The family of a Marine shot dead by an off-duty Baltimore police officer outside a nightclub last June has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the officer and the police department, claiming the incident was preventable and seeking millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.
The suit, brought on behalf of Tyrone Brown’s widow, children and mother, comes less than two months before the defendant and officer, Gahiji Tshamba, is scheduled to stand trial on criminal charges including first-degree murder.
The lawsuit comes days after another police-involved fatal shooting outside a city nightclub.
The Brown-Tshamba altercation allegedly began when Brown “touched” a woman outside a Mt. Vernon club around 1:30 a.m. on June 5. It ended with Tshamba firing 13 shots, all but one hitting Brown, according to the suit. The plaintiffs’ attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, called the incident “an outrageous act” and a “continuation of the types of activities that we’re seeing exhibited over and over and over again by the Baltimore City Police Department.”
“[Brown] was unarmed, he didn’t threaten the officer, he didn’t do anything,” Pettit, a solo practioner, said Tuesday.
A police spokesman declined to comment on the litigation, and City Solicitor George Nilson, the city’s top lawyer, did not return calls.
Adam Sean Cohen, one of Tshamba’s criminal defense attorneys, said he has “very strong opinions and beliefs … about the significance or insignificance of the number of shots” fired, but declined to comment on the suit because he had not seen it yet. Cohen will not defend Tshamba, who is in jail ahead of his March 7 trial date, in the civil suit, he said.
According to the suit, which Pettit said he mailed to the city circuit court on Thursday, Brown, 32, was out with his sister and a neighborhood friend at Eden’s Lounge on the evening of the incident. After the woman Brown allegedly touched swung at him, Tshamba intervened.
“Defendant Tshamba pulled the weapon from his waist band and started to wave the gun around and point it at Mr. Brown,” the suit states.
Brown “put his hands up in the air,” apologized and tried to calm Tshamba, according to the suit. But Tshamba backed him down an alley that runs behind the nightclub.
“While the two men were in the alley adjacent to Eden’s lounge, Mr. Brown’s sister tried to approach [Brown] and [Brown] told her to go back,” the suit states. “As she paused, Defendant Tshamba began firing his weapon at a very close range at the unarmed Mr. Brown.”
Brown, an East Baltimore native who served in Kosovo and Iraq, died shortly thereafter.
Tshamba had a record of such behavior and should not have still been armed as a police officer on that night, according to the suit.
He shot a man in the foot in September 2005, and while the shooting was ruled justified, Tshamba was “disciplined internally for having his gun while intoxicated,” the suit states.
“To allow officers known to have or suspected to have such a propensity for unreasonable and excessive use of deadly and/or non-deadly force to have full police powers … endangered public safety and welfare,” the suit states.
The suit also faults police for not arresting Tshamba or making him take an alcohol test the night of the shooting.
Early on the morning of Jan. 9, a melee outside Select Lounge on Paca Street left two dead — a plainclothes police officer and an unarmed civilian — and four injured. Police fired all 41 shots in the incident. The funeral for the deceased officer, William H. Torbitt Jr., will be held Wednesday morning.
The city paid $7.25 million to settle police misconduct allegations between mid-2007 and mid-2010.