At a press conference in Towson, state officials described the investigation that has led to four arrests following the death of a Baltimore County Police Officer, and the potential break down of the juvenile justice system that may have played a factor.
Officer Amy Caprio was killed while investigating a reported robbery in Perry Hall . After spotting a suspicious black Jeep potentially linked to the crime, she pursued it into a cul de sac. She exited her car and ordered the driver to leave the Jeep. The driver opened the door, then proceeded to run down Caprio.
“The door closed, and the car hit her, struck her, drove over her,” Baltimore County Police Chief Terry Sheridan said. “...Unfortunately we lost a police officer to a senseless act.”
The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, with the cause of death being “multiple traumas to the head and torso,” Sheridan said. Despite early reports, Caprio did not suffer any gunshot wounds and no weapons were retrieved during the investigation.
Police developed a description of the suspect based on witness accounts and picked up the driver of the Jeep, 16-year-old Dawnta Harris, on Belair Road, Sheridan said. He was charged as an adult with first-degree murder.
Harris has multiple run ins with police and the juvenile justice system on his record and was charged as an adult with first degree murder. He was one of four juvenile suspects linked to the crime. All have since been found, but the three remaining suspects have yet to be charged.
“[Harris] did an act which impacts a family, a spouse, brothers and systems in law enforcement, the institution,“ Sheridan said in speaking of the charging rationale. ”That young man has done an act for which he should be treated as an adult.”
“We plan on keeping him in the adult system,” said Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger. “The case that the police have already put together on him is very strong. I know they will work to collect even more evidence and make the case even better.”
Caprio was wearing a body camera, and the footage adds strength to the case against Harris, however Shellenberger is pushing to not release the footage, fearing it would taint a prospective jury pool when Harris eventually sees a court room.
“We recommended the video not be released in order to preserve the right to a jury trial,” Shellenberger said.
Among Harris' previous charges were four incidents of car theft. Maryland Secretary of Juvenile Services Sam Abed said Harris had been detained on April 17.
“There after on May 10 there was a hearing, that the department was not a party to, the youth was released back to the community on electric monitoring,” Abed said. “While on electronic monitoring between May 11 and May 18, his compliance was poor and we again requested the court violate Mr. Harris and that they bring him in on non-compliance. The hearing on May 18 resulted in a continuance and no order from the court.”
Abed confirmed that during a May 14 hearing, Harris' mother said she could not find him and that authorities tried to find him through his cellphone, his school, his mother, and other places he liked to frequent, all with no luck.
"Did the system not work?" Sheridan asked rhetorically, "... It seems it could have worked better in this case."
The three other juveniles were not named as their charges are pending. They did not flee the scene with Harris, instead escaping through a different route, either using public transit or calling someone to get a ride, police suspect. They were picked up at their homes in Baltimore.
The group is believed to have committed at least one burglary earlier in the day, using a rock or other methods to break a window, enter a home and steal jewelry, cash, "anything they could get their hands on," Sheridan said. They were in a house committing another burglary as Harris engaged with and killed Caprio.
Shellenberger said all three could face charges similar to Harris under Maryland's ”felony murder“ statute. Felony murder means any death that occurs while committing a felony offense, whether the death is intentional or not, exposes the perpetrators to first-degree murder charges.
”If you commit a felony, you are in for everything else that happens in the commission of that crime,“ Shellenberger said. “We believe under Maryland law all three of the individuals who were not in the car can be charged with felony murder.”
Sheridan said the three would be charged soon.
The police chief spoke glowingly of the officer he lost, saying she could have been a potential leader in the department.
”Officer Caprio is the type of officer you want to hire. She had a bachelor's degree from Towson,“ Sheridan said. ”Smart, athletic, energetic, with not quite four years on the job she started to show she had all the potential to be an excellent officer and one of the leaders of this police force in the future.
“When you see something like this, you start to feel emotions that make you wonder what's going on out there,” Sheridan said, expressing a concern he voiced during Monday night's press briefing about the increase in violent crime by youths in the area, and the violence inflicted on police in the culture.
“We’re seeing a level of violence, especially against the institution of law enforcement, that we’ve never seen before,” Sheridan said. “ ... We’re seeing in Baltimore County an increase in juveniles being charged as adults.”
“Maybe there are some changes that are needed,” Sheridan said. “… As we’re looking at this and we’re seeing what’s going on, perhaps we need to change some things so that we don’t have reoccurrances of what happened yesterday.”
The family will hold two viewings Thursday, May 24, one from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and another from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Schmunek Funeral Home, 9705 Belair Rd., Nottingham, Md.
Caprio's funeral will take place on Friday at Mountain Christian Church, 1824 Mountain Rd. in Joppa, Md. Internment services following the funeral will proceed to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, 200 E. Padonia Rd., Lutherville-Timonium, Md.