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Torbit v. Baltimore City Police Department

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

February 2, 2017

WILLIAM H. TORBIT, SR., et al.
v.
BALTIMORE CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al.

          Krauser, C.J., Friedman, Sharer, J. Frederick (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Friedman, J.

          Two people were killed and several others were injured when the Baltimore Police Department ("BPD") responded to an "active shooter"[1] situation outside a nightclub in Baltimore City. We are first asked to determine whether the Police Department, the Club, and an adjoining parking lot's owner and operator may be liable for actions prior to the shooting. For a variety of reasons described below, we affirm the trial court's rulings in favor of those appellees. We are then asked to determine whether the trial court erred in granting judgment in favor of the four police officers who fired their guns at the shooter. We affirm the trial court's finding that no reasonable juror could find that the officers were grossly negligent.

         BACKGROUND

         On January 9, 2011, the BPD was called to the Select Lounge nightclub, located on Baltimore City's North Paca Street, after several fights had broken out inside the nightclub. On arrival, Major Marc Partee decided to close the club early and send its patrons home. Police set up a perimeter around the club and an adjacent parking lot frequently used by guests of, although not owned by, the Select Lounge.

         After the closing, Jazzmin Graves, a patron of the Select Lounge, was walking across the parking lot when she was hit by a car pulling out of the lot. Although Ms. Graves was not harmed, an argument erupted between occupants of the car and Ms. Graves and her friends. Because the car was blocking traffic, a man in dark clothing-specifically in black jeans, hat, boots, and a black "hoodie" sweatshirt-approached the group. The man told the two groups to stop arguing and to leave the parking lot. The car drove off the lot.

         Another patron, later identified as Sean Gamble, however, took exception to the dark-clothed man's actions. Gamble "got up in" the dark-clothed man's face and expressed his view that the man shouldn't be "putting [his] hands on a female." The dark-clothed man told Gamble to "mind your own fucking business." While they argued, another man, later identified as Darrell "Rico" Baker, sucker-punched the dark-clothed man. More men joined the fray, knocking the dark-clothed man to the ground and began "stomping[, ] kicking[, ] and punching" him.

         The dark-clothed man then pulled and fired a gun.

         Officer Harry Pawley testified that the dark-clothed man fired a few shots, paused briefly, and then resumed shooting:

Q: When did you withdraw your service weapon?
A: I was putting my mace away, I heard gunshots. I looked up, more gunshots. I saw an individual on the ground shooting and that's at which time I withdrew my weapon and fired.

         Further:

Q: When you witnessed [the dark-clothed man] shooting, he was laying on his back shooting up into the air, wasn't he?
A: No. He was laying on his back shooting, like, his arm moving from side to side, discharging.

Officer Harry Dodge testified that, after hearing initial shots, he looked up and saw the dark-clothed man fire shots toward Franklin Street, a cross street of North Paca:

Q: Was the individual firing his weapon … into the air indiscriminately?
A: He was firing towards Franklin Street indiscriminately with his arm parallel to the ground.
Q: It wasn't into the air?
A: Not the second time he started shooting, no. The first time he started shooting, I don't recall which direction he was firing. The second time he began firing again, he was indiscriminately [shooting] towards Franklin street where a group of people were.

         Officer Latora Craig testified that she heard several initial shots, saw the men who had attacked the dark-clothed man begin to run, and saw that the dark-clothed man began to fire again indiscriminately:

Q: … And the shots that were fired by that person that you saw they were all going towards Franklin Street. Correct?
A: They were going in different directions, he had no aim. Some were straight up, some were down. They were back-and-forth.

         Officer Craig further testified that the initial shots "went past [her] legs and [her] feet."

         Finally, Officer Toyia Williams testified that she heard rapid gunfire nearby, observed about 20 to 30 people between her and the shooter, identified a muzzle flash from the shooter's gun, and then fired her weapon at the shooter.

          Both the dark-clothed man and Sean Gamble were fatally wounded. Jazzmin Graves and two other patrons, Katrina Harris and Jamie Jordan, suffered minor gunshot wounds. The dark-clothed man was later identified as BPD Officer William Torbit.

         PROCEEDINGS ...


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