By Tim Richardson
I don’t wake up each morning, kiss my wife goodbye and pat my dog on the head before heading off to a job that could take my life. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for members of law enforcement who put themselves in harm’s way each day to protect and serve our community. I’ve never been shot at, let alone had a gun pointed at me, so I won’t pretend to know what that danger is like or how it feels to leave your house for work knowing each day that you may not return.
But in the early morning of June 5, the questionable actions of one off-duty Baltimore City police officer outside of a downtown Baltimore nightclub prevented 32-year old Tyrone Brown from making it home safely. According to police, off-duty officer Gahiji A. Tshamba fired 13 shots from his Glock service pistol at Brown during a confrontation in which witnesses allege that Tshamba became angry after Brown inappropriately touched one of his female companions on the backside. According to witnesses and police sources, the 15-year veteran of the force drew his service weapon and challenged Brown to "do it again" before subsequently shooting the ex- Marine - whose hands were raised in the air - in the chest and groin. He died at Shock Trauma.
Did Tshamba feel that his life was in such grave danger that it required him to fire more than a dozen shots from close range at an unarmed man? Following the incident, a police spokesman said that detectives had "not been able to find a concrete motive" as to why Tshamba fired his weapon. If you consider the time of the shooting, location and Tshamba’s refusal to submit to a breathalyzer at the scene, it raises the question as to whether the officer had been drinking and was impaired when he fired his gun. To me, this is a dangerous and frightening question.
According to an article in The Baltimore Sun, City police officers are generally required to carry their service weapons while on and off duty when they are within city limits. There are apparently no rules prohibiting them from carrying guns into bars, but The Sun reports that it is against department regulations to be intoxicated or inebriated while armed.
Driving while impaired by alcohol carries significant penalties. Shouldn’t using your service weapon while under the influence require the same, if not stronger, consequences? The occurrence earlier this month is not the first time Tshamba was involved in a questionable incident tied to his service revolver and alcohol. In 2005, he was driving drunk when he got into a confrontation with a group of men in another vehicle who the officer said shouted racial epithets at him. That situation ended with Tshamba shooting one of the men in the foot. However, the shooting was ruled justifiable since the men had allegedly threatened the officer.
In that circumstance, Tshamba both operated a vehicle and discharged his fire arm while under the influence of alcohol. Although he was disciplined internally for having a gun while intoxicated, an eight-day suspension hardly seems like the appropriate course of action. Let’s not forget that he was also driving while intoxicated, but received no punishment for that infraction.
A car can clearly be a deadly weapon when driven by someone who is intoxicated, but a gun causes an even greater threat when in the hands of a person who has been drinking. Hopefully, the intense scrutiny of this tragic case will cause the Baltimore City Police Department to evaluate its penalties for an off-duty officer to carry and discharge his/her service weapon while under the influence of alcohol or intoxicated.
In my opinion, this is the quintessential situation in which a zero tolerance policy should be in place. If an off-duty Baltimore City Police Officer (or any law enforcement agent for that matter) is found to have been consuming alcohol or under the influence when involved in a shooting, they should immediately be terminated from the force. It is even more troubling that this is the second time officer Tshamba has been in involved in a shooting in which questions have been raised about the role alcohol played in the situation.
When officers are involved in shootings, public perception is that the police department protects its own. But to the Baltimore City Police Department’s credit, the alleged “Blue Code of Silence” did not come in to play in this case. For the most part, the police department acted decisively, placing a top commander in charge of the investigation, quickly turning the case over to the State’s Attorney’s Office and initiating a massive manhunt for Tshamba after the arrest warrant for first-degree murder was issued on June 12 and the officer could not be located. Tshamba eventually turned himself in to the authorities early in the early morning on June 13.
But the question I believe worth pondering is that if officer Tshamba had been seriously sanctioned previously, even fired because of his numerous incidents of questionable behavior when off-duty, would Tyrone Brown have made it home safely on June 5.