year, a judge acquitted three officers of charges related to the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, from a spinal injury suffered in police custody in April 2015. Prosecutors then dropped charges against the other three officers charged in the case.

Baltimore Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

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