… Sources: Police investigating whether shooting was friendly fire …
By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun
4:16 PM EST, January 9, 2011
Two Baltimore police officers were shot, one of them fatally, when gunfire erupted early Sunday outside a club near downtown. Six people in all were shot and two killed.
Three sources said detectives are exploring whether the officer who was killed was shot by another officer amid a chaotic scene outside the Select Lounge in the 400 block of North Paca Street.
The incident occurred at about 1:15 a.m. when police were called to break up fights and control a crowd outside the club near Franklin Street in the Seton Hill neighborhood, said Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.
“There was an altercation that took place very near the club and some officers worked to intercede in that fight, at which time some gunshots were discharged,” Bealefeld said. “Several officers fired multiple shots.”
The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was in its early stages, said witnesses have told detectives that the officer who was shot was in plainclothes and was being attacked by a group of people. His badge apparently came off during the scuffle. Officers who came around a corner saw him firing at his attackers and they shot at him, the sources said.
The officer, an eight-year veteran of the force who multiple sources identified as 33-year-old William H. Torbit Jr., was pronounced dead at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. A second officer, an 11-year veteran, was shot in the foot.
At a news conference outside of the hospital, police said they could not say what prompted the officers to fire or whether anyone other than the officers had fired a gun.
“We’re a few hours into this whole ordeal, and we have scores of detectives working on the case, processing evidence, interviewing witnesses,” Bealefeld said. “We have a ton of work to do to put together the facts of what happened.”
The civilian victim was identified by friends as 22-year-old Sean Gamble. Corey Brown, who said he is Gamble’s godbrother, said Gamble had a young child and was engaged to be married. He worked for a waste management company and had no criminal record.
“He’s not a violent kid — he’s not in the streets,” Harris said. “He’s not even cut from that cloth. Apparently he got in a fight and the cops start shooting. Not in the air — in the crowd, and they shot him.”
A number of downtown clubs have been plagued by violence in recent years, with officials pushing to padlock or revoke the licenses of two prominent nightspots. Several high-profile incidents of violence have occurred downtown, even as officials say crime there is on the decline.
In March, two people were shot outside the Velvet Rope, a club in the 200 block of East Redwood Street. A month earlier, a security guard was fatally shot on Light Street, and in June an off-duty police officer was charged with fatally shooting an unarmed man outside a Mount Vernon club.
An officer was also shot and wounded in November after encountering an armed man on Calvert Street.
Select Lounge opened just two months ago a few blocks north of Lexington Market and has sought to attract an upscale crowd. Ravens player Dannell Ellerbe chose the club to celebrate his birthday in December.
At the scene Sunday morning, police tape blocked a parking lot adjacent to Select Lounge that was full of cars as detectives interviewed witnesses at police headquarters. A “VIP Parking” sandwich board lay in the street. Calls left with a phone number for the club were not immediately returned.
“What we need to figure out is what sparked the shooting,” said Anthony Guglielmi, a police spokesman. “Was there a weapon drawn by a civilian? Was the officer’s weapon taken? We’ve got to put together a timeline and figure out what happened.”
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called the shooting an “absolutely horrible incident.” Three officers were killed in a span of a few weeks in October, including an off-duty officer out celebrating his birthday who was struck in the head with a piece of concrete in an argument over a parking spot in Canton.
Torbit’s death comes four years to the day that Officer Troy Lamont Chesley was killed during an attempted carjacking. Chesley is the last officer to die in an attack while on duty.
If police determine that Torbit was killed by friendly fire, it would be the first such incident since off-duty officer Norman Stamp was killed at a Southeast Baltimore bar in 2008. Police said at the time that officers responding to a call about a fight encountered Stamp — unbeknownst to them a fellow officer — with brass knuckles and shot him when he reached for his weapon. Stamp’s widow last year lost a civil lawsuit filed against the officer.
At least one woman was among those shot and wounded with non-life-threatening injuries in Sunday morning’s shooting. On Twitter, people lamented Baltimore’s continuing nightlife violence.
“Can’t even go out anymore,” one person wrote. Another said, “This has to stop.”
Gamble was a member of the Baltimore Saints semi-pro football league, playing linebacker and wearing number 56. Friends and teammates were posting messages on Facebook.
Corey Brown said Gamble had a “huge heart and was really a person you wanted to be around.”
“He was loyal, loyal to the death,” Brown said.
Brown was not at the club on Saturday night but said he had talked to another man who was with Gamble. He confirmed that Gamble was fighting with another person when the shooting broke out.
“They’re giving no details to my family,” Brown said.
On its website, Select Lounge bills itself as catering to a “professional, upscale crowd” and as the “premiere destination for sophisticated club connoisseurs, savvy socialites, A-list celebrities and the Baltimore’s [sic] elite.” It boasts a private VIP lounge for “the ultimate in discreet experiences.”
One officer told The Sun that the club had not drawn disproportionate police attention since its opening.
Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun