Witnesses: Slain Officer Overwhelmed By Crowd, Police Fired As He Lay On Ground

… Two roommates recall watching Sunday’s shooting from an apartment window …

baltimoresun.com

By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

4:34 PM EST, January 10, 2011

From a Franklin Street apartment, the university employee and her roommate have a broad view of the nightclub parking lot where police say six people were shot Sunday — an incident that left a plainclothes police officer and a 22-year-old man dead.

As an unusually large crowd attracted a significant police presence, they opened a window and watched the events that led up to the shooting outside the Select Lounge in the 400 block of N. Paca St.

The women, both 26, saw the plainclothes officer get overwhelmed by an unruly crowd, then watched as two uniformed officers opened fire while he lay on the ground. The women also saw the pained reaction of the slain officer’s partners once they realized what had happened.

It’s a scene they haven’t been able to get out of their minds.

“I’ve never seen somebody killed,” the university employee said Monday.

The university employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she is fearful of what she observed, and her roommate Lakeisha Hutcherson, said in separate interviews with The Baltimore Sun that the incident unfolded at about 1:15 a.m.

City police have not given a detailed account of the night’s events, but the account of the women matches what law enforcement sources have said. A police department spokesman did not return a call seeking comment; police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III is scheduled to address the media at 3:45 p.m.

According to the roommates, they first noticed a group of women walking to their cars outside the club when a vehicle began to pull out and almost hit one of them. One of the women became angry and began to hit the car with her shoe, trying to attack the driver, and a man in a pink shirt attempted to calm them down. The driver was able to pull off, but the woman remained agitated.

A man — later identified by law enforcement sources as Officer William Torbit Jr. — walked over wearing a brown or black jacket. Neither woman said they saw a badge, though they said he might have been wearing one.

“I thought he was just a guy trying to break up the altercation,” the university employee said. “He was telling them, ‘Stop. Go home.'”

Hutcherson added: “He was trying to push people out of the way, trying to stop the fight. He was trying to make peace, and it seemed like some guys took it wrong.”

In a flash, they said, a large crowd began fighting and “overtook” the plainclothes officer, who disappeared in a sea of people.

The 22-year-old who was slain has been identified by relatives as Sean Gamble. His brother told the Sun Sunday night that his brother had witnessed Torbit being aggressive toward a woman and started arguing with him. That escalated to an altercation.

The women say that is not what they saw.

“I didn’t see [the plainclothes officer] being aggressive with her — she was aggressive,” the university employee said. “It looked like he was trying to break it up, to stop it from escalating. I don’t even know how the other guys got involved.”

Then they saw two uniformed officers approach, and heard a shot.

They aren’t sure who fired the shot, and none of those fighting seemed to react. A few seconds later, a second shot went off, and people started running.

Hutcherson left the window to check on her young daughter, but her roommate continued watching. The university employee said the man in the dark jacket was lying on his back, his arms splayed out. She did not see a weapon.

“The [plainclothes officer] was … on his back, and two uniformed officers, they took a couple steps back and just fired at him while he was lying on the ground.”

Hutcherson, who heard multiple gunshots, recounted how her roommate relayed to her what was happening: “She said, ‘Oh my God, they’re killing him. He’s not even moving, he’s laying on the ground with his hands up.'”

“Another cop, a heavy set guy with ‘Police’ on his back, was screaming [expletives],'” she said. “A cop in a brown hoodie fell to his knees, and that’s when we knew [the victim] was a cop.”

The roommates said officers picked up Torbit by his arms and legs and carried him to the back seat of a car, but the car was swarmed by people. They eventually were able to drive off.

Meanwhile, a group of people was advancing on the uniformed officers who had fired their weapons, apparently angry at what they observed, and officers began deploying Tasers and slamming people onto the hoods of cars.

“It was out of control,” Hutcherson said.

A few feet away, they noticed another victim: Gamble. He was lying under a car that appeared to trying to pull away. They said Gamble — whose brother says he was shot in the chest — remained there for what seemed like 30 minutes before an ambulance came. They saw medics pumping his chest.

“We’re right near Maryland General, University Hospital, and no one came for a long time,” Hutcherson said.

The roommates continued to watch the incident unfold. They said crime scene technicians did not arrive until 4 a.m., with people leaving the club “trampling” on the crime scene.

Neither woman has called police to report what they saw; both said they are fearful of officers after observing the incident and the police response. But they said they wanted the public to know what they saw.

“I didn’t know it was a cop, but no one deserves to be shot at like that,” the university employee said. “I felt like it was ridiculously excessive and unnecessary. There was no need for that shooting to happen.”

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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