Harris' mother: my son should have been detained

Wilson says DJS failed her son, let him free

BALTIMORE - A demand for the release of body camera footage from the death of Baltimore County Officer Amy Caprio, and a rebuke of the state’s juvenile justice system, were presented at a press conference Thursday held by two lawyers, representing the 16-year-old driver of the Jeep that killed Caprio.

“With regard to suspending judgment, waiting for the evidence, we’re calling for the State’s Attorney, the Police Department, to release the body cam footage” said Warren Brown, one of the lawyer’s representing the driver, Dawnta Harris, who is currently charged with first-degree murder. “It should speak for itself, and we see no good reason that the public, especially considering the emotional aspect of this case, should be kept in the dark.”

Harris is accused of deliberately running down Caprio in the black Jeep he allegedly stole after the officer confronted him in a Perry Hall cul de sac. Baltimore County Police had received a call of a suspicious vehicle and suspicious people in the neighborhood and came to investigate. Brown, and fellow counsel J. Wyndal Gordon, challenged the understood narrative of events in the killing, presenting the possibility that this could have as easily been an excessive use of force by police situation as it was a death in the line of duty.

At a press conference earlier this week, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said he would not release any body camera footage in an effort to avoid tainting future jury pools.

“We think the body cam footage is the sine qua non of this case. There’s been a lot of strong feelings about this case, but strong feelings do not equal strong facts. We want to ask the tough questions about this case, because it generates a lot of questions that we don’t have answers to,” Gordon said. The two attorneys depicted a scenario in which Caprio blocked Harris in, deployed her weapon, and put him in fear for his life, so that he felt the need to escape, driving blindly forward through his only potential route of escape - where Caprio was standing. 

“What evidence is it that he intended to hit and kill this police officer? The state has even conceded that when the gun was drawn at some point, either before or after the first shot is fired, he’s ducking down, he’s looking at the seat of the vehicle. He’s instinctively trying to get away,” Brown said. “ … He was in survival mode.”

“People are going to hear what they want to hear, but it should be said and heard that his head was buried as he drove off,” Brown said. “There wasn’t any intention on his part to strike this officer. His intention was to get away.”

Further criticism of the justice system’s failings that may have be a factor in the death of Caprio were presented as well. Already the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office and the Department of Juvenile Services have traded swipes in the media, as both offices linked potential lapses by the other to the narrative of Caprio’s death. 

Those criticisms were given new fuel as Harris’ mother, Tanika Wilson, explained the court proceedings her son had been involved with since first being arrested in December of 2017. Wilson spoke of struggling to keep Harris on the straight and narrow as she recently had a baby and Harris transitioned from middle school to high school, hanging out with people that were bad influences. She spoke of traveling the neighborhood looking for her son, occasionally getting into confrontations with other families in the process.

At the time of Caprio’s death, Harris had violated a home detention order following a hearing from early May. At that court proceeding on May 10, Wilson says, she and the assistant state’s attorney wanted Harris detained. His public defender requested his release on good behavior and a judge concurred, issuing an non-GPS ankle monitor to be placed on Harris for home detention. 

“Numerous times I asked them to detain him so nothing like this would happen,” Wilson said, fighting through tears. “…My condolences to the family of the officer. My condolences from the bottom of my heart. If they would have kept him we wouldn’t be here.”

By Monday, May 14, Harris was declared AWOL and the Department of Juvenile Services made several attempts over the next two days to find him. Harris could not be found or contacted, and by another court appearance on Friday, May 18, Wilson hoped a writ would be issued to find and detain her son. According to court records, because Harris was not at the delinquency hearing, it was tabled until Tuesday, May 22. Caprio was killed on Monday, May 21.

“This was a woman who was crying out for help. She turned to every resource available including the court system, because with a mother’s wit and intuition, she had that feeling that sinks in your gut,” Gordon said. “ … She did everything that she could to avoid what brings us here today. … This is not an excuse for the conduct of her son, but it’s an explanation of how everyone has been affected by what has taken place in this case, and again, not to forget about the victim, because the victim had family to.” 

“He knows right from wrong,” Wilson said through tears. “Everything changed, his life, my life, the officer’s life, in a split second.”

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