BALTIMORE (AP) — A Baltimore police officer facing a murder charge in the shooting death of an unarmed man outside a nightclub shouldn’t have been on the force because of a series of questionable incidents, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the victim’s relatives.
The multimillion-dollar lawsuit names Officer Gahiji Tshamba as well as his supervisors, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, Baltimore’s mayor and city council and the state of Maryland.
Tshamba has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Tyrone Brown last June and faces trial in March. His attorneys claim he was acting as a police officer and perceived a threat to his life when he fired 13 shots at Brown, a dozen of which struck the Iraq war veteran.
According to the suit, Brown had his hands in the air and backed into an alley before Tshamba shot him at close range. Brown’s sister tried to intervene immediately before the officer opened fire, the complaint says.
The confrontation between Brown and the officer began after Tshamba, who was off duty, saw Brown groping a woman while both were in line to enter a nightclub. Brown apologized to the woman, who later took a swing at him, at which point Tshamba pulled his gun, the lawsuit stated.
“Here is a man coming back from Iraq, back to his home city, and due to something which he tries to apologize for, he is brutally gunned down,” said attorney A. Dwight Pettit, who’s representing Brown’s mother, wife and two children in the case. “Something is seriously egregious about that.”
Adam Sean Cohen, Tshamba’s attorney in the criminal case, said he had not seen the complaint and declined to comment. Mark Grimes, chief counsel to the police department, declined to comment through a department spokesman, and City Solicitor George Nilson did not immediately return a message.
The lawsuit seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages for each of several counts, including wrongful death and civil rights violations. The total amount of damages sought is $260 million, but Pettit said that figure was inflated because he does not expect every count to go to trial.
Tshamba was disciplined by the department in 2005 for shooting a teenager in the foot while under the influence of alcohol, although the shooting itself was ruled justified.
According to the lawsuit, Tshamba also shot a man in the back in 1998 after he mistakenly believed the man had opened fire. In 2001, according to the lawsuit, he arrested a woman after a routine traffic stop for “allegedly signing the ticket improperly,” leading to a court case that was settled by the city in 2005.
And in 2006, the lawsuit says, Tshamba was involved in a single-car accident while driving without insurance or registration.
Based on those incidents, Tshamba “should have been relieved of his duties completely,” the lawsuit says.
Pettit also said the police department’s vague policy on the use of alcohol by officers was partly to blame for Brown’s death. Baltimore police officers are required to carry their department-issued handguns while off duty within the city limits, and the policy does not make any explicit exceptions for officers who go to places where alcohol is served.
Tshamba declined a breath test the night of the shooting.
“This man should not have been back on the force and should never have been allowed to carry a gun into an establishment where he’s consuming alcohol, because of his past history,” Pettit said. “This suit challenges those practices and procedures.”
Pettit is a veteran civil rights litigator who frequently tangles with the police department. In 2004, he won a $105 million wrongful-death verdict against another police officer, the largest such verdict in Maryland history.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)