City Officer Gets 15 Years for Fatally Shooting Marine Veteran

… Gahiji Tshamba shot Tyrone Brown outside a Mount Vernon bar last year …

baltimoresun.com

By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

7:21 PM EDT, August 16, 2011

A Baltimore judge had harsh words for city police officer Gahiji Tshamba Tuesday, calling his actions “repugnant” and sentencing him to 15 years in prison for the shooting death last year of an unarmed Marine veteran outside a Mt. Vernon bar.

“None of this had to happen,” Circuit Court Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon told Tshamba. “You seriously overreacted.”

Hargadon sentenced the officer to seven years for voluntary manslaughter and eight years for using a handgun in a crime of violence, with an additional two year term held in suspension. He called the early morning incident between two intoxicated men — Tyrone Brown, who inappropriately touched a woman, and Tshamba, who pulled his service weapon to defend her honor — “truly tragic.” And he chastised Tshamba for showing no apparent remorse after the shooting; instead talking with a fellow officer about “hot chicks” that had been with him that night.

“You showed a serious lack of insight into what you had just done and a disturbing sense of detachment,” Hargadon said.

He also ordered Tshamba, 38, to undergo assessments for mental health and alcohol abuse upon release and to serve two years of probation.

Brown’s family and friends had argued for the statutory maximum sentence of 30 years during the lengthy and emotional hearing, while Tshamba’s supporters pleaded for mercy. Members of each side wiped away tears as the ruling was announced.

The prison term is on the high end of sentencing guidelines, which recommended between five and 18 years based on Tshamba’s history and his convictions. It closes a painful case for the families as well as for the city’s law enforcement authorities, who were faced with the reality that one of their own had exploited his powers and the faith placed in him by citizens and fellow police.

“The defendant grossly abused that trust,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein told reporters after the hearing.

The case should “serve as a lesson to those who feel they can use deadly force simply because of a belief that they were ‘disrespected.'” Bernstein said. “That is not how a civilized society resolves such disputes.”

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Tshamba, who has been suspended without pay, will be terminated from the force.

Tshamba, who’s been an officer for most of his adult life, spoke briefly during the proceeding, his hands cuffed in front of him.

“I’m sorry for the tragic event that brings us here today,” he told Brown’s relatives and friends, adding that he prays they “find peace and closure.” But he also called his defense “sincere,” reiterating earlier claims, made during his week-long trial in June, that he was in fear for his life the night he shot Brown a dozen times.

It’s “a recurrent incident in my mind that I live with for the rest of my life,” said Tshamba, who plans to appeal his conviction.

Tshamba and Brown were both out at separate bars on the night of June 4, 2010, into the morning of June 5th when their worlds collided in an alley behind the Red Maple lounge.

Brown had been out with his sister, Chantay Kangalee, and some others, when he spotted an attractive woman — a friend of Tshamba’s — and drunkenly groped her. The woman moved to smack Brown, who blocked the blow.

But Tshamba, who was off duty, drew his gun and began waving it around, escalating the situation, the judge found during the trial. Hargadon recreated the night’s events in a five-page order that was largely based on Kangalee’s trial testimony, which he said he found the most credible.

Brown pushed Tshamba, who began taunting the bigger man, telling him to “go ahead, do it again” and to “get your [expletive] ass on the ground,” Hargadon wrote.

Brown put his hands up, and warned his sister to stay out of harm’s way. When he turned back toward the defendant, Tshamba “began shooting” and didn’t stop until 13 bullets were emptied from his gun. Brown was struck a dozen times.

“My brother bled for 48 minutes,” Kangalee told the somber courtroom Tuesday, again taking the stand to speak for Brown.

She spoke of Brown’s two children and their loss of a father, and her own sleepless nights. She bemoaned the many options Tshamba had that night, but didn’t take. And she somehow found it within herself to forgive him.

“I can’t live with this hate and anger toward you,” she said.

Kangalee was one of a dozen people who addressed the court on Brown’s behalf.

His 15-year-old son said in a letter that a piece of him had died along with his father, and Brown’s 9-year-old daughter called her dad a “great man” in a letter of her own. His wife, Loren Dean-Brown, said she’d lost her best friend and support system.

Others recounted Brown’s heroics as a Marine, serving in Iraq and other war zones. “He took many Marines under his wing,” one man said. “He always made sure that everyone around him was safe,” said another.

Brown wasn’t perfect, and touching that woman wasn’t right, a longtime friend conceded. But “it shouldn’t have cost him his life,” the man said.

They spoke for nearly an hour, one after the other recounting Brown’s best characteristics.

The speeches from Tshamba’s supporters were brief in comparison. His parents said they raised their son to be a good Catholic, with respect and compassion for all, and his girlfriend described the officer as charismatic and jovial, with a “zest for life.”

“My son is not a bad guy, he is not a bad guy at all,” Tshamba’s father said. “I can’t turn things around. I wish I could.”

Prosecutor Kevin Wiggins asked Hargadon to sentence Tshamba to the maximum term of 30 years, pointing out that the officer has had prior alcohol issues. Police records show that Tshamba was driving drunk in 2005 before firing his weapon at a group of men who allegedly tried to ram the officer’s car.

Brown’s family has filed a multi-million civil suit against Tshamba, as well as against the city government and the police department, alleging that the agencies failed to control the officer.

“We all know this isn’t his first infraction for being impaired,” Wiggins said.

The judge appeared to meet him halfway, eschewing a minimum sentence of five years in favor of a 15-year term.

“I’m not going to go through all the facts which led me to find you guilty,” Hargadon said, “however I do need to point out the truly tragic nature of this, because none of this had to happen.”

He ticked off a list of things the officer could have done to avoid the situation.

Tshamba should have left his gun at home, shown his badge, called for back-up, left his weapon holstered, or, at the very least, “reacted reasonably,” Hargadon said. “If you’d done any of those things, we would not be here today.”

After the hearing, Tshamba was taken to the Maryland Reception, Diagnostics and Classification Center to determine where and how he will be imprisoned, a process that could take a week or longer, according to one of his attorney’s, James L. Rhodes.

A spokesman for the state’s corrections department said that Tshamba’s police background will be considered in deciding where to send him. He could be transferred out of state, or put in protective custody or into administrative segregation if officials believe he’s in danger.

Rhodes said he would have safety concerns if Tshamba were housed among the general population of any facility.

“All of the inmates have access to the computer,” Rhodes said, adding that there are not too many “Gahiji Tshamba’s” out there.

Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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