A Baltimore police officer was found not guilty of manslaughter (voluntary and involuntary) in the death of 17-year old Christopher Brown this week. Officer James D. Laboard didn’t deny that he killed the youth but the jury determined his actions didn’t break the law.
According to the Baltimore Sun, a group of teenage boys threw a rock at Laboard’s door one night last June, and then ran off. Laboard found Brown hiding in some bushes and the two began fighting. Laboard contended he was defending himself when he put Brown in a choke-hold. The choke-hold killed the teen.
An attorney for the Brown family said their fight isn’t over yet and a civil case would be coming next. Because there is a lower burden of proof in civil courts, the family may be able to recoup financial damages from Laboard.
The State prosecuted Laboard because they obviously felt he had used excessive force in the incident. And when it comes to police brutality allegations—whether off-duty or not—criminal charges are extremely rare.
“This was an incredibly tragic case,” said State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger. “Obviously we in the state’s attorney’s office felt a crime had been committed.”
In closing arguments, Deputy State’s Attorney Robin Coffin said Laboard’s rage was his motivating factor and that he used a neck restraint inappropriate for police.
“These are not the actions of a well-trained police officer,” said Coffin. “He has a right to be angry but not to kill.”
Throughout his trial, Laboard’s attorneys referred to him as “the officer” rather than the defendant, potentially coloring the jury’s opinion of Laboard. After all, on that night, he did not act as an officer and he was off duty.
Despite his claims of self-defense, no marks were found on Brown’s hands indicating he threw any punches. However, Laboard said the teen did fight back, even though there was no evidence of contact. The only evidence on Laboard were scratches on his arm, likely where Brown clawed at him as he was choking to death.
When it comes to cases of police brutality, it’s stories like this that increase the rift between cops and citizens. When the people feel a cop is treated differently than they would be in a similar situation, they learn not to trust the people who are paid to enforce the laws.
If you stand accused of a crime, fair treatment is something you are guaranteed by the constitution. Our criminal defense lawyers may be able to help.