Kevin Mason died overnight on Pembridge Avenue early Monday after police shot at him at the back of a home during a tense barricade situation, according to body camera footage released Wednesday afternoon. On video and a recorded call from Mason, the 57-year-old can be heard repeatedly threatening to shoot and kill officers, leading up to the moments an officer fired two rounds at him.
Except, there was no gun, police say. “After a lengthy search, we did not find or locate a gun on the property,” Police Commissioner Michael Harrison told media today.
At a press conference, police played back two 911 calls—one from a woman who called in at 11:35 p.m., saying she was at a neighbor’s house across the street after Mason had allegedly assaulted her, and a second from Mason himself at 11:53 p.m.—plus five body-worn camera clips from officers at the scene.
Officers responded to the home on Pembridge Avenue, several blocks south of Pimlico Race Course, about 15 minutes after the woman called to report the assault. “What’s the problem?” Mason can be heard shouting in the first video clip to an officer who knocks on his door. “Get the f— off my property.” He walks out hold a barking dog by the collar, and the officer retreats from the yard behind a chain-link gate. “F— you,” he then tells an officer who tries approaching Mason on a neighbor’s porch, before closing the door.
On the second 911 recording several minutes later, Mason warns a dispatcher to instruct the officers to stay away from his house: “I’m gonna come out there and blast their ass. I’m gonna kill every last one of those motherf—–s out there if they don’t get the f— away from my door.”
The situation escalates after the officers try to approach Mason at the back door. In a second video time-stamped 11:56 p.m., Mason can be heard threatening to kill an officer if he approaches, leading the officer to tell him he’s under arrest. The officer takes out his gun while Mason keeps yelling. It’s unclear whether Mason has pointed something at the officers—the body-worn camera isn’t facing the back door—but the cop shouts, “Hey! Let me see your hands!”
“I’ve got a goddamned gun!” Mason responds. “You wanna see it, bitch?” An officer radios in that Mason has a firearm.
In a third clip from just before midnight, an officer standing in the alley out back tells a colleague Mason has been making threats: “He came out the back door pointing a gun at us, saying if we came in the yard, he’s gonna pop us.” A fourth clip from 12:10 a.m. gives another glimpse at officers communicating. One tells another, who appears to be holding a rifle, that Mason has been switching the lights on and off and had displayed a handgun.
The final video is time-stamped 12:13 a.m. by police. An officer says aloud that Mason has opened the back door again. “Come out, sir, you’re under arrest!” he shouts. Then come the shots: two pops. In the footage, Mason is out of view, and the officer ducks behind a police car.
The officer who shot Mason is John Johnson Jr., a 25-year veteran of the department who’s currently assigned to the Northwest District, Harrison said.
Mason never left the house. Hostage negotiators and a SWAT team responded, and hours later, a woman exited, telling officers Mason had been “sleeping” inside. Police entered and found him dead at the scene.
“Logistically, it’s a very tough situation,” Harrison said today. “No one ever wants to see a life lost. No one ever wants to have that actually happen. But this was probably one of, if not the most dangerous situation we can find ourselves in.”
He said the confrontation Monday night was “exacerbated” by Mason’s barking dog in the first interaction with officers, and “just became more volatile and more intense because he retreated back into his home.”
There were several officers behind the house, but only one of them fired at Mason. Harrison said two rounds have been accounted for, though the medical examiner will confirm how many of them struck Mason.
Asked if there was a chance the item Mason had been holding in his hand could have been perceived as something other than a firearm, Harrison replied, “I think I’d be speculating to answer something like that.” He said the state’s attorney’s office is investigating that detail.
All officers are trained to respond to “all types of domestic incidents, and the response to it was, in my opinion, proper protocol,” Harrison said. He also cited a statistic that more officers get injured or killed on domestic violence calls than any other incident type.
This marks the first shooting by police with Harrison as Baltimore’s top cop. The department had six incidents last year in which officers fired their guns, The Sun reported earlier this week. (BPD has taken down its use-of-force reporting page, for unknown reasons; we’ve reached out to ascertain why.)
Harrison said the department has now drawn up a draft policy for determining when and why to release body cam footage, and it’s now under review by the Department of Justice, with whom the city entered into a consent decree in 2017.
BPD decided to share the footage today “in the interest of accountability and transparency,” he said. Harrison also said he spoke with Mason’s sister, two days after his family angrily called on the commissioner and mayor to come talk to with them after his death.
He told reporters he gave her a “courtesy call” to let her know police would be releasing the footage. “She was pleased to hear that,” he said.