Donnell Rochester (Photo: Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Getty/Courtey Malcolm Ruff)
On February 19, Baltimore police officers shot and killed 18-year-old Donnell Rochester. The teenager was fleeing a traffic control linked to a Search warrant for his failure to appear in court on a carjacking charge. Officers pumped bullets into the car as Rochester drove away, then handcuffed him after he was fatally injured.
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office identified two officers involved in the shooting as Connor Murray and Robert Mauri. Both are on administrative leave pending further investigation.
Body camera footage shows officers running through Rochester with their guns drawn while the teenager is still in the vehicle. When the car is moving slowly, the officers shoot at it several times.
Rochester was unarmed. The police department released body camera footage in March, it does not show the car hitting officers as Rochester drives away, although Murray, who was near the car, falls as he runs and fires his gun.
Murray himself later says in the footage that Rochester didn’t hit him with the car. “You OK?” asks an officer on the scene. Murray replies, “Yes.”
The other officer asks Murray if he was hit.
“No, I don’t think it hit me,” Murray replies.
But that’s not what officers wrote in a February 22 search and seizure warrant request for Rochester’s car, in which they cite attempted first-degree murder – claiming the teenager hit a policeman with his car – as a reason to search the vehicle.
HuffPost got the warrant this week. He says Rochester “hit” Murray with his vehicle and that Murray fired “several shots” because Rochester didn’t stop.
Police at the scene of the shooting at Chilton and Hillen in Baltimore on Feb. 19, 2022. (Photo: Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Officers’ changing descriptions of what happened during the Rochester murder are likely to fuel community anger and mistrust. The teenager’s family has been staging protests for months. Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, which is investigating the shooting, did not respond to questions from HuffPost, citing the ongoing investigation.
Baltimore police also did not comment to HuffPost on the search and seizure warrant.
Rochester family members have asked that officers involved in the shooting be criminally charged and questioned their tactics when they shot the teenager and pulled him out of the vehicle.
Lawyers representing the Rochester family told HuffPost that the discrepancy between body camera footage and subsequent police accounts shows that police are seeking an explanation for why they shot an unarmed teenager.
No weapon was ever found in the vehicle Rochester was driving. Baltimore police found only bullet fragments from the shooting, projectiles and plastic tubes of “suspected” marijuana, the seizure warrant said.
“It appears the police were looking for a way to cover up or tone down what happened,” Malcolm Ruff, one of the family’s attorneys, told HuffPost. “He was a scared 18 year old kid trying to run away and get out of a bad situation. He got scared, he tried to run away, he didn’t try to run over that cop .
Danielle Brown, Rochester’s mother, has held rallies for months since her son’s death. She said the fatal shooting was ‘unjustifiable’ and her son was never a ‘threat to the police’ when they approached him in broad daylight.
Rochester was a student at Anne Arundel County Public Schools and her family lives outside of Baltimore City, she told HuffPost.
“He had his whole life ahead of him that he wanted to pursue, his goals and his dreams,” Brown told HuffPost.
“We just want answers, and [to] let the world know Donnell should still be here. We’re going to be his voice since he can’t. My son didn’t deserve what happened to him, to have his life taken away from him.
Body camera footage of the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Donnell Rochester on Feb. 19, 2022. (Photo: Baltimore City Police Department)
In 2019, a chief justice criticized the detective who filed the search and seizure warrant, Tavon McCoy, for intimidating witnesses in a murder case; the judge compared McCoy’s tactics to the days of “Eliot Ness” interrogations in the 1930s.
Ruff, who represents the Rochester family, also argues that officers at the scene violated department policy of shooting at moving vehicles – a practice which many departments have banned or discouraged because it can endanger bystanders and has not been an effective means of detaining people while executing warrants or traffic stops. Agents are also not supposed to stand in front of moving vehicles to reduce damage.
“This is an unreasonable shooting, this is an unconstitutional shooting in our eyes,” Ruff said. “If properly trained officers followed the policies that were put in place for them, then Donnell would still be alive today.”
William Murphy, also representing the family in the case, says Rochester feared for his life as a young teenager who grew up in the “era of Freddie Grey,” the black man who died in Baltimore police custody in 2015.
In 2016, Time magazine made a profile of the neighborhood in which Gray grew up and photographed the residents of the community. Rochester, then 12, was one of them.
“He had every reason to be afraid because of the proliferation of police brutality in America and police brutality in Baltimore,” Murphy said. “At his age, he should have been scared.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.