A Baltimore jury deliberated only a few hours this week before deciding Officer John Torres acted reasonably when he shot and killed Norman Stamp, a fellow member of the Baltimore Police Department who was out with his biker brothers when a brawl erupted at an East Baltimore strip club.
Speaking Thursday morning shortly after delivering their verdict, jurors said none of the officers involved in the April 24, 2008 incident behaved perfectly, but that Stamp’s failure to identify himself as an officer and play peacemaker led to the well-liked 44-year veteran’s death.
“As policemen, none of them did what they were supposed to do,” said Jean Malone, a 37-year-old financial analyst for a Washington, D.C., Internet company. “Everyone was lying about something. We had to come to a conclusion based on [Stamp’s] non-action.”
Don Dawson, a postal service mechanic who also served on the jury of three men and three women, said he suspected Stamp, 65, was involved in the fight between his “Chosen Sons” motorcycle club colleagues and other men at the Haven Place.
“He could have changed the whole scenario,” said Dawson, 53. “If he would have said he’s a cop, he probably wouldn’t have gotten shot that day.”
Approached minutes after the verdict as he walked to his squad car parked in front of the downtown circuit courthouse, Torres said he was not allowed to speak to the media. Defense attorney Troy A. Priest referred questions to City Solicitor George Nilson, who said the early morning shooting was a “tragic situation” born of misunderstanding.
“And that misunderstanding, plus the fact that [Stamp] was carrying a gun into a bar, led to a very, very unfortunate result,” Nilson said. “There are several morals in that story somewhere, but this is probably not the time to get into all of that.”
“The officer who was sued was simply doing his job,” the city’s top lawyer said of Torres, 29. The 8-year veteran was cleared of any wrongdoing by the department.
“Whether people are police officers or members of Congress or doctors, if you pose a risk to public safety, the department has a responsibility to act,” said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
Stamp’s widow, Suzanne, declined to comment on the result, deferring to her attorney, Peter T. McDowell. McDowell, who alleged that the police were covering up an unjustified shooting in his closing argument Wednesday afternoon, seemed heartened by the lengthy discussion he had with jurors after the verdict was announced.
“While Mrs. Stamp is disappointed in the jury’s verdict, she is content that the three very different versions that the police officers testified to as to how Mr. Stamp was shot and killed is now part of the public record,” the Towson attorney said.
There might be grounds for an appeal, McDowell said, but he must first watch recordings of the trial and discuss the possibilities with Suzanne Stamp, a former Johns Hopkins employee who no longer works, before making that decision.
Torres and two other officers responded to the Haven Place after receiving a call from a relative of a man in the scuffle.
There were differing versions of what happened at the back steps, where Torres encountered Stamp, but according to Torres, he separated Stamp from a large man and Stamp then fell down the stairs onto the side parking lot. Torres testified Stamp then brandished a set of brass knuckles. Torres then Tasered Stamp, but Stamp recovered, drew his own service weapon and aimed it at Torres, the officer said. So he closed his eyes and shot twice.
Stamp had served as a motorcycle and marine policeman and was known for his fondness for cigars. Only as he lay dying did he identify himself as a cop, Torres said.
McDowell argued that Torres’ account didn’t square with an expert analysis of the trajectory of the bullets through Stamp’s body. He argued that Torres misjudged Stamp’s intentions and implied that the brass knuckles were planted under Stamp’s body before medics arrived.
Priest, though, pointed to abrasions on Stamp’s fingers in an autopsy photo as proof that he wore the illegal device, and jurors said Stamp’s autopsy revealed he was also carrying knives.
The jury visited the scene of the shooting during the two-week trial before Judge Shirley M. Watts. Jurors also heard from Charles Key, a frequent police defense expert, and a co-founder of the Chosen Sons, 78-year-old attorney Robert Donadio, before getting the case late Wednesday. Donadio, who called Stamp his best friend, said he “definitely” believes there are appealable issues but, regardless, thinks the case, despite the favorable verdict, should send a larger message to the Baltimore Police Department.
“If I was the police department I would be very well shaken by what I heard,” Donadio said of the officer testimony and the jurors’ comments. “It’s something that they ought to look into.”