TOWSON, Md. (CBSDC/AP) — A Baltimore County police officer James Laboard was indicted Wednesday on manslaughter charges in the death of a teen after a chase and a struggle sparked by youths throwing rocks at his Randallstown home while he was off-duty.
A grand jury indicted Laboard on manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of 17-year-old Christopher Brown. Both charges are felonies, with each carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. County officers facing felony charges are suspended without pay. Laboard was arrested and released on personal recognizance after a court appearance Wednesday, police said.
Laboard was at home on June 13 when he heard a loud noise, went outside and found his front door damaged — and three or four people running, police said. Laboard chased the group for several blocks before pulling Brown from some bushes and struggling with him. Police said Laboard called for help when the teen lost consciousness. Brown was later pronounced dead at a hospital and his death was ruled a homicide by asphyxiation.
Some, including Brown’s mother, were frustrated by the pace of the investigation and had raised concerns that Laboard was getting special treatment because he is a police officer. But State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said in a statement announcing the indictment that the case was treated like any other.
“The fact that Mr. Laboard was an off-duty police officer had no bearing on the time that it took to evaluate the evidence and move this case forward to the Grand Jury,” the prosecutor said.
Brown’s family is unhappy that Laboard is not facing more-serious charges, according to attorney Russell Neverdon, who represents Brown’s family. Based on neighbors’ accounts of what happened that night, Laboard should have been charged with at least second-degree murder, he said.
“They’re very disappointed and what adds salt to the wound is that he walks,” Neverdon said referring to Laboard’s release without bail. Laboard poses a threat to public safety, he said.
In the same statement, Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson said officers are asked to make “split-second, life-and-death” decisions, but they aren’t above the law.
“The evidence shows that at a moment during this altercation, Officer Laboard stepped beyond the scope of his employment,” Johnson said. “He, as well as the Brown family, deserved a thorough investigation of the facts, which we have conducted. Now, Officer Laboard deserves due process under the law, the same as any other citizen.”
Shaun Owens, an attorney for Laboard, extended sympathies to Brown’s family, but stressed that the officer “acted in full accordance with his rights and responsibilities under the law.” He said the circumstances surrounding the matter would come to light in a courtroom.
“It is important for the community to bear in mind that tragedy does not require blame,” Owens said.
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