A Baltimore police officer shot a fleeing teenager Thursday, leaving him in critical condition after a foot pursuit during which police repeatedly ordered the teen to drop the gun he was carrying, officials said.
Residents of the west Baltimore neighborhood reacted with anger, demanding to know why the shooting was necessary — familiar criticism in a city still reeling from its long history of troubled policing practices, despite recent ongoing reform efforts.
An officer initially approached the 17-year-old because he was “displaying characteristics of an armed person,” Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner Richard Worley told reporters at the scene Thursday afternoon. The teen, whose identity wasn’t released, took off running and the officer chased him through several alleys, Worley said.
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The officer ordered him “numerous times” to drop a weapon, but the teen continued running with the gun in his hand, Worley said. That’s when the officer fired more than one shot, striking the teen in his upper body, according to Baltimore police. Officials declined to specify the number of shots fired.
They said the teen was carrying a gun with an extended magazine, though they didn’t specify the exact type of firearm.
When asked if the teen had ever pointed the weapon at police, Worley said only that officials are continuing to review body-camera footage of the shooting. Officials also declined to say whether the teen had been shot in the back.
“This unfortunate event today is extremely traumatic for the injured, his family, the community, our police officers — everyone involved,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said at the scene. He reassured residents that all proper protocols will be followed during the investigation into the shooting.
“But I will also say, again, that we will not continue to allow folks to openly carry firearms in our city,” he said, referencing the rampant gun violence that plagues many Baltimore neighborhoods. “We will continue to make sure we do everything to get these illegal guns off the street.”
The officer who fired his weapon is a member of a District Action Team, one of the Baltimore Police Department’s specialized units that focus on proactive patrols, warrant apprehension and other measures in areas of Baltimore where gun violence is most frequent. In this case, officials said, the officer was sitting on a stoop interacting with a resident when he spotted the teen.
The shooting unfolded several blocks away near the entrance to a busy shopping center in majority-Black west Baltimore.
Brittany Adams, 26, said she heard gunshots and went running outside her house, where she saw a young man collapsed on the ground, bleeding from an apparent bullet hole in his back while police stood over him. She said a group of neighbors quickly gathered and started questioning the officers, demanding to know why they shot him.
“He was just laying there, with his bookbag still on his back and everything,” she said.
Adams said several more police officers arrived on the scene before an ambulance, which caused neighbors to become more outraged. In iPhone video she shot in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, a woman can be heard screaming at police: “Y’all (expletive) shooting people out here. Look at this man, still on the ground. Where’s the ambulance?”
Adams said her son’s nearby elementary school was on lockdown Thursday afternoon, as is normal protocol when shootings occur in the neighborhood. She had no way of contacting her son, so she was waiting until she could pick him up.
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“This is Baltimore City, baby. Stuff like this happens every day,” she said. “This is nothing new. You can’t be traumatized by something you see every day.”
James Thomas, 43, another city resident at the scene Thursday, said he was in the neighborhood to stop by an auto parts store. He was sitting at a stop light, waiting to turn into the shopping center parking lot, when several gunshots sounded. Thomas said he thought about running for his life, then realized it was a police shooting in a nearby alley. He got out of his car and joined the growing crowd of concerned neighbors.
“It got real hectic,” he said, describing how police initially had trouble corralling the group.
He said the gunshot victim was conscious and breathing.
Officials later said the teen was in critical condition at a local hospital.
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Praise for the city’s police department has been hard to come by in recent years, though the agency has implemented significant reform measures under a federal consent decree established in 2017, which mandates a series of court-ordered changes to eliminate unconstitutional policing practices and improve community trust. The agreement was reached after the U.S. Justice Department discovered longstanding patterns of excessive force, unlawful arrests and discriminatory policing.
The DOJ investigation was launched after Freddie Gray’s 2015 death from spinal injuries in Baltimore police custody. Not long after the consent decree was announced, the Gun Trace Task Force scandal revealed abuse and corruption inside an elite plainclothes unit. Settlements from lawsuits connected to the task force have cost the city more than $22 million.
A recent assessment found Baltimore police officers are significantly less likely to use force against members of the public than they were before the consent decree was put in place.
While pursuing police reform, city leaders have repeatedly grappled with questions about proactive policing, arrest numbers, racial profiling and more. A common complaint from residents and city council members is that officers are reluctant to exit their cars and interact with the communities they patrol.
At the scene of the shooting Thursday afternoon, some residents heckled Baltimore police leaders on their way to speak with reporters.