Baltimore County prosecutors have ruled that the fatal shooting of a 35-year-old man by an off-duty officer outside a Catonsville Giant store this month was legally justified.
County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger announced the decision Monday and released surveillance footage from the grocery store at U.S. 40 and Rolling Road.
On Aug. 1, an off-duty officer, who has been identified only as Officer 1st Class McCain of the Parkville precinct, was working security at the store when he confronted Christopher E. Clapp, who was suspected of shoplifting, in the parking lot, police have said.
According to police, Clapp began driving away, dragging McCain.
In the video released Monday, Clapp’s car is seen coming into view with the officer partially seen next to the driver’s side door. As the vehicle comes to a stop, the officer is seen falling to the ground and then getting up. It is not clear from the video exactly when McCain shot Clapp.
In a letter to the police department released Monday, Deputy State’s Attorney Robin S. Coffin wrote that she had reviewed surveillance footage from the Giant, statements from several eyewitnesses, and the statement of the officer. She wrote that McCain reached into the car “to affect the arrest,” and that Clapp then accelerated and began dragging the officer. McCain “repeatedly ordered Mr. Clapp to stop the car,” she wrote.
“At this point, Officer McCain was reasonably in fear that he would be continually dragged by the car or run over by the car,” Coffin wrote. “Officer McCain was justified in shooting Mr. Clapp to save his own life.”
Under an agreement with the police union, the department does not release the first names of officers involved in shootings.
McCain, a 16-year veteran of the department, was not injured in the incident. A passenger in Clapp’s vehicle was not shot but was taken to the hospital with chest pains after the shooting, according to police.
The officer has been returned to regular duty, a police spokesman, Cpl. Shawn Vinson, said.
Prosecutors released other footage Monday that included scenes from inside the store.
Clapp’s brother said his family still has questions about the case. He said the family had seen some of the surveillance footage, but not all of it.
“The history of this country has shown us that those in power can make determinations and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the whole truth,” Justin Clapp said.
Christopher Clapp grew up in North Carolina and moved to the Baltimore area this past fall, his brother has said. He previously had lived in the area to attend Towson University.
The case has led County Executive Kevin Kamenetz to call for a review of the body camera policy for officers who work second jobs. The department currently doesn’t require officers who moonlight as security guards in their county uniforms to use body cameras.
County police began to phase in body cameras last year, and McCain had not yet been given a camera, according to the department. All uniformed patrol officers are scheduled to have the cameras by Oct. 1.
Shellenberger said that the surveillance video in this case corroborated statements made to investigators by the officer and witnesses, who included a truck driver, a cashier and a customer.
Police records show Christopher Clapp had another encounter with county police a few days before he was killed. On July 29, a patrol officer said he saw a man being chased by an employee of Nikki’s Liquors in the 7500 block of Belair Road. The man tried to get into a vehicle driven by Clapp, and then got out of the vehicle and placed four liquor bottles on the ground. The man was arrested at the scene and charged.
An officer wrote that he asked the driver, later identified as Clapp, to turn off the vehicle.
“He complied then restarted the car and sped off the lot almost causing a collision,” the officer wrote.
Police were planning to charge Clapp with “aiding in the theft and committing several traffic violations,” according to the police report.
McCain has been involved in one previous shooting. In 2006, he was one of two officers who shot at a carjacking suspect who police say drove toward officers. The man survived and the shooting was ruled justified.