Reporting Mike Hellgren
TOWSON, Md. (WJZ)—A Baltimore County officer makes his first court appearance after he’s indicted on manslaughter charges in the death of 17-year-old Christopher Brown.
Mike Hellgren has the latest from court.
In court, Officer James Laboard held his head down as he asked to be released. The judge ordered his release on his own recognizance. There was no bail set or any other conditions because the judge did not believe Laboard was a danger. A number of fellow officers also came to testify on his behalf.
But moments before that, both the police chief and state’s attorney held a news conference about the charges at the Baltimore County Circuit Court.
After increasing pressure from the victim’s family, police made the announcement Wednesday afternoon.
Officer James Laboard will face charges in connection with Brown’s death. They include manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Both are felonies and can land him in jail for 10 years.
“The job of police officers, as we all know, is one of the most difficult there is. Every day we, as officers, have to make split-second decisions, life and death decisions–including the decision whether or not to use force,” said Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson.
Police say exactly two weeks ago, Brown was walking with other young people in his neighborhood in Randallstown. Someone threw a rock at Laboard’s door. He then chased down the group, cornering the teenager in a bush. The teen refused to come out, so police say Laboard pulled him out. And in the altercation that followed, Brown died.
The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide by asphyxiation.
The police chief says evidence from a sweeping investigation reveals Laboard stepped outside the scope of his employment, saying officers are not above the law they are empowered to enforce.
“The fact that Laboard was an off-duty police officer had no bearing on the time it took to evaluate the evidence and to move this case forward to the grand jury,” said Scott Shellenberger, Baltimore County State’s Attorney.
One of the key questions of this case is whether Laboard was acting in the capacity as a police officer. He was off duty when the incident happened.
Brown’s family say the motive was rage and anger.
“I’ve extended my sorrow, the agency’s sorrow over the death of her son. I’ve assured her a complete and thorough investigation, which has been conducted,” Johnson said.
Laboard’s attorney told us he could not comment, but the law firm sent out a statement, saying they wish the people of Baltimore County would not judge the officer and they look forward to presenting his side of the story.
Alex DeMetrick has reaction from Brown’s family.
For the victim’s family there is disappointment and anger that more serious charges weren’t brought against Officer Laboard.
Brown’s mother had a public response to the closed grand jury proceedings. The off-duty police officer behind her son’s death was charged with manslaughter instead of murder.
“This was definitely what I thought they were going to do, to rush something along, to quiet up everybody and to say ‘Well, you know what? Let’s give him something,’” she said.
“If we separate the fact that he is an officer and we look at purely just the actions, this is murder no matter how you slice it,” said Russell Neverdon, family’s lawyer.
Brown’s family wants to see the evidence presented to the grand jury.
“That’s what I don’t like. This whole setup I don’t like,” said Brown’s mother.
The fact more serious charges weren’t brought has left the family with little trust that justice will be found in Baltimore County.
“You found him. You grabbed him. You assaulted him. And at this point they’re trying to suggest that this is an involuntary manslaughter, then Christopher justifiably resisted an unlawful arrest, and you killed him,” Neverdon said.
The family wants to see this case moved up to the federal level and plans to petition the U.S. Justice Department.