Go here to read the first part of the story.
This story was produced in partnership with Type Investigations with support from the Wayne Barrett Project.
Around 3:10 p.m. on Feb. 19, 2022, on a residential street in northeast Baltimore, four police officers cornered 18-year-old Donnell Rochester after a brief chase. Rochester and his passenger briefly got out of the car and tried to escape on foot before Rochester got back in the car.
“Get out of the car now!” Baltimore Police Officer Antoine Galloway yelled.
The car started rolling slowly forward. Officer Connor Murray was running down the middle of the road.
The car continued to move forward and rather than move out of the way of the car, Murray fired three quick shots, which hit the slowly rolling vehicle, but did not stop it. Then Murray fell over to the side and fired a fourth shot.
Though these four shots—and two more fired by Officer Robert Mauri—were the result of a split-second decision, as police unions and apologists often remind the public after a shooting, they were also only the final link in a series of systemic issues that put an 18-year-old queer Black youth in the sights of the four police officers who chased him down.
The Beat and Type Investigations obtained documents and witness statements that shed new light on the events precipitating the chase and the officers who fired their guns, ultimately killing Rochester.
Events were set into motion weeks before the chase. On Jan. 11, the Anne Arundel County Police were called to investigate claims that a ride-share driver had been allegedly assaulted and robbed by a group of teens, including Rochester, when he told them he could not fit all four into his car.
In his report, Detective Cory Heathcote wrote that the driver told the four young people he could not accommodate all of them. One, Heathcote wrote, got back in the car and allegedly started “punching and kicking” the driver from the back seat. The driver took that person’s blue slipper and the person took the driver’s camera.
“At some point during the altercation, the subject displayed a knife” to the driver, who exited the vehicle along with the person in the back, who, according to Heathcote, “was still holding a knife.”
Heathcote wrote that the youth offered to trade the camera for the slipper. When the driver put the slipper on the ground, the youth allegedly kept the camera and fled.
In investigative files obtained by Type Investigations and Baltimore Beat through Public Information Act requests, there are images of several young people and one, who is identified as a young woman, seems to be holding a blade pointing down, as Heathcote notes repeatedly in his report. There is no image of Rochester with a knife.
But the assistant property manager of the apartment complex who provided the camera footage of the area “immediately recognized the subject with the slippers as a resident of the complex…and provided the name of the suspect as Donnell Raquan Rochester.”
She told the detective that she was “1000 percent sure” that his suspect was Donnell Rochester.
With this information, Heathcote identified Rochester as the person who allegedly struck the driver, pulled a knife and took the camera.
“According to Detective Heathcote, the victim described the suspect and the clothing,” Jacklyn Davis, Anne Arundel County Police spokesperson, wrote in an email to Baltimore Beat/Type. “Another witness was familiar with the suspect and positively identified him as Mr. Rochester. Subsequent interviews and search warrant/s were conducted, and corroborating evidence was gathered from Rochester’s residence.”
When the detective searched the apartment where Rochester lived with his family, they did not find a knife. But they did find a pair of slippers. Rochester was charged with armed robbery, robbery, second-degree assault, theft, and malicious destruction of property.
The Anne Arundel County Police issued a warrant for Rochester around the same time his family moved back to Baltimore.
“Once a warrant goes out for serious charges, it’s hard to reverse them,” says Jonny Kerr, a former public defender and a clinical teaching fellow at the Criminal Defense and Advocacy Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law. And if the warrant is for an armed robbery, as Rochester’s was, then when police officers see it, they’re “looking for a violent offender just based on that.”
Rochester told his mother, Danielle Brown, a different story about that night, claiming that the driver had locked him in the car, which is why he took the camera.
“Donnell was trying to get out the car,” she says, but the driver “had the doors locked.” (Anne Arundel police did not respond to questions about this version of events.)
The case was never resolved. Rochester would never have a chance to defend himself in court.
On Feb. 19, 2022, when Rochester’s car passed near the intersection of Erdman Street and Belair Road, two members of the Baltimore Police Department’s (BPD) Mobile Metro Unit (MMU) ran Rochester’s tags through their computer.
The MMU was created in 2018 by then-commissioner Darryl De Sousa to serve as a “10th district” that added additional police presence to “hot spots,” or areas where crimes had recently occurred. According to police, the unit took 10 guns off the street during its first two months.
Unlike patrol officers who spend much of their time answering calls for service, “flex squads” such as the MMU make stops that are proactive and discretionary, meaning that in each of these cases, someone in the unit made a decision to initiate a stop.
Most police officers are not clear about the criteria they use when making these decisions—and studies of implicit bias show they are often not even aware. Maurice Ward, a former detective in a proactive squad in Baltimore, testified in federal court that his sergeant instructed them to pull over “dope boy cars,” among which he counted Acura TLs, Honda Accords and Honda Odysseys.
With its ability to make discretionary, pretextual stops, the MMU can function as a kind of automotive stop-and-frisk team, much like the SCORPION unit in Memphis that killed Tyre Nichols after a routine traffic stop. Amid national protests over Nichols’ death, the New York Times examined a selection of SCORPION cases and found that about 90 percent of the people arrested by the unit were Black.
We see a similar pattern with the MMU. Despite multiple requests, the Baltimore Police Department did not provide demographic data on the stops made by the unit and does not have a publicly available roster of officers in the squad. But the Type-Beat investigation shows that of the 27 cases involving Officer Robert Mauri that were referred to Circuit Court in the year prior to Feb. 19, 2022, only one defendant was white. Out of the 16 cases involving Galloway, only one was white.
And like other specialized units in Baltimore, the MMU has been accused of using excessive force. In August 2019, 13 police officers– eight of whom were MMU members – fired more than 150 shots at a busy Baltimore intersection, killing Tyrone Banks, a man police believed had attacked them the day before, and hitting an uninvolved bystander who was sitting in her car at the intersection (the bystander is now suing the officers).
Despite the controversy, BPD continues to feature the MMU in various plans to address crime.
“The biggest take away from 2021 was the need to focus on vehicle-based crime. Carjackings were a major issue in 2021,” a short-term crime plan for 2022 noted of Baltimore’s Northeastern District (NED). “Additionally, NED saw many vehicle-based suspects. In short, victims were in cars when they were victimized and suspects were using cars to commit crimes. In response, command believes that NED needs to focus more on traffic proactivity along major thoroughfares in 2022.”
So, on Feb. 19, 2022, officers Mauri and Galloway were assisting the Northeast District, due to the reported increase in carjackings and fake paper (license) plates. The pair had called in 23 tags by the time they saw Rochester’s recently purchased, white Honda Accord, which still had paper temporary tags, according to a report by the Attorney General’s office.
“It’s an individual with multiple warrants, including robbery and carjacking,” one of the cops said into the radio. “I believe the driver is in the driver’s seat, occupying the vehicle. I haven’t tried to attempt a stop yet.”
Neglect of Duty
Two other officers, Connor Murray and Joshua Lutz, were patrolling the area in an SUV and heard the call about Rochester’s car. They waited for the Honda to come past and also began to follow it. At the time, both Murray and Lutz were facing neglect of duty charges from the BPD’s Internal Affairs, of which they have since been cleared.
A few weeks earlier, on Jan. 27, according to an Internal Affairs report, someone named Robert called 911, saying another man was threatening him. Murray and Lutz responded to the call. Before they got there, Robert called again to say the other man was acting like he had a gun.
When they arrived, Robert told Murray the other man had threatened to kill him. “The threat went unnoticed by Murray,” the report noted later. “Throughout the investigation process, it can be clearly noticed that threat of violance [sic] were being quoted by both parties involved.”
Throughout this encounter, according to the internal investigation, neither Murray nor Lutz asked about the gun Robert had reported when he called 911. Neither Murray nor Lutz identified either of the men in any way. Robert said “that if the officers left the location without attempting to assist with the situation on what he believe to be a law enforcement level, they would return to a ‘murder scene.’ Both officers ignored the statement and cleared the call.”
That was at 8:37 p.m. At 9:10 p.m., the report of a stabbing came in to the Northeast District reporting “20-year-old, male, consciousness unknown. Breathing. Caller statement: friend was stabbed.”
Robert “was located by officers lying on the dining room floor in a pool of blood.” Only then did they bother to learn his last name. It was Parker.
Jamal Smith, the other man in the initial altercation, was charged with the murder. Soon after, Murray and Lutz faced Internal Affairs complaints for “neglect of duty.” Both officers were eventually cleared of these allegations, although the later report noted that the “investigation on Officer Connor Murray believed the officer may have used better judgment in handling this call; however, the investigation was unable to determine, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether the alleged misconduct occurred was against policy.”
In some cases, the investigation of such complaints might result in a suspension or reassignment to administrative duties while the case is investigated– but not always.
“Allegations would not automatically cause someone to be removed,” BPD spokesperson Lindsey Eldridge wrote in an email. “We would rely on the case’s circumstances, the findings of the investigation and recommendations from both the [Public Integrity Bureau] and Legal.”
In this case, Murray and Lutz remained on the streets, leading them to fall in behind Rochester, joining the chase.
The officers told investigators that they slowly followed Rochester from a distance of 400 to 600 feet, without giving chase, in accordance with BPD policy, and eventually lost sight of his car before spotting it again on Chilton St.
Laverne, who is being identified by a pseudonym because of fear of retaliation, was in the passenger seat of the car as the officers gained on them. “They chased us down this block, and we got out the car and tried to run,” she recalled in a short speech on the anniversary of the shooting. “But we stopped running because…there was nowhere for us to go. The police was right here. There was nowhere for us to run. Donnell tried to run and get in the car and pull off.”
According to body camera footage (which you can see in its entirety here) and a report by the Maryland Attorney General, Galloway and Lutz each left their police vehicles and began running toward the doors of Rochester’s car. Mauri and Murray, the drivers of the two police vehicles, parked and followed shortly behind them. Everyone but Lutz had their guns out.
“Get out of the car now!” Galloway yelled. He later told investigators that he was waving his weapon, and that Rochester looked at him and then put the car in gear.
“Stop the car! Stop the car!” Murray screamed.
Galloway noticed that Murray “was directly in front of the car.”
Galloway told investigators he “thought he was going to get run over.”
The car continued to move forward and rather than move out of the way of the car, Murray fired three quick shots. Then he fell over to the side and fired a fourth shot. Then Mauri fired two shots from the other side of the car.
The car stopped a few houses from Hillen Street. The door opened. “I can’t breathe,” Rochester said, blood dripping from his mouth as he fell out of the car onto his knees.
“Put your fucking hand behind your back,” Mauri yelled as he turned Rochester onto his stomach.
“Signal 13,” Murray said into the radio. “Start a medic.”
Galloway ran to get a medical kit and when he returned he saw that Rochester had been hit in the arm and the armpit.
Six minutes after the shooting, a medic still had not arrived. Police policy indicates that officers in such a situation can directly transport someone to the hospital, but no one did.
As more police arrived on scene, police body cameras caught several conversations where Murray vacillated about whether or not he had been hit by the car.
“Do you need a medic, because if the car hit you, I mean …?” Sergeant Polanco asked.
“I don’t remember if it did or not. I don’t think it did. I think I just fell. I was close to it, but I just fell. I don’t think it hit me. I’m good,” Murray replied.
“If you need a medic, I’ll call a medic for you,” Polanco said.
“I don’t feel any pain,” Murray said.
According to HuffPost, BPD claimed in a warrant issued three days later to search Rochester’s car that the former had hit Murray with his car and cited attempted murder as probable cause.
Rochester was conscious when medics arrived but he was struggling to breathe. It was 3:22 p.m., nine minutes after the shooting. Rochester did not finally arrive at Johns Hopkins Hospital, which was less than three miles away, until 20 minutes after the shooting.
“I actually went in the emergency room there, in the back, saw him on a gurney, identified him,” says Charles Melchoir, Rochester’s stepfather. “I think police were already there.”
Donnell Rochester was pronounced dead at 3:41 p.m.
The next day, Dr. Richard Morris, an associate pathologist with the Medical Examiner’s office, performed an autopsy and deemed the cause of death as “homicide.”
“Dr. Morris noted two gunshot wounds. Mr. Rochester’s injuries appear to consist of two wounds caused by a single bullet. It appears the round traveled through Mr. Rochester’s right tricep, then into his right chest,” the Attorney General’s report later noted.
The fatal wound was caused by Murray’s fourth shot, which he fired through the passenger window after falling out of the way of the moving vehicle.
In January 2023, shortly after taking office, State’s Attorney Ivan Bates issued a statement that he would not charge any of the officers involved in Rochester’s death, along with an 11-page report
“Ultimately, we could not ethically bring this case to court, given the circumstances in which these officers discharged their weapons,” Bates said. “As the current Baltimore City State’s Attorney, it is my duty and ethical responsibility to follow the law.”
After that announcement, Danielle Brown, Rochester’s mother, started showing up in front of the State’s Attorney’s office every Thursday, usually accompanied by half a dozen or so people who support the cause. Some, like Duane “Shorty” Davis and Kinji Scott, are well-known in activist circles, while others were drawn into issues around policing by this case.
Scott was one of Bates’s most vocal supporters during the 2018 campaign for State’s Attorney. Now, in front of the looming building with security guards peering out the window and police cars parked across the street, he yells out that “Ivan Bates is a coward.”
“In this matter, the SAO [State’s Attorney’s Office] investigation was performed by the previous administration, and we cannot speak to their determination,” SAO spokesperson James Bentley wrote in an emailed statement in response to questions from Type/ Beat.
After initially agreeing to provide notes, memos and other documents pertaining to the decision not to charge the officers in response to a public information request, the SAO said that they would be unable to comply with the Beat/Type Investigations request because the internal police investigation is ongoing.
Shortly after the State’s Attorney’s declination, however, the Attorney General’s Internal Investigations Division released a much more detailed report that drew different conclusions about the shooting. The report acknowledged that it would be hard to charge officer Murray for the first three shots. While he was in clear violation of BPD policy by putting himself in front of the car, his actions would likely be construed as self-defense in a court of law. Murray’s fourth shot, however, could have crossed a line, the AG argued.
“With respect to Officer Murray’s fourth shot, which struck and killed Mr. Rochester, it is
possible the state could prove Officer Murray acted unreasonably, thereby overcoming a
complete self-defense argument,” the report notes. “When he fired this shot, Officer Murray had dodged the Honda and was to the side of the car, falling to the ground. At that time, Mr. Rochester no longer posed a threat to Officer Murray, and Officer Murray had no reason to believe that Mr. Rochester posed a threat to any other officer or civilian. No other officers or civilians were in the path of Mr. Rochester’s vehicle and officers had no reason to believe that Mr. Rochester was armed or otherwise imminently dangerous.”
The report goes on to say it is unclear how a fact-finder—judge or jury in the case—would rule given the “circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.”
At the time of the report’s release, the decision to prosecute an officer lay solely with the SAO, which defended its judgment in the case.
“State’s Attorney Bates spoke at length to the General Assembly about the deficiencies in the OAG’s analysis,” Bentley responded to Type/Beat inquiries about the discrepancies in the two reports. “In addition, retired Judge Wanda Heard reviewed the case and determined she would have dismissed any charges against the officer citing defenses the OAG’s report had not considered.”
The SAO, Bentley said, requested that Judge Heard “review the matter in case we missed anything.”
The different conclusions of the SAO and the AG were symptoms of a larger issue being debated by Maryland’s General Assembly. Earlier this year, the legislature passed a bill that would give the IID power to prosecute police officers in the case of a police shooting, because of potential conflicts of interest resulting from the necessarily close daily working relationship between police and prosecutors. The bill was signed into law in May and went into effect on Oct. 1.
The law seeks “to restore that relationship and to restore that trust so that the communities can work with law enforcement and public safety officials to make sure that we’re all safer,” said Senator Will Smith (D-District 20), who introduced the bill.
But because the law is not retroactive, “our office does not have jurisdiction to prosecute any incidents occurring prior to Oct. 1, 2023,” AG spokesperson Thomas Lester wrote in response to questions about the case.
Rochester’s family has few avenues left to them. In February, they created a petition asking Gov. Wes Moore (D) to declare a change of venue and allow the AG to prosecute the case. It has more than 2,000 signatures, although the governor has not responded to the petition.
“This is a tragic situation, but the governor doesn’t historically intervene when the State’s Attorney has conducted an investigation and determined not to prosecute,” wrote Brittany Marshall, the governor’s senior press secretary in response to Type/Beat questions about the Rochester petition.
“Twice in the last three years the General Assembly has exercised its authority over which entities should investigate and prosecute these officer-involved fatalities,” Marshall wrote. “The governor supports the General Assembly’s comprehensive police reform efforts and respects the legislative intent in granting the Attorney General the authority to prosecute these cases after Oct. 1, 2023.”
“I just hope that these officers do get some type of accountability,” Brown says. “They don’t realize that when you take somebody’s life that the family has to suffer.”
But she knows that nothing will ever bring back her son. And though Murray and Mauri were the officers who shot at her son, his death shows the ways in which such police shootings truly are systemic, put in motion by bureaucracy.
Brown continues to fight and to organize events such as Donnell’s Day during Pride Month in June, which was intended to keep his name out there and bring good into the city – especially its LGBTQ+ community. “It’s still hard every day dealing with the trauma, the stress, the grief,” Melchoir told the press at the event. “You know, but pretty much right now, do what we can to get his name out there with events like this.”
The one thing Danielle Brown knows is that she can’t quit on her son’s memory. “I’m going to continue to fight for accountability for Donnell.”
Additional reporting by Jasmine Braswell and Brandon Soderberg