On Wednesday, February 12, 2014, Baltimore Police Department officers shot two suspects in two separate incidents, wounding an unarmed robbery suspect at the Mondawmin 7-11 on Liberty Heights Avenue and killing a burglary suspect in a house on Spence Street in Morrell Park in the Southwest. Details have been spotty from both the Department itself and the Baltimore Sun, which published a confusing, 24-paragraph article from Justin George and Colin Campbell on its website Thursday morning purporting to contain “new details.” We will look at each incident in its own post, starting with the fatal shooting.
The Morrell Park Shooting – Police Impersonation?
The second paragraph of George & Campbell’s Thursday article reads:
In a span of less than two hours Wednesday night, Baltimore police officers killed a man they said appeared to be impersonating an officer during a burglary and wounded another man they said robbed a convenience store. [emphasis added]
No specific official is quoted saying the man appeared to impersonate an officer, though Sgt. Sarah Connolly is named later as the spokesperson responsible for other, contradictory information. Much later in the article, the 21st through 23rd paragraphs (which many readers will not get to) give more detail while creating more confusion:
At 10:52 p.m., officers responded to a home in the 1800 block of Spence St. in Southwest Baltimore’s Morrell Park neighborhood for a report of a burglary. As they entered shortly before 11 p.m., officers saw signs of a burglary in progress and encountered two people. Both wore clothes that had the word “police” on them.
Police said one of the men had a gun, and the officers yelled several times at him to drop his weapon before both officers shot him. The man, who was not identified, was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after. No officers were injured.
Detectives believe the men broke into the home but did not impersonate police to gain entry, Connolly said. [emphasis added]
We do not know which, if any, Baltimore Police Department spokesperson or officer gave the information on the first page: that officers believed the man they shot to death was impersonating an officer. We do know that the official, named spokesperson says that detectives did not impersonate police. Readers who did not make it through the first 23 paragraphs of this 24-paragraph article do not know this, however.
Another bit of confusion related to this shooting was what became of the second suspect. As of the publishing of the George/Campbell article, neither the name of the victim who was killed nor the name of his alleged burglary accomplice had been released. According to the final paragraph:
Police are not releasing the names of any of the suspects or the officers who fired at the suspects. Their names will be released 48 hours after each incident, which is Baltimore police policy.
Colin Campbell and another Sun reporter, Carrie Wells, were asked for an update that same day:
— frⒶnk talk (@BmoreBloc) February 13, 2014
By Saturday, BPD still had not released the names of any of the suspects as required by their 48-hours policy, according to Wells who was attempting to get the information:
On Monday the 17th, the fifth day after the shooting, neither the Sun nor the Department had reported any new information:
Finally, after asking directly on Twitter, we got the name of the second suspect:
The Department responded to subsequent requests for basic details with silence:
However, later on Monday night, Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun published an update on the Sun’s website, headlined “Morrell Park police shooting victim refused to drop revolver, records say,” which he tweeted about like so:
The article names the shooters as Officers Michael McNish and Aileen Villodas and details their claims that before being killed the victim, 22-year-old Bernard Lofton, refused to drop his gun and “turned toward” a third officer, Hovhannes Simonyan, and declared that the officers were “going to have to shoot” him. It also names the second suspect, Brandon Smith, and in the final paragraph, lists the charges against him:
Smith has been charged with burglary, conspiracy to committed armed robbery, impersonating a police officer, and other related charges, and was being held on $150,000 bond. An attorney is not listed in court records.
There is no mention in the Sun’s coverage to date of the discrepancies in what was reported by the official in charge of the Department’s Twitter account and the actual charging documents, nor any mention of the violation of Department policy that occcurred when BPD held back the victim’s and suspect’s name for nearly five days.
In my next post I will look at the sparser but more troubling coverage of the shooting of the unarmed suspect in the Northwest.