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Man brandishing knife killed by police

August 11, 1997

BALTIMORE (AP) _ A lone man with a knife stands in front of four police officers with their guns drawn.

A crowd that has gathered behind the officers shouts, ``Put the knife down!″ and ``Don’t shoot that boy!″

Seconds later, the man lies mortally wounded after the officer closest to him takes a step forward and fires a single bullet.

The daytime shooting that took place Saturday outside a crowded food market and was captured on videotape by a bystander has raised questions about the possible use of excessive force.

The officer who fired the fatal shot said the man lunged at police; some witnesses disagree.

``It was unjustified. At no time did that young man lunge at the police officers,″ said vendor LeRoy Smith, who said he saw the shooting. ``After he was shot, he sat there for a second like he couldn’t believe it, and then he fell over.″

The officers had gone to the Lexington Market in response to a call about a man with a knife.

The videotape, obtained by WBAL-TV, shows James Quarles, a 22-year-old unemployed man, crouching over as police yell at him to drop an 8-inch knife. The camera was behind Quarles and a concrete trash container stood between them, blocking his legs and the knife from the camera’s view.

The officer who fired the shot, Charles Smothers, appears agitated by the commotion behind him and is seen yelling at the crowd seconds before the shooting. Afterward, Smothers is seen yelling while other officers kick away the knife. What Smothers said could not be determined from the videotape.

Police spokeswoman Angelique Cook-Hayes said shortly after the shooting that Smothers told her he fired when Quarles lunged at the officers.

Frankie Bolden, who operates a pushcart near the scene of the shooting, said the shooting was unwarranted. ``It was a lie. There was no lunge,″ Bolden said.

Smothers, 29, a four-year veteran, was placed on desk duty while the shooting is investigated. That is standard after a police shooting.

``Those were initial accounts which were given by a spokeswoman at the scene,″ police spokesman Rob Weinhold said. ``As in any investigation there certainly needs to be a thorough investigative process, which is ongoing at this point.″

The victim’s sister, Gwen Quarles, questioned why police didn’t use Mace or pepper spray to subdue her brother.

``He didn’t lunge at them like they say. The videotape shows it all,″ Ms. Quarles said. ``They could have took their stick and knocked it out of his hands, or sprayed him with the pepper spray. That’s what’s wrong now, the police have too much authority.″

Ms. Quarles said her brother had a drug problem but wasn’t violent or dangerous, The Baltimore Sun reported Monday. Court records, however, show he had a criminal record that included two assault cases, as well as two drug cases.

Ms. Quarles told The Associated Press on Monday that her brother had been depressed since the death of his mother in December and father in May.

``We haven’t even gotten over my father yet,″ she said. ``I don’t know what was going on his mind. I really can’t tell you, I wasn’t there.″

Ms. Quarles said she had been told since the shooting that her brother was using the knife to open a package of socks he had bought wholesale in order to resell on the street.

Susan Goering, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said she hadn’t seen the tape but would look into it.

``It’s very tricky, it’s a question of fact. There’s no set rule. A person wielding a knife against one police officer could be seen as a lethal threat, but five police officers, one would hope they could subdue the person. This question always hangs on the particulars,″ Ms. Goering said.

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