Prosecutors clear officers in 2 deaths
Father and son were killed when police believed they were going to shoot
Baltimore prosecutors have decided not to charge two police officers who this spring fired 56 unanswered rounds at a father and son who were armed with loaded guns in East Baltimore, killing both.
The state’s attorney’s office did not publicly disclose the decision, which was handed down on Sept. 23. Police noted that the case had been declined on a new “use of force” section on their website.
Prosecutors wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun Tuesday that they “have concluded that there is no legal basis to charge these officers, who appear to have prevented even further violence on the streets of Baltimore.”
Sgt. Joseph Wiczulis and Officer Norman Jones were in plain clothes with another officer in the 400 block of E. Lanville St. on March 31 when they saw Matthew V. Wood, 43, and Kimani Johnson, 18, drive into the block near a playground, and emerge from a vehicle holding weapons, police said.
Police said at the time that they believed the men were poised to shoot a group of people across the street. After the flurry of gunfire police determined Wood and Johnson had not fired any shots.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis hailed the officers at the time for confronting the men and said they prevented a shooting.
Tawanda Johnson, Kimani’s mother, said Tuesday that she had not been told that prosecutors had declined to charge the officers. She said she was upset with that decision, and with an overall lack of information provided about the case.
“They wouldn’t shoot a stray dog 56 times,” she said. “They shot my son as if he meant nothing.”
Johnson pointed to the third officer, who was at the scene with Jones and Wiczulis but did not fire his weapon.
The fact that one of the officers did not fire “sets the tone to me,” she said. “That says to me his life was not in jeopardy. Something is fishy. It’s been fishy from day one.”
Despite increased scrutiny on police shootings across the country, charges against officers remain rare, with prosecutors affirming police actions.
City prosecutors this year cleared a commander who shot an unarmed man who police said refused to take his hands from his pockets, saying the commander couldn’t risk the possibility that the man was holding a weapon.
But prosecutors also won an assault conviction against an officer who fired an unprovoked shot into the groin of a burglary suspect.
City officers have shot nine people this year, killing four. Six cases remain under review by the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office.
Documents provided under a Public Information Act request show police investigators located only two non-police witnesses to the Lanvale shooting, a couple who looked out of a bedroom window after hearing shots fired.
One of them, whose name was redacted by prosecutors, said he saw Woodstanding in front of a vehicle pointing a rifle. He said he believed he saw Wood firing, while Johnson was lying behind a vehicle.
Officer Reginald Jones, the officer who did not fire, told police investigators that the officers had been in the area due to violence and drug complaints when they saw Wood open the driver’s side door and emerge with the rifle in his lap, the documents show.
“You all wanna talk s---?” Wood said to a group of three people before raising the rifle, Reginald Jones told investigators.
Reginald Jones said he yelled “gun!” and said Wood turned toward Norman Jones. Reginald Jones took cover. He said Wiczulis fired and he saw Johnson go down.
An autopsy showed Johnson was shot 12 times in his body, arms, legs and head. Wood was struck eight times, also in the body, arms, legs and head.
“Our decision to decline prosecution in this case was based on a thorough investigation where the statements of at least two independent witnesses at the scene of the shooting were consistent with the police officers’ account of the event that both men were armed — one with a loaded assault rifle and the other with a loaded handgun,” prosecutors said Tuesday.