BALTIMORE (AP) — Body-camera footage of a Baltimore police shooting that left a teenager hospitalized in critical condition last week shows the teen was shot from behind while running away from officers and holding a gun in one hand.
Witness accounts had already raised significant questions about whether the shooting was justified. And for residents of the teen’s majority-Black southwest Baltimore community, it marks the latest example of poor treatment from the city’s embattled police department.
The body-camera video, which the Baltimore Police Department released Tuesday afternoon, shows the teen remove a handgun from his waistband while running, according to department leaders who narrated an edited version of the footage during a news conference. The teen ignored orders to drop the gun, but the video does not appear to show him ever pointing the weapon at police. An officer fires four shots, causing the teen to collapse mid-stride. As he falls, the gun flies out of his hand and skids across the sidewalk.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison declined to say whether the Black 17-year-old was shot in the back, citing the department’s ongoing investigation. But the video appears to confirm an earlier eyewitness account that said as much.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, a crowd of residents gathered around the wounded teen, demanding to know whether the officer’s violence was necessary and hurling shouted accusations at police on the scene, saying they shot him for nothing.
“We understand the high level of scrutiny that results from any use of force by our officers,” Harrison said during Tuesday’s news conference. “We do not take that scrutiny lightly.”
Harrison declined to comment on whether the shooting violated department policy. He said the agency is working alongside local prosecutors to complete “a thorough, transparent and extensive investigation.”
Department policy says officers are allowed to use deadly force when they believe it’s “immediately necessary” to protect another officer or civilian from “imminent danger of death or serious physical injury.” In the case of a fleeing suspect, officers can use deadly force to prevent the person from escaping under certain circumstances. The policy largely aligns with a 1985 Supreme Court decision that said shooting a fleeing suspect who’s not an imminent threat violates the person’s constitutional rights. But the officer’s threat assessment should be evaluated without the benefit of hindsight, the court said.
“The decision of whether to use deadly force is always based on the need — reasonable, proportionate and necessary — and the officer has to determine that in a second, in a nanosecond,” Harrison said.
The officer who pulled the trigger was identified Monday as Detective Cedric Elleby, who joined the department in 2019. He has been placed on administrative duties, officials said.
The teen’s identity hasn’t been officially released. He was in stable condition Monday, according to police.
The body-camera footage sheds a little more light on the interaction between Elleby and the teen that preceded the chase. Police officials said previously that Elleby approached the teen because he was “displaying characteristics of an armed person.” During Tuesday’s news conference, officials referred to an apparent bulge in his waistband.
The video shows the teen and his friend walking slowly away from two Baltimore police officers, members of the department’s specialized District Action Teams who focus on high-violence areas. Elleby tells the teen to “come here,” at which point the teen takes off running through a nearby vacant lot. The chase lasts less than a minute.
“Stop, stop, stop. Put the gun down. Put the gun down,” Elleby yells just moments before firing. He gives no other warning.
Elleby didn’t switch his body camera on until just before the chase started. But minutes earlier, he was sitting next to the teen on a stoop, according to video posted to social media and reviewed by The Associated Press. On that recording, Elleby says he’s there to interact with residents, not bothering anyone.
But a friend of the teen, who asked to remain anonymous out of concern for his safety, told the AP last week that he recognized Elleby, whom he described as Black, because Elleby and his partner had been coming through the neighborhood often in recent months. He said the officers would make derogatory jokes and antagonize residents.
When asked about those allegations Tuesday, Harrison said he wasn’t aware of any official complaints.
Harrison said the two officers were engaging with the community per their training. He said the area they were patrolling has received over 150 calls for service within the past month, including reports of assault, burglary and drug activity. He said officers are deployed to the “historically violent area” to provide greater law enforcement visibility and better response times.
Harrison also defended the department’s training policies, which were recently overhauled under a 2017 federal consent decree that mandated a series of changes aimed at addressing a pattern of unconstitutional policing practices uncovered during a comprehensive Justice Department investigation. He said Baltimore police officers confiscated over 2,600 illegal guns last year without shooting anyone during those interactions.
In the moments after the shooting, body-camera footage shows the teen with at least two gunshot wounds — in his back and chest. Harrison said investigators haven’t yet determined which was the entrance wound.
Officials said the teen could face criminal charges after his discharge from the hospital, but they declined to specify which charges. Harrison said Baltimore prosecutors will make that decision.