An early morning melee at a downtown Baltimore nightclub has left two people dead including another Baltimore police officer, but this time the officer’s death was at the hands of one of their own.

A phalanx of police vehicles raced to the Select Lounge nightclub on North Paca Street in the wee hours of January 9 in response to a disturbance near the club. According to police a plain clothes officer who attempted to break up a fight between several women was attacked by a group of men when he pulled his gun to defend himself and that’s when several shots were fired.

“Officers from throughout the downtown responded to help disburse the crowd and break up some of the fights. During the course of that effort, there was an altercation that took place very near the club and some officers worked to intercede in that fight, at which time some gunshots were discharged,” said Baltimore City Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld, III during a press conference just hours after the shootings in front of University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center where the victims were treated.

“Several officers fired multiple shots and, as a result of that, one of our officers – an eight-year veteran 33-year old male – was shot and killed.”

On Monday, January 10 police confirmed William H. Torbit was the officer killed. The Baltimore Sun reports Torbit, a narcotics officer was on duty and called to the nightclub when a “Signal 13,” code for an officer in distress was put out by dispatchers. According to police, Torbit was hit by 20 rounds as he lay on the ground outside the lounge.

Police identified four other officers who were involved at the scene: Harry Dodge, 37, an 11-year veteran of the force; Harry Pawley, 40, a 17-year veteran; Tovia Williams, 36, a 13-year veteran; and Latora Craig, 30, a nine-year veteran. All four officers have been put on routine administrative leave with pay pending the result of the investigation.

Commissioner Bealefeld said 41 rounds were discharged by officers, including Torbit at the scene. No other guns were fired according to police.

A second officer was shot in the foot, four civilians, including three women were also shot and one man, 22-year old Sean Gamble was killed. Police confirm Gamble was killed by rounds fired from Torbit’s gun during a scuffle between the two outside of the nightclub. Before being shot to death by fellow officers, Torbit was physically overwhelmed by a group of men, but it is unclear at what point Torbit actually fired the fatal shots at Gamble.

Gamble’s stepsister Kelsey Tucker told WBAL-TV, Baltimore’s NBC affiliate she was with Gamble at the Select Lounge where he and Torbit were killed.

Tucker said she, Gamble and two others were leaving the club when a plain clothes officer – who police believe may have been Torbit – started yelling at Gamble, who yelled back.

“He pushed Sean, there was some sort of altercation, then within seconds, bullets just fired,” Tucker said.

Then, according to Tucker, uniformed officers just started shooting.

“There was no warning,” she said. “No, `freeze,’ I don’t understand why they didn’t use Tasers, nightsticks and mace.”

Tucker says her stepbrother worked full-time and played semi-pro football for the Baltimore Saints and the Anne Arundel Admirals. And she revealed he has a two-year old son and was engaged to be married in March. She says her family is determined to find out why her stepbrother – who she says was not armed and did not own a gun – was killed.

“I don’t know what the police department thinks. I don’t know if they think this will just fly by and they’ll say it was a bunch of people with guns,” she said. “It doesn’t work like that.”

The other civilian victims have not yet been identified.

It was just this past October when Baltimore police grappled with the killing of one of their own when off-duty detective Brian Stevenson was killed on the eve of his 38th birthday. He was struck in the head during an argument over a parking space in Canton.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the shooting, “raises a lot of questions,” during that early morning press conference at Shock Trauma. And she lamented the loss of Torbit and Gamble.

“I just want to ask the people of Baltimore to keep these people and their families in prayers,” she said. “This is an absolutely horrible incident…and I prayed we would never lose another officer. Yet, here we are again, and it is a terribly rough time for the family, for the Police Department and for the city,” she added.
“So, I ask you to keep their families in prayer.”

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor