Details emerge in shooting of Md. cop during traffic stop
27-year-old police officer recovering from surgery at Sinai Hospital with family and fellow officers at his side
By Justin George
The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE — Officer Andrew Groman stood outside the car and ordered passenger Donte Jones to show his hands, police say, but the 19-year-old passenger wouldn't.
Groman warned Jones he would be hit with a Taser. Finally, police say, the officer fired the shock gun at him.
At the same time, police say, Jones withdrew a black revolver and squeezed off three rounds. A bullet slipped under Groman's bulletproof vest, police say, wounding him in the abdomen.
A day after the shooting in West Baltimore, the 27-year-old police officer was recovering Monday from surgery at Sinai Hospital with family and fellow officers at his side. Jones was being held in the Baltimore jail, charged with attempted murder, assault, resisting arrest and other offenses.
"This really exemplifies the risk that first responders face every day," Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said at a news conference Monday afternoon. "While we strive to hold our officers accountable, we never want to forget that they are doing dangerous work, and it is dangerous work as evidenced by the results."
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts did not appear at the news conference. Batts drew criticism from activists after he wondered aloud Sunday whether the demonstrators who have protested the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner in New York and others at the hands of police in recent months would show similar concern for Groman.
"Although I certainly understand the pain and frustration expressed by Commissioner Batts, I believe his questioning of the community's response to the shooting is misplaced and not helpful to the dialogue between the police and the community we're trying to build," Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, said Monday.
Fellow officers said Groman exemplifies the best of the Baltimore police force. While off duty, he volunteers as a firefighter in Pikesville, and as recently as Thursday helped to battle a structure fire.
Groman is the second Baltimore officer shot this year. Sgt. Keith Mcneill was critically wounded outside an auto repair shop in March.
Jones, who has been arrested three times on gun charges, was on parole and probation, Rodriguez told reporters.
Court records show Jones is scheduled to be in court Tuesday to face charges of possession of an illegal gun and marijuana stemming from an arrest in June.
His attorney in that case, Richard S. Miller, said Monday he had not spoken to Jones about the latest charges and could not comment. No one answered the door Monday evening at the East Baltimore rowhouse in the 400 block of N. Bouldin St. listed in court records as Jones' residence.
On Sunday night, 19-year-old Ninah Jackson sat on a hill near the scene of the shooting and sobbed. She said she was overcome by the gravity of the allegations against Jones, who is the father of her child.
"I know shooting a police officer is a serious offense," she said. Her child "could grow up without a father," she said. She said she was concerned for the officer's family as well.
Jackson said she was supposed to pick up Jones from work, but when she overslept, he got a ride from friends.
"And this is what happened," she said.
Groman has been a Baltimore police officer for nearly three years, police said. He grew up near Philadelphia and is an avid fan of the Eagles football team and Flyers hockey team.
He lives in Baltimore but serves on days off as a sergeant in the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company in Baltimore County. He joined the company in May 2013.
Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company Capt. Adam Goodman called Groman "one of our most dependable and skilled and talented firefighters."
"His dedication goes without saying, to put his life on the line in his full-time job and do it again in a different scope of work in volunteer hours," Goodman said. "He's the type of guy you want to have dozens of."
Groman was a member of the Warrington Township Fire Company in Pennsylvania for four years, rising to the rank of captain, before he became a police officer in April 2012, according to that fire department's website.
Police say the events that led to Groman's shooting Sunday night began when an officer who was posted at a West Baltimore gas station near Coppin State University smelled marijuana coming out of a silver Cadillac.
The officer radioed for help, police say, and Groman and another officer arrived in a patrol car and stopped the Cadillac in the 2600 block of Gwynns Falls Parkway at Tioga Parkway. The officer who had been at the gas station arrived on the scene, as well, as did two officers from the Coppin State department.
Groman and another officer approached the car from the driver's side and another officer approached from the passenger's side, police say in charging documents. Officers directed the driver, Tavon Sullivan, to get out of the car, police say, and he sat on the sidewalk.
Police say Jones, sitting in the back seat, refused Groman's orders to exit. Groman told Jones to show his hands, which were in his jacket pocket and waistband, according to Maj. Stanley Branford, commander of the Homicide division, but Jones did not.
Police say Groman told Jones he would be tased if he didn't comply. Groman pulled out his Taser just as Jones pulled out a black Rossi .357-caliber revolver, police say in charging documents.
Detectives said Monday they do not know who fired first. No officers fired a gun, police said.
After Groman was struck, police said, Jones ran out of the car and was chased by two officers.
Police say Jones ran into a backyard and was scaling a fence when an officer hit him with his Taser, allowing police to arrest him.
Police say they questioned four people in the shooting — including two they had taken into custody Sunday evening — and released them.
Detectives are investigating why Groman chose to draw his Taser instead of his service weapon.
Baltimore police union President Gene Ryan said he's not going to "Monday-morning quarterback" Groman's decision without knowing all the details, but said Tasers are "compliance weapons" used to get people to comply with orders.
"It's a judgment for each officer and what they feel comfortable with," Ryan said.
Police departments across the country are under growing scrutiny amid the widespread protests against police brutality that have followed the killings of Brown, Garner and other unarmed black males by police.
Ryan said he worried that officers were feeling tentative about pulling their guns on dangerous suspects, endangering their own lives. He said he plans to discuss his concerns with Batts.
"I hate to think that or say it, but tensions are high right now," Ryan said. "I have to wait to talk to [Batts] and other officers, but maybe they are hesitating, and that could get you hurt."
Hundreds of demonstrators marched in separate protests in Baltimore on Saturday and Sunday. They chanted "Hands up, don't shoot!" and "No justice, no peace!" and held signs that read "Black Lives Matter" and "This ends now."
At a news conference late Sunday outside the hospital where Groman underwent emergency surgery, Batts, who is black, made an unprompted comment about the demonstrations.
"We've had marches nationwide over the fact that we have lost lives in police custody," Batts said. "I wonder if we'll have those same marches as officers are shot, too."
The comment drew praise from Ryan and other union leaders, but criticism from others.
The Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, a protest organizer, condemned the shooting and said he wished Groman a speedy recovery.
"We have the same care and concern for him that we have for victims of police terror," Witherspoon said. "We are united in our opposition to violence, whether it's police-involved shootings or police terror."
But Witherspoon also said he had never seen Batts or other city officials stand with demonstrators when unarmed black men have been killed by police in Baltimore.
The group Baltimore Bloc, which has held more than 70 protests against police misconduct since late 2012, called Batts's comment "rhetorical and disingenuous" and demanded an apology.
"Baltimore Bloc condemns the insensitive and deliberately provocative comments made by Anthony Batts last night," the group said on its Facebook page. "Police officers are sworn to protect and serve the community. They are aware this is a dangerous job, as is the community who pays them for this service, arms them with several weapons at a time, and provides them with bulletproof vests and other protective gear that in some cases we are not legally permitted to own ourselves.
"This is quite different from the circumstances surrounding the in-custody murders of unarmed civilians by those same extremely armed and protected agents of the state."
The Police Department said early Monday afternoon that Batts would "provide a briefing on the investigative developments into the shooting of Police Officer Andrew Groman." But the commissioner did not appear at the news conference at police headquarters.
Rodriguez, who led the news conference in Batts' place, told reporters "we've said it before: All life matters."
"Any time an individual in this community or any community acts so heinously with such little regard for human life, it's very frustrating."
Copyright 2014 The Baltimore Sun