Officer’s Murder Trial Opens

… Witness recounts shooting outside Baltimore bar …

By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

6:30 PM EDT, June 1, 2011

Jacqueline Hill rose from the witness stand Wednesday to answer questions about an exhibit. She stretched out her right arm as she spoke, straight to the tip of her index finger, which was cocked in the direction of a Baltimore prosecutor.

Again and again, she bent her thumb forward — the trigger of the gun going off.

“He just shot him for no reason,” she had said before she got up, a sob caught in her throat.

She was referring to Officer Gahiji Tshamba, who unloaded his service weapon into an unarmed man last year after a night of off-duty club hopping in Mount Vernon, striking Tyrone Brown a dozen times.

Tshamba’s defense attorneys say Brown was the aggressor, but Hill — the first in a series of witnesses in Tshamba’s murder trial, which began Wednesday — said otherwise in court.

Brown “was begging for his life,” she said. “He had his hands up the whole time.”

It was an emotional start to a disturbing trial. Prosecutors are blaming alcohol and bad judgment for Tshamba’s actions, while defense attorneys are questioning the character of the man who was shot, a 32-year-old Marine veteran and father of two.

The proceeding, expected to last into next week, will likely be marked by similar contradictions.

Witnesses described different scenes to police in taped statements after the early-morning shooting June 5, 2010, according to transcripts obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Some, like Hill, say Brown was helpless, while several others say it was Tshamba, 37, who was in danger.

One of his defense lawyers, James L. Rhodes, told the court that Brown grabbed a woman’s behind that morning and made a fist at her after she struck him.

When Tshamba intervened, Brown identified himself as a Marine — as in “I’m a Marine, I have more authority than you as a police officer” — and punched the officer, Rhodes said, eliciting a gasp from Brown’s supporters in the courtroom.

He described Brown in superhuman terms — a threatening powerhouse who, he said, charged Tshamba, “assaulting” the officer even as bullets were fired into his body. The attack ended only after Tshamba’s “clip is unloaded,” Rhodes said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin Wiggins told a different version. Brown was out with his sister and a friend, Wiggins said, when he spotted a “scantily dressed” woman and took a liking to her. He “walked up to her and smacked her on the butt,” and she hit him back in the face.

Tshamba then overreacted, telling Brown to put his hands up and saying, “‘Do it again, do it again,'” in an aggressive manner, according to Wiggins. Brown pushed his sister aside for her safety, and Tshamba “emptied the gun into the victim,” who was “retreating the whole time,” Wiggins said.

“There are lots of things that [Tshamba] did that are not consistent with being a police officer,” Wiggins said.

Hill said she first saw the officer as she and her husband walked along an alley toward their car, giddy from a birthday celebration at Eden’s Lounge.

She spotted the young woman dancing in the short shorts — so small they were “almost like my child’s diaper,” Hill said — and then saw Brown, whom she described as the man in the black T-shirt, “playfully” swat the woman’s rear.

Tshamba intervened, talking about respect, and the “next thing you know, he pulls out this gun,” Hill said.

Brown “kept saying … ‘Please, I’m a Marine, I have children, don’t do this. Please, don’t do this’ — just begging for his life,” Hill said. But Tshamba “just started” shooting.

“I didn’t understand, with everybody around, why would he do something like that? I just couldn’t make sense of it,” Hill said.

She was less sure of her recollection when Rhodes questioned her, however, unclear whether Brown and Tshamba had come into contact, as she indicated a year ago in her taped statement.

A second witness, Major Eric Russell, commander of the Baltimore Police Southwestern District, said he talked to Tshamba shortly after the shooting, as the officer sat in the back of a patrol car, still in possession of his now-empty weapon.

“His speech appeared to be slurred when he spoke,” Russell said. “He appeared to be drunk, in my opinion.”

Tshamba offered up his account of the evening — that Brown touched a woman’s butt, the two men struggled and Tshamba shot him — which Russell later wrote up in a report.

Russell then asked that Tshamba’s gun be removed.

“I thought that he was impaired,” Russell said.

The trial continues Thursday in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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