BALTIMORE (AP) — A 13-year-old who was shot by Baltimore police had turned toward the officers with a replica gun still in his hand when one officer fired two rounds, striking the teen in the shoulder and leg, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Thursday.
The teen was shot Wednesday afternoon in East Baltimore and is being treated in a hospital. Police say he was holding a BB gun that closely resembles a handgun.
Davis said two officers assigned to the intelligence section, who were both in plainclothes, were returning from a meeting at department headquarters about 4 p.m. when they spotted the boy with a basketball in one hand, and what they thought was a firearm in the other. Davis says the officers identified themselves and the boy ran. When the officers caught up with him about 150 yards away, Davis said the boy stopped running and turned toward the officers, with the replica gun still in his hand.
Police did not name the boy.
At a news conference Thursday police identified the policeman who fired his service weapon as Officer Thomas Smith, a 12-year departmental veteran. He has been placed on routine administrative duty. A second officer was present during the incident but didn't open fire; that officer is a six-year veteran.
The teen was shot on the one-year anniversary of the civil unrest that exploded across Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken in the back of a police transport van.
At a news conference held at the scene Wednesday, Davis said there were still many unanswered questions.
"Why this young man chose to leave his home with a replica semi-automatic pistol in his hand, I don't know," he said. "Why this young man chose to flee on foot when he was approached by two Baltimore police officers, I don't know. Why that young man chose not to drop the gun and comply with the officers' commands to stop? I don't know that either."
The boy told a Baltimore Sun reporter from his hospital bed Thursday that he was in pain and felt "bad."
Davis says that after the shooting, the teen's mother, Volanda Young, told officers it was a BB gun. She also told The Baltimore Sun that she was home at the time of the shooting, and that her older son ran up to her home, banged on the door and told her his brother had been shot.
Young told the newspaper that when she ran into the street she saw the boy lying on the ground in a pool of blood, and that when she tried to leave the scene to call the hospital she was handcuffed and driven to the police station for questioning. The experience, she said, "was humiliating."
Davis on Thursday told reporters that the officers who handcuffed Young "made a judgment call given what was happening in that emotional moment," adding that she was not charged with a crime and rather "treated as a witness."
At the news conference two guns were laid out on a white tablecloth: the replica gun and a near-identical handgun.
"A replica is not a toy gun," Davis said.
The replica is a Powerline 340 Daisy .177-caliber BB gun which can be purchased online for about $15. The legality of such a replica gun, however, is unclear. Department spokesman T.J. Smith said city ordinances ban certain types of BB guns that use gas or compressed air, and investigators are "working through whether this fits into the category of what's banned."
Regardless, Davis said officers don't need to wait until a firearm is discharged to engage in deadly force.
"The only way to tell which one of those guns in front of you is real or not is to be on the receiving end of that gun as you're staring down the barrel of it and the trigger is pulled," Davis said Thursday. "That's not something the community wants police officers to be in a position to know, whether a gun is real or not when a bullet is fired at us."