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Defense portrays Brown, not Tshamba, as aggressor

In each of the first three days of the murder trial of Baltimore police officer Gahiji Tshamba, the prosecution called an eyewitness who testified it was the off-duty officer who aggressively escalated the confrontation with a former Marine behind a block of midtown nightclubs a year ago without identifying himself as a cop.

On Tuesday, the first day of the defense presentation, four more eyewitnesses, including the victim’s sister, testified it was Tyrone Brown who advanced on Tshamba, even after the officer had pulled his departmental handgun, and that either Tshamba or one of his female companions said he was a policeman.

The conflicting accounts, from people connected to Tshamba and Brown as well as complete strangers, gave the full downtown courtroom — including Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon, who must decide the case — plenty to ponder as the closely watched trial heads into the home stretch.

Chantay Kangalee, Brown’s younger sister, was called as an adverse witness and, in that posture, seemed at odds with both Tshamba’s lawyer and with the prosecutor. She sounded annoyed when she testified about her brother’s headstrong behavior in the early morning hours of June 5, 2010, but also confirmed that she wanted Tshamba punished for unloading his Glock into Brown.

Asked how Tshamba responded shortly after Brown touched his female companion’s backside, Kangalee said the officer pulled his gun, moved “back around,” and told Brown to get on the ground — but never walked toward Brown.

“Yes, he did move backwards,” she said of Tshamba, who is a smaller man than Brown was.

As Tshamba pointed his gun at Brown and the men exchanged words, Kangalee said she learned from one of Tshamba’s female friends that Tshamba was a police officer. She said she was incredulous and went over to Brown one more time to try to get him to leave the scene. He told her to get back and turned back toward Tshamba.

“As soon as he turned around, shots started going off,” Kangalee testified.

If the lawyers in the case were hesitant to call Kangalee to the stand, Azikiwe DeVeaux was hesitant to tell anyone about what he saw that night. DeVeaux, a party promoter who was hosting an event at Eden’s Lounge, which Brown and Kangalee had exited minutes earlier, waited more than a week before giving his statement to a homicide detective.

On the stand Tuesday, he said he didn’t want to get involved and only spoke up after news accounts were inconsistent with what he witnessed. DeVeaux, who knows Tshamba from his promotional events, said he saw Brown and Tshamba arguing and then watched Tshamba back toward where DeVeaux was standing. Brown “lunged” at Tshamba, Tshamba shot and DeVeaux retreated back inside Eden’s Lounge, he testified.

Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin Wiggins questioned DeVeaux’s “honor,” noting that DeVeaux still has not revealed the name of the person inside the lounge he immediately told about what he had seen. DeVeaux parried the questions, leading Wiggins to eventually ask, “You know why I’m asking you these questions, don’t you?”

“Yea, ‘cause you’re trying to win your case,” DeVeaux said.

The other two witnesses Tuesday were two of the three women who were with Tshamba on the night of the shooting, Crystal Ramsey and Tia Atkinson.

Both Ramsey, a hairstylist, and Atkinson, a nurse, said Tshamba clearly identified himself as a police officer or a cop when he intervened after Brown grabbed Ramsey’s behind. They also both testified they had not seen Tshamba drink much that night, a key contention of the prosecution.

One inconsistency in their account was that Atkinson said Tshamba came between Ramsey and Brown, whereas Ramsey said Tshamba was off to the side with his gun drawn.

James L. Rhodes, Tshamba’s lead attorney, would not say whether his client will testify, but said he anticipates concluding his case Wednesday after calling approximately three more witnesses.

Fraternal Order of Police President Robert F. Cherry Jr. was among those who attended Tuesday’s proceedings, and the union chief spoke to Tshamba and his legal team afterward. He said there is no “guarantee” that the FOP pays for an officer’s criminal defense but decided to do so after hearing Tshamba’s side of the story.

“We felt that it was enough to support his legal bills and [that] he has his fair day in court,” Cherry said.