By JULIA STEINBERG
BALTIMORE-In April 1993, a Black teenager was shot in the back by a Baltimore city policeman. Six years later, his family is still fighting for justice.
Baltimore cop Edward Gorwell admitted shooting 14-year old Simmont “Sam” Thomas. He claimed to have heard a gunshot and assumed that he was being shot at by the teenager.
Thomas was shot while running away after he and several friends had been stopped for allegedly riding in a stolen car. No gun or bullets were ever found at the scene. Tests at the time showed no gunshot residue on Thomas’s hands.
Following extensive community protests, Gorwell was charged with manslaughter. His first trial ended in a mistrial when a juror did not return on the second day of deliberations.
Gorwell’s second trial was scheduled for Feb. 11, 1999. On that day, the prosecution announced that the charges would be dropped due to new evidence.
A police technician who would have been called to testify said that, on his own initiative, he had retested for gunshot residue on Thomas’s hand using the swab that had been taken in 1993 and a more sophisticated electron microscope unavailable in 1993.
The new test allegedly showed gunshot residue on Thomas’s hand.
Upon hearing this, the prosecutor immediately dropped the charges against Gorwell, rather than moving forward with the case and challenging the “evidence” of the new test. It is clear that the city of Baltimore was looking for any excuse to avoid condemning Gorwell.
An article in the Baltimore Sun, several days after the case was dropped, explained the inconclusive nature of the test. The Sun interviewed Lester Roane, a chief engineer at a local commercial ballistic test laboratory.
Roane explained that the microscope was so powerful it would be able to detect particles transferred during casual contact. He described an informal test in which he fired a gun and the next morning handled a file folder. A secretary who then handled the folder tested positive for gunshot residue.
The fact that the residue particles can be transferred by casual handling opens up the possibility that the residue on Thomas’s hand came from police officers handling the body.
A Baltimore Sun reporter also interviewed the young men who were with Simmont Thomas on the night of the shooting and who insist that there was no gun shot before Gorwell fired on them and no other gun involved.
The Sun article reported that one of them was given a polygraph test by the prosecution in preparation for the trial and passed four times.
A noon rally at police headquarters protested the dropping of charges. Among the speakers was Thomas’s father, Dennis Greene, who declared, “I want justice and I will fight. I’m not afraid of the system. I will not go away.”
Gorwell is still employed by the Baltimore City Police Department.