An attorney for the New Jersey detective charged with killing a Maryland man after a fit of road rage says the deceased man repeatedly screamed a racial slur and threatened to kill the officer’s family before the deadly encounter.
Joseph L. Walker, the New Jersey man charged in Saturday’s incident, is black. Joseph D. Harvey Jr., the Maryland man, was white.
In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Patrick J. McAndrew, an attorney for Walker, said Harvey “was enraged, screaming at the [Walker] family in their van.” He said Harvey repeatedly yelled a racial epithet at the family.
The account by Walker’s attorney introduces an element of racial tension that is absent from the official police account used to explain the rationale for charging Walker with second-degree murder and manslaughter.
In that Maryland State Police report, an officer cites a passenger riding with Harvey as the source of key information. That passenger, Adam Pidel, said the altercation began at routes 175 and 3 in Anne Arundel County when Walker cut off Harvey. Pidel told police that both men subsequently engaged in reckless driving, swerving toward each other as they traveled north along Route 3 to an Interstate 97 on-ramp.
McAndrew on Tuesday offered a fuller and conflicting account of the view from inside the Walker van: Walker, an insurance fraud detective with the Hudson County, N.J., prosecutor’s office and a former police officer in Newark, was in the driver’s seat of the Kia minivan, McAndrew said. Buckled in beside him was his wife and behind them, their children, ages 3, 6 and 11.
McAndrew said the family was settling into a drive back to Eastampton, N.J., after a young cousin’s birthday party in the Odenton area.
The lawyer said Walker, who was in the innermost of two left-hand turn lanes when the altercation began, was unaware of any problem until Harvey pulled along the passenger side of the van, screaming.
“His wife was in the passenger seat. She could distinctly hear it, as could the child, the racial slurs,” McAndrew said. “There were threats of violence; they were on notice.”
McAndrew said it was only Harvey who then drove aggressively. “Harvey did whatever he could to maintain his position alongside the Walker van,” McAndrew said.
The decision to pull over, McAndrew said, was not an attempt to escalate the situation. He said Walker stopped after it appeared that the altercation had ended and Harvey had driven on ahead. According to the police report, Harvey pulled over about 150 feet in front of Walker’s van. McAndrew said that there was another reason that prompted Walker to pull over and that he would disclose that in coming days.
McAndrew also disputed key points in the police report about the moments after the men got out of their cars.
The lawyer said that when Harvey pulled over, Walker repeatedly “displayed his shield” and identified himself as a law enforcement official as Harvey walked back up the on-ramp to “engage” Walker.
McAndrew said Walker fired only when Harvey had closed to within about six feet of his client.
He also disputed an account from Pidel, which was partially substantiated, police said, by passersby, that four seconds elapsed between shots fired by Walker. Walker’s first shot appeared to wound Harvey in the leg, the police report said, and the second one was probably fatal.
“It was a single firing. Claims to the contrary are ludicrous and nonsense,” McAndrew said. “For one thing, it’s contrary to a law enforcement officer’s training.”
In an e-mail Tuesday, Harvey’s former employer at Outdoor Adventures, a now-shuttered paintball and sports complex in Baltimore, said he was shocked by the death of his longtime worker.
Harvey was “loyal, honest, dependable, well-liked and a pleasure to know, he was an asset to the company but more importantly, he was a good man,” Lee Draper wrote. “His tragic death was a kick in the gut for me and for our family and its circumstances are out of character for the man that I knew.”