Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

us­ti­fied” may be the le­gal term of art for a po­lice shoot­ing that falls within the bounds of the law, but it is cer­tainly an un­for­tu­nate one to ap­ply in the case of Kor­ryn Gaines.

We don’t disagree with Bal­ti­more County State’s At­tor­ney Scott Shel­len­berger’s de­ci­sion not to pur­sue charges against the of­fi­cer who fa­tally shot her and wounded her son. Mr. Shel­len­berger’s job was to de­ter­mine whether, at the mo­ment the of­fi­cer pulled the trig­ger, he had rea­son to fear for his life. Given that Gaines was at that mo­ment in a cov­ered po­si­tion, point­ing a shot­gun at po­lice and re­fus­ing re­quests to put it down, we have a hard time imag­in­ing a pros­e­cu­tor could con­vince a jury that the of­fi­cer had no le­git­i­mate con­cern for his safety and that of his col­leagues.

But “jus­ti­fied” in the le­gal sense does not mean the shoot­ing was in­evitable, nec­es­sary or wise. The of­fi­cer’s de­ci­sion to fire was the cul­mi­na­tion of an hours-long chain of events, and we are left to won­der whether dif­fer­ent de­ci­sions along the way might have led to dif­fer­ent re­sults. Gaines’ fiance, who left with one child at the be­gin­ning of the stand­off last month at Gaines’ apart­ment, told of­fi­cers that she suf­fered from men­tal ill­ness and was off her med­i­ca­tion. It is at the very least tragic that the con­fronta­tion sparked by of­fi­cers’ at­tempts to serve a war­rant re­lated to traf­fic vi­o­la­tions should have ended in her death.

Per its nor­mal pro­ce­dures, the county Po­lice Depart­ment is con­duct­ing two sep­a­rate in­ter­nal re­views aimed at eval­u­at­ing the broader cir­cum­stances of the en­counter, not just the fi­nal de­ci­sion to use force. The depart­ment and Chief Jim John­son have been forth­com­ing about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into this case so far, and we ex­pect they will not al­low Mr. Shel­len­berger’s con­clu­sion be the fi­nal word. The more trans­par­ent they are in this case — and the more un­spar­ing they are in their eval­u­a­tion of their han­dling of it — the bet­ter.

But we ques­tion whether an in­ter­nal re­view, no mat­ter how hon­estly con­ducted, will suf­fice at this point to quell com­mu­nity con­cerns about Gaines’ death. The NAACP Le­gal De­fense Fund this week re­quested that County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz ini­ti­ate an in­de­pen­dent re­view of po­lice poli­cies on the use of force, bar­ri­cade sit­u­a­tions, serv­ing war­rants and de-es­ca­la­tion train­ing. A spokes­woman said he pro­vided the de­fense fund with doc­u­ments it re­quested and in­structed the Po­lice Depart­ment to con­duct “a study of prac­tices and pro­ce­dures in bar­ri­cade sit­u­a­tions.”

That’s good, but the depart­ment would ul­ti­mately be bet­ter served by en­gag­ing out­side ex­perts to re­view its han­dling of Rhanda Dormeus, the mother of Kor­ryn Gaines, lis­tens as fam­ily at­tor­ney J. Wyn­dal Gor­don speaks out­side the Bal­ti­more County Cir­cuit Court­house af­ter State’s At­tor­ney Scott Shel­len­berger in­formed them that he would not pur­sue crim­i­nal charges re­lated to her death. this case. Al­though Bal­ti­more County has taken im­por­tant steps in re­cent years to fos­ter trust be­tween the com­mu­nity and po­lice — no­tably, when Mr. Kamenetz de­cided to out­fit of­fi­cers with body cam­eras de­spite a task force’s rec­om­men­da­tion against it — the depart­ment, like all oth­ers na­tion­wide, is op­er­at­ing un­der a cloud of sus­pi­cion that dark­ens with each African-Amer­i­can killed by po­lice.

The New York Times on Wed­nes­day re­ported Mr. Shel­len­berger’s de­ci­sion not to pur­sue charges in Gaines’ death in the same story that de­scribed riots in Char­lotte over the po­lice killing of a black man out­side an apart­ment com­plex and furor in Tulsa fol­low­ing the po­lice shoot­ing of an un­armed man with his hands up. That was the same day that Ta­won Boyd, a 21-year-old African-Amer­i­can man, died af­ter be­ing wounded in a strug­gle with Bal­ti­more County po­lice.

We have no rea­son to be­lieve Chief John­son will al­low his depart­ment to be any­thing less than thor­ough and ob­jec­tive in its re­view of Gaines’ death, but an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion along the lines of what the NAACP Le­gal De­fense Fund re­quested is the best way to lay any rea­son­able doubts to rest. In the cur­rent cli­mate, Bal­ti­more County risks see­ing its po­lice depart­ment be­come just one more ex­am­ple in the na­tional nar­ra­tive about black deaths at the hands of po­lice. Chief John­son can’t af­ford to let that hap­pen.

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