NEW: Prosecutor: The suspect was wearing a mask; authorities did not find that he had a weapon
Officer Wesley Cagle faces five counts, including attempted first-degree murder, tied to 2014 incident
Two officers shot a burglary suspect; Cagle then came out of an alley and fired, authorities say
Baltimore State’s Attorney announced Wednesday that another of the city’s police officers has been charged – this time with attempted murder.
More than three months after charges came down in the death of Freddie Gray, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said that Officer Wesley Cagle faces five counts of his own – ranging from attempted first-degree murder to second-degree assault – in a different case.
While it comes on the heels of Gray’s death in April, the riots that followed and the move to charge six officers, the legal action involving Cagle has been in the works for much longer.
It all stems from a December 2014 incident, after which Cagle was placed on administrative leave. His police powers were suspended early the next month, and he was charged criminally Wednesday, according to Baltimore police. Because of that, the 14-year department veteran is now suspended without pay.
Gene Ryan, president of Baltimore’s police union, said in a statement that “no one is above the law, but all citizens of our nation are entitled to due process.”
“The officer will have his day in court, and I have faith that the judicial system will properly determine guilt or innocence,” Ryan said.
Mosby, who some praised and others criticized for coming down hard on police in the Gray case, said the Cagle charges were based on the facts of the case and nothing more.
“I take this oath seriously, and I want the public to know that my administration is committed to creating a fair and equitable justice system for all – no matter your occupation, your age, your race, your color or your creed,” she said, echoing comments she made regarding the Gray case.
2 others who fired at suspect ‘acted legally’
The thing is, two other Baltimore police officers shot at a suspect late last year in East Baltimore, but neither of them are facing charges.
A total of four officers responded to a reported commercial burglary in progress at about 4:45 a.m. on December 28. Two of them saw a masked suspect, identified as 46-year-old Michael Johansen, try to sneak out the store’s side door.
Two officers – neither of which was Cagle – confronted that man and told him to show his hands. Instead, the “suspect reached down,” the office said.
“In fear for their safety, those two officers discharged their departmental issued firearms multiple times, striking the burglary suspect several times and causing him to fall to the floor,” Mosby’s office said.
That’s when Cagle entered the picture, walking in front of the other two officers who were standing nearby with their guns drawn.
“Officer Cagle positioned himself over top of Johansen, at which time Johansen stated, ‘What did you shoot me with, a beanbag?’” Mosby told reporters Wednesday. “And Officer Cagle replied, ‘No, a .40-caliber, you piece of (expletive).”
By that point, said the state’s attorney, witnesses didn’t see the fallen suspect as a threat; he wasn’t making “any aggressive or threatening movements.”
Yet “Officer Cagle … took aim and fired his .40-caliber department-issued firearm one time, striking Johansen in the groin area,” Mosby said.
Justice Department investigating Baltimore police
The suspect was transported to a local hospital and survived. He was later charged with burglary.
The Baltimore police and state’s attorney began looking into the incident.
They found no weapon traced to Johansen. But that, in their judgment, did not mean the first two officers to open fire acted inappropriately – in fact all of “the other three officers … acted legally and within BPD protocol,” according to authorities.
But Cagle, in their opinion, did not.
If he is convicted, the attempted first-degree murder count alone could carry a life sentence. The attempted second-degree murder charge he faces has a 30-year sentence, a first-degree assault count carries 25 years maximum, second-degree assault could work out to 10 years and using a handgun in a crime of violence could lead to a 20-year prison term.
The incident marks another recent black mark for Baltimore’s police department, which has come under fire not only for the Gray case but other incidents over the years.
In May, the U.S. Justice Department launched a pattern of practice investigation into the department’s methods – an effort that Attorney General Loretta Lynch said came at the urging of Baltimore officials and community leaders, and with the support of the Baltimore police union.
Lynch said then that the protests surrounding the Gray case revealed that the trust between the community and Baltimore police officers “is even worse and has been severed” and said she hopes the investigation can lead to reforms to “create a stronger, a safer and a more unified city.”