Officer interviews, body camera footage in Amy Caprio death shed light on possible defense for teens

In the hours after Baltimore County police Officer Amy Caprio was fatally struck by a stolen Jeep in Perry Hall, detectives interviewed the teens arrested in connection with her death.

“How did she get killed?” Darrell Ward, then 15, asks Detective Al Barton. “I didn’t come nowhere near the officer. I straight ran when I see her.”

“It’s not on me,” Derrick Matthews, 16, tells Barton in a separate interview. He says he left the house he and two other teens were burglarizing on Linwen Way and did not see the confrontation between Caprio and his co-defendant, Dawnta Harris, 16, who was driving the Jeep.

Portions of the interviews were recently made available to The Baltimore Sun for review, along with the officer’s body camera footage. They, along with recent court hearings and other interviews, reveal how some of the defendants are trying to distance themselves from Caprio’s death as they prepare to stand trial early next year.

Police say Ward, Matthews and Eugene Genius IV, then 17, were burglarizing homes in Perry Hall on May 21 when Harris, after being confronted by Caprio, struck her with a Jeep the teens had stolen earlier in the day. Caprio died at a hospital a short time later.

All four teenagers were charged as adults with first-degree murder and other counts, and all are being held until trial. State law allows authorities to file murder charges against co-defendants in a crime in which someone is killed.

Police interviews with Genius and Harris were not made available to The Sun. Attorneys for Ward and Genius, and Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger have declined to comment on the case.

At a bail hearing last month, attorneys for Matthews and Ward sought to minimize their clients’ roles in Caprio’s death, arguing they should not face adult felony murder charges.

William R. Buie III, who is representing Matthews, said charging Matthews with felony murder is a stretch of the law, as his client could not have foreseen that Harris would use the Jeep to drive over Caprio before fleeing the scene.

“The felony murder concept is a miscarriage of justice,” Buie said in an interview with The Sun.

Buie said felony murder charges are usually applied when a firearm is used, which wasn’t the case in Caprio’s death. He said it would be difficult to show his client could have predicted the burglary spree would include a murder.

“The issue to me is: Was it foreseeable that the getaway driver was going to run a police officer over? Certainly it could happen, but that’s not the most foreseeable thing,” Buie said.

More typically, one perpetrator has a firearm, someone is shot and those present are charged with felony murder, he said.

“Everybody supposedly is responsible for anybody who is shot on the basis of the concept of felony murder. This is a situation with a vehicle.”

Buie made the arguments before Baltimore County Circuit Judge Jan Marshall Alexander. He asked for his client to be released from jail and held on home detention with GPS monitoring until trial.

“Even if you take all the facts, as stated by the prosecution as being true, the person who really commits the murder is waiting outside the premises where the burglary occurred. There’s never any point in time where the other defendants ever reconnect in any way, shape or form with the person who committed the murder,” Buie said, according to a recording of the hearing.

Other states, including Kentucky and Hawaii, and countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada, have done away with felony murder laws, with critics saying it allows excessive punishment for a crime a defendant didn’t actually commit but merely had been present at.

Buie also questioned whether the race and residences of the youth — all are black and from the city — factored into the filing of felony murder charges.

“They are going for the jugular. I do think it would be different. They wouldn't destroy the lives of mainstream young people who did not actually kill the officer over this situation. They would be penalized, not destroyed," he told The Sun.

At the hearing, Deputy State’s Attorney Robin Coffin argued against Matthews’ release, and called the case an example of “classic felony murder.” She noted that the four teens had ridden out to the neighborhood together in the stolen Jeep and had taken packages and other items from homes in the Perry Hall neighborhood before Caprio was called to investigate.

Coffin said Matthews had previous juvenile charges in 2015 and 2016, including robbery with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery and second-degree assault, and misdemeanor theft.

The judge denied Matthews bail.

At the same hearing, James Johnston, a public defender representing Ward — the youngest defendant in the case — argued his client should be moved from the Baltimore County Detention Center to the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, which houses only juvenile offenders and provides them daily classes.

Ward has a transfer hearing scheduled for next month, where his attorneys are expected to argue that their client’s case should be moved to juvenile court, where Ward would be eligible for lighter sentences and more access to rehabilitative services.

In his interview with the detective, Ward said he did not see the interaction between Caprio and Harris.

Coffin, however, argued against the transfer to the youth facility because of Ward’s previous juvenile arrests, including for motor vehicle theft.

“The state’s position is that the defendant has been under supervision, has been monitored, that he is a danger to himself and others if he is not in a detention center and his history represents that,” Coffin told the court.

The judge granted the request to have Ward moved to the Hickey School.

The body camera footage, meanwhile, is expected to be a central piece of evidence at trial.

The portion of video briefly reviewed by The Sun begins with Caprio driving in her cruiser. At one point, she slows down and cracks open her door, as if to get out to stop the Jeep that Harris was driving, which is seen passing out of view.

Caprio then activates her siren and lights, and calls in to dispatch a description of the Jeep. As she follows the Jeep to the Linwen Way cul-de-sac, she gets out and approaches the vehicle, standing directly in front of its hood. Her gun is drawn and her left hand is stretched out.

“Stop. Stop. Get out of the car right now,” Caprio yells. “Get out of the [expletive] car.”

The driver-side door of the Jeep opens briefly and then shuts. Within seconds, the camera shakes and Caprio is on the ground. Blood begins to trickle onto the asphalt.

Police had said previously that Caprio fired her gun at the Jeep.

In the body camera footage, a man is heard yelling, “Ma’am, are you OK?” He calls for someone to call 911.

An older woman walks into view and tells Caprio she’s not going to touch her but offers her comfort.

“I’m right here with you,” she tells Caprio as she comes into view. “Just relax. My husband is calling 911.”

J. Wyndal Gordon, one of Harris’ attorneys who has called for the public release of the footage, said it offers a defense for his client.

“What you see in that video, Officer Caprio running from her car with her gun drawn. She retreated to the back of her car. My client is ducking with his eyes closed,” Gordon argued the video shows. “She came out with the gun drawn and he panicked.”

Gordon, too, said he felt this client was overcharged and the state’s attorney’s office was being “extremely aggressive.”

Genius and Ward are expected to be tried in February. Matthews will be tried in March. Harris’ trial is scheduled for April.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5

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