BALTIMORE — False reports Monday that police shot a young man who was running from officers highlighted the tension that still hangs over the city as it recovers from riots that ignited after Freddie Gray’s death.
Members of a Fox News crew and at least one witness interviewed on the network Monday afternoon said they saw an officer fire at a man near Pennsylvania and North avenues. Fox News anchor Shepard Smith later retracted the report and said on-air that the network “screwed up.”
Police said a man was arrested and his gun fired, but no one was hurt. The incident occurred near an intersection that was at the heart of looting and riots last week. With fears that a repeat of last week’s violence could erupt at any moment, police tried to calm the crowd that quickly formed.
“Nobody got shot,” Deputy Police Commissioner Dean Palmere said as he walked the police line, telling anyone who would listen. “A gun went off. There is a misinterpretation in the community.”
Lt. Col Melvin Russell said the incident started around 3 p.m., when a person with a handgun was seen on one of the department’s closed-circuit cameras. Officers responded and there was a brief foot chase, Russell said.
The man “pulled or tried to pull a revolver,” and officers heard what sounded like a gunshot, Russell said. Officers arrested the man and recovered a revolver that contained three cartridges — with one spent cartridge indicating the weapon had been fired. Police did not say whether they think the weapon was fired accidentally or intentionally.
“Police did not discharge their weapons,” Russell said.
An ambulance arrived at the scene, Russell said, and the man refused medical treatment. The man was taken to the hospital, and authorities said it appears he was not injured.
As word of the alleged police-involved shooting spread, a small but volatile crowd confronted a line of police officers in riot gear near the intersection. One man lunged at police but was held back by relatives as a preacher pleaded for order. Some insisted the man was shot in the leg because he was being taken away in an ambulance. Others recorded video.
Many who gathered at the scene expressed continued distrust of law enforcement, most recently underscored by the death of Gray.
The 25-year-old suffered a severe spinal injury while in police custody last month. Authorities said the officers connected to his case illegally arrested him, did not properly seat belt him in the back of a police van and ignored his requests for medical attention.
On Friday, the city’s chief prosecutor, Marilyn J. Mosby, filed charges against six officers involved in Gray’s transport and arrest. The local police union representing city police say the officers are not responsible for Gray’s death.
Gray was black, as are three of the accused officers. The other three officers accused are white.
Austin Johnson, 42, a Baltimore resident who gathered near the scene of Monday’s incident at Pennsylvania and North avenues, said he doesn’t believe the police’s account of how events unfolded. The mistrust between police and the African American community runs deep, he said.
“Everybody talks about the riots,” Johnson said. “Nobody talks about how we got here. How did this place deteriorate like this?”
Johnson said he ran into a group of detectives last week investigating Gray’s death, all but one white. Johnson said he pulled the black detective aside and asked, “Are you really here to do some good?”
David Whitt showed up with a camera and a T-shirt proclaiming, “We watch police.” Whitt, wearing a hat with an image of a man filming a police officer beating a prone man, said he is on a mission to arm residents with cameras.
“They lie,” he said. “They lied about what happened here. People don’t believe . . . what we say unless we got a camera.”
In the early days after Gray’s death, attention on the case focused on cellphone video that a witness took of Gray’s arrest. The video appears to show officers dragging a limp-legged Gray into a police van and called into question whether officers had used force. Prosecutors later said Gray was injured in a transport van.
On the Monday of Gray’s funeral, looting and riots tore through the city, with residents angry over his death. But after days of peaceful demonstrations following last week’s violence, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) on Sunday lifted a 10 p.m. curfew, and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) began pulling National Guard troops from the city. Residents and officials looked forward to having Baltimore return to normal.
“This community needs to heal,” Maryland state Sen. Catherine Pugh (D) said as she waded through the crowd at the intersection, urging everyone to take a breath. “I’m telling people, ‘Let’s not be aggressive. Everyone take a step back.’ ”
Around 4 p.m., police, including detectives and riot police, left the intersection. By 4:30 p.m., the corner appeared to return to normal but for a few vocal people yelling into cameras.
“There is so much distrust of police,” Pugh said. “It’s going to take time.”
Ovetta Wiggins and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.