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Darcy Costello

Baltimore Sun

January 19, 2024

The four Baltimore Police officers who returned fire and fatally shot Hunter Jessup won’t face criminal charges, the state Attorney General’s Independent Investigations Division said Friday it had determined.

Jessup, 27, was shot and killed in November by District Action Team members who suspected he had a handgun in his waistband, according to a report released Friday. Jessup fled after a brief interaction with the officers and, during the chase, fired several shots from a weapon. The four officers then fired a combined 36 shots at him.

The investigative unit in the Attorney General’s Office concluded that officers didn’t violate Maryland’s use of force laws because they had “no reasonable alternative to using deadly force at the moment they fired.”

Manslaughter also would not be an appropriate criminal charge, the unit’s report said, as Jessup was “the aggressor” when he fired his weapon and he ignored commands to drop his weapon. Those facts, it said, contribute to a self-defense argument for officers that couldn’t be overcome by prosecutors.

“There is evidence that the officers believed they or their co-workers’ lives were in danger, and that belief was reasonable given the circumstances,” the report said.

A brother of Jessup’s said by phone Friday he hadn’t had a chance to review the report and declined to comment further. Friends and loved ones previously described Jessup as a “stand-up guy” who lived nearby and was about to become a first-time father.

The officers who fired their weapons were Brandon Columbo, William Healey, Brittany Routh and Justin Oliva. Each was part of the Southwestern District Action Team, or “DAT,” when the shooting took place Nov. 7.

Baltimore Police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said Friday that the four officers are serving “administrative duties” during an ongoing investigation by the department’s Special Investigations Response Team, or SIRT, tasked with reviewing the most serious uses of force by police.

According to the Independent Investigations Division report, the DAT officers were “proactively” patrolling the area of the 500 block of Brunswick Street in Southwest Baltimore’s Millhill neighborhood on the afternoon of Nov. 7. One detective later said DAT members in one unmarked patrol vehicle saw a “non-anatomical bulge” on Jessup they thought was a handgun.

From that police vehicle, officers spoke to Jessup and a man he was with. The report describes, citing body camera footage, that both men pulled their shirts up to show they weren’t carrying guns. But when Jessup lifted his, a detective later told investigators, they could see the outline of part of a handgun.

Jessup then quickly ran south and three detectives pursued him on foot. While he was running, the report said, Jessup pulled the gun out of his waistband and had it in his hand.

Several officers called out for him to drop the weapon, but he did not. Around then, a fourth DAT officer jumped out of a police car and tried to tackle Jessup but missed.

“A second later,” the report said, Jessup turned and pointed his handgun at one detective, and fired at least one shot. The bullet struck a black sedan nearby. Officers then returned fire, striking him “numerous” times.

The report notes that Jessup’s first shot was the only one captured on body camera footage, but that ballistics evidence indicated he fired his weapon seven times. The weapon recovered at the scene was a .40 caliber Glock 23 pistol with an extended capacity magazine for thirty bullets.

The medical examiner said Jessup had twenty gunshot wounds. She recovered eight projectiles in the autopsy. Baltimore Police’s Deputy Commissioner Brian Nadeau previously said it’s unclear how many of the officers’ three dozen shots hit him.

Officers’ interaction with Jessup lasted “less than two minutes,” the report said. The shooting lasted less than four seconds.

The Independent Investigations Division was established in 2021 to investigate statewide incidents involving police that result in a death or serious injury likely to result in death, including police shootings, in-custody fatalities and pursuits.

The unit’s powers were expanded last year to include the authority to prosecute cases. That power to bring criminal charges went into effect for cases beginning last October.

Jessup’s killing sparked pushback from some neighbors, who questioned whether the foot chase was necessary and described a tense relationship with police who patrol for guns.

“If we got guns on us and we running from you, don’t chase us and shoot us just for all that,” Mike Davis, 28, said in November. “If we know running away is not going to help us, we’re going to shoot.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Cassidy Jensen contributed to this article.

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