BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Police officer who chased and shot a 17-year-old from behind in May will not be criminally charged, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office determined.
Nor will the officers who in February pursued a reportedly stolen vehicle that subsequently crashed into another car, then collided with a pedestrian, killing him, according to declination reports posted online by State’s Attorney Ivan Bates’ office.
Baltimore prosecutors wrote that the actions of Officer Cedric Elleby, who shot the teen in Southwest Baltimore’s Shipley Hill neighborhood, were “objectively reasonable,” and that the officers who had sought the fleeing vehicle “acted reasonably and lawfully” and “did not cause the fatal accident that killed” Alfred Fincher, the pedestrian.
The two reviews of police-involved fatalities for possible criminal charges are likely among the last to be conducted by Baltimore prosecutors, as the power to make such charging decisions statewide was transferred to the Office of Attorney General, effective Oct. 1.
The first police case in which the Attorney General will have prosecutorial decision-making is Tuesday’s fatal police shooting in Baltimore’s Millhill neighborhood. It has drawn scrutiny this week and led to comparisons to the Shipley Hill incident from May.
In both, members of the Baltimore Police Department’s District Action Team approached residents and attempted to stop them because they believed the individuals to be armed. Both residents fled on foot and were chased by police who then shot them.
Footage from Tuesday’s police shooting has not been publicly released yet, while Elleby’s body camera footage showed him ordering the teen to drop a weapon and to stop, then firing his weapon four times, striking the teen at least once. The teen survived the shooting but was critically injured.
In prosecutors’ review, they wrote that before Elleby fired his weapon, the teen had “turned slightly to his right.” His right arm, in which he held his gun, also moved to the right, prosecutors said, “as if (he) and his gun were turning toward the (officer).” Prosecutors also added he was running toward a man on nearby porch steps.
“In the split second that the (teen) swung his arm to his right, a reasonable officer could have believed that the (teen) was turning himself towards the officer to shoot at him,” the report said. “It appears clear that that’s what the (officer) thought as well, as that’s the moment that he opened fire.”
Beyond fearing for his own safety, prosecutors added, the officer “would have” feared for the safety of the entire community, including the man on the steps.
The report did acknowledge the possibility that the teen was “merely trying to dispose of his firearm,” and that he was going to turn into the nearby alleyway to continue running from the officer. But Elleby “simply could not assume either of those facts at the moment he pulled the trigger,” prosecutors wrote.
“What the (officer) saw in front of him was an armed man running towards another man and ignoring lawful orders,” it said.
The 16-page report also examined the initial stop of the teen. The two District Action Team detectives believed a group gathered along McHenry Street were “likely involved in illegal activity,” and thus decided to engage, according to prosecutors. When they got closer, they noticed a “bulge” in the teen’s waistband and Elleby “decided that he needed to investigate.”
That, prosecutors said, was “more than a hunch.”
Baltimore Police had been criticized for an initial statement that the 17-year-old had been “displaying characteristics of an armed person,” which some residents and other critics suggested was vague terminology created to justify stopping people.
“We’re relying on these officers’ testimony in court that they’re getting it right all the time, and it’s a very nebulous area,” defense attorney Natalie Finegar said in May. “Basically, you’re saying ‘somebody’s holding their arm funny,’ ‘somebody’s walking funny’ — but you don’t even know necessarily if that person has some sort of physical disability.”
Similarly, residents have questioned officers’ pursuit Tuesday of Hunter Jessup, which led to his fatal shooting. One resident, Mike Davis, argued this week that police should stop chasing people solely in pursuit of firearms, saying “don’t chase us and shoot us just for all that.”
The other report, into February’s fatal crash, found that officers’ initial pursuit of the stolen vehicle was lawful. It was terminated by a lieutenant over the radio, according to prosecutors, but could have continued under relevant law.
The report quotes the lieutenant as saying, “All right, just let it go, guys, it’s westbound on Sinclair, it’s traveling at a high rate of speed. It looks like it’s gonna go southbound on Wolfe and come out around,” then adding seconds later, “It’s not worth it, break it off.”
The nearest police officer at that point decelerated and continued to drive southbound behind the car, slightly less than one block behind. The prosecutors’ declination report identifies that officer as “Yancey,” with no last name, but the Independent Investigations Division and a city salary database both list him as Devin Yancy.
It was “mere seconds later” that the fleeing vehicle ran a red light, collided with another car, then struck a pedestrian, Fincher, the report found. The car also struck a vacant building that then collapsed.
In reviewing available evidence, prosecutors put “particular emphasis” on the statement of one of the people inside the allegedly stolen vehicle, who said she wasn’t aware officers were pursuing it when the collision occurred, and the statement of a bus driver who told police he saw “no evidence of a police chase” at the time of the crash.
Prosecutors concluded that the police officers “acted reasonably and lawfully.”