‘I Refuse to Let This City Sweep My Son’s Death Under the Rug’

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In our ongoing series of stories investigating the consequences of decades of unconstitutional and racist policing we spoke to Greta Carter-Willis, whose 14-year old son was shot dead by police in 2006 in the kitchen of her Southwest Baltimore home

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Story Transcript

TAYA GRAHAM: The lingering consequences of corruption in the Baltimore Police Department continue to haunt the city. This week , Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, one of nine officers of the now-notorious Gun Trace Task Force, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for robbing residents, dealing drugs, and stealing overtime. But the recent cases of corruption are only a portion of the controversial actions by police that residents say have caused lasting harm in the community. To understand the extent of what has occurred, The Real News is going back in time, talking to residents about their experiences with police.

Our first conversation is with a Baltimore resident named Greta Carter. Police shot her 14-year-old son Kevin Cooper in the kitchen of her Southwest Baltimore home in 2006. Here is her story of what happened that day, told in her own words.

GRETA CARTER: Oh, my gosh. Kevin was, he was awesome. He was a son, he was a friend, he was an uncle. He was a student. He had, you know, lots of friends, and he really enjoyed sports. Football was one of his greatest games. He played football. And doing the football he won all kinds of trophies and medals. He played for the Gwynns Falls league, Little League, through Gwynns Falls, and he was just awesome. You know, he just had fun. He just enjoyed life. And one of the things, his a dream was to be a quarterback for the Miami Dolphins. He loved the Ravens, but he wanted to play for the Dolphins. And he was an entrepreneur. He had this little snowball stand, and he sold little candies and potato chips. And he just was an all-around good person.

Well, prior to I lost my oldest son Ronnie in 1998, along with my sister’s son and my cousin’s son. So we lost all three of our boys in a very horrific car accident. So our household went from this happy household full of people, Kevin with his older brother. My daughter had just gone into the military. Then it was just Kevin and I. Went from, you know, a married woman to a divorcee. And so it was just him and I. And Kevin was depressive because of the so many losses. One day, you, you know, you have your brother, your cousins, and your sister, and you know, everyone in the household, too. Now has turned into it’s just him and I.

So he was very, very depressive at that time. He wasn’t-. He really missed his brother, he missed his sister, and he missed his cousins. So he became depressive on the day of August 12, 2006. Kevin, during the holidays and different episodes as he, you know, thought about his family members, he began to cry and have little outbursts. So he was having a little emotional breakdown that morning. And I’m very active in the community. And so the police station is only a half a block down the street. I grew up with community policing. The police knew the community and the community knew the police. So I called 911 to have an officer come just to have a conversation with Kevin, not knowing that the officer would ultimately take my son’s life.

On that morning, it was little after 9:00. Two officers arrived. Kevin had no shirt on. He had only on a pair of basketball shorts, and the two officers arrived. The one officer, he said that the call was abated, meaning that the call was over. All was done and he was leaving. The other officer said he was staying to receive, to get my information.

So as you can see, our home doesn’t have a back door. The exit to our home is down in the basement. So Kevin, when the two officers arrived he was setting out in the yard, and he was setting down on the ground. And the officer spoke to him and they spoke with me. And the one left, and the other officer said he needed more information. So I gave him my name, my phone number. What more do you need? Kevin got up from the ground, and he walked into the basement from out of the yard with the officer. And I was standing by the back door.

And as he walked past the officer-. He was only 14, and he was mumbling, and the officer quickly went from asking me questions to zeroing in on Kevin. He walked up the basement steps. He followed Kevin on our first level, and he followed up upstairs on the second level. The entire time my daughter was in the military, fighting for our country. I was in care of her young baby. She was only 10 months old. So I had the baby in one arm, and I still had my phone in my other hand. So I followed the officer, and I’m asking him constantly, why are you still speaking to my son? You should be having a conversation with me, not my son.

So the officer followed Kevin upstairs, and he’s bickering back and forth, you know. So I’m just like, sir, you’re supposed to be talking to me, not to my son. He’s a child. So he continue to have this back and forth jogger with Kevin, that Kevin wasn’t tough, that he was tough, that the officer was tough. And he was having this back and forth. And I’m still asking him, please, you know, the situation has calmed down. There’s nothing going on, so you can exit and leave our home.

Kevin had no shirt, no shirt on. He had the pair of shorts on. So he put on his tennis shoes because now the officer’s inviting him, you know, to fight. And I’m sorry, why are you speaking to my son in this manner? Number one, you’re not his father. You have gone from a police officer, now you’re talking on a level with a child. Kevin came down the steps. Again, the front door is behind us. So I asked him to leave. He still continued to follow Kevin.

Kevin walked into the kitchen, and he picked up this plastic dustpan. And it’s the little dustpan that you get from the dollar store, that has the plastic at the bottom and this little plastic handle that you get from the dollar store. And he picked up that little dustpan. And when Kevin picked up the dustpan the officer maced him, and then he shot him. Oh my gosh. That was the worst day of my life. I think I was more in shock. I started screaming as to why are you shooting my son? You know, you just shot my son.

There was no worse exchange, he didn’t say, you know, put down the dustpan. He just maced him, and he shot him. Then he got on his radio and he started to call the signal 13. I started screaming, why are you calling a signal 13, because you are the shooter. A signal 13 means that you’re in distress. The house was filled with so many officers. They were just coming from all over as they came in. They ran through the house. They were looking for a shooter. They were saying, where’s the shooter? Where’s the shooter? And I’m screaming, please get my son some help. Get my son some help. I could see his face grimacing and he was, you know, his eyes were already going up in his head. Because when he sprayed the mace that blinded him, so as he was, you know, blinded by the mace his head was going back, and then they shot him. So he was still trying to recoup from the mace.

The officers ran through the house. They started closing the windows, as opposed to opening the windows, the mace out of the house. They started screaming to get me out of the house. And I’m still screaming, please get my son some help. They instructed me that I needed to get out of the house. So I went out. They escorted me outside and I set out in the sidewalk on the gutter. My neighbors were coming and asking did we need some help. And I just was screaming, please get my son some help.

When the ambulance arrived, I thought the ambulance was coming to get Kevin. The ambulance wasn’t coming to get Kevin. The ambulance was getting the officer. The first ambulance, the officer that came in the house, he went back outside. And then he sat down on the curbside. And as he sat on the curbside, the ambulance started tending to the officer. And Kevin was still inside the house, and I’m screaming, how are you tending to this officer, not getting my son some help? They’re like miss, please calm down, calm down. And I couldn’t calm down, because I knew my son was wounded inside of the house. I didn’t know where he was shot. I just knew that he was wounded and he needed help.

The second ambulance arrived. And when the second ambulance arrived, that’s when they bought Kevin out. And I was just frantic. I was screaming and screaming. But there was detectives, I could see them coming with these su itjackets on, so I knew that they were detectives. And they said that- I wanted to go to the hospital with Kevin. They said I couldn’t go to the hospital. I had to go with them to make a statement. So I’m not thinking, you know, because it was just so chaotic and all taking place. I wanted to see my son. So I said, OK, I will agree to go with you down to the police headquarters if you will take me to see my son.

They kept telling me that he was fine. He was OK. He was talking. That all was well. It’s, like, minutes. I guess hours, and those seconds turned into hours where I’m still thinking, you know, that this is just like five minutes, ten minutes, not realizing that time had expanded. They said I couldn’t use the phone, I couldn’t call anyone. I needed to make a statement. And I gave them a statement. And at the end they said that Kevin would be under arrest. And I kept saying, why is he under arrest? He didn’t do anything. The officer is the one that was exacerbating all this situation, an already quiet situation.

I said, this was the officer. They said, ma’am, that he struck the officer. I said, he never struck the officer. He said [inaudible] to see my son. They said, your son is fine. He has charges, and we’re going to take you to the hospital.

So they instructed the officer to drive me to St. Agnes Hospital. When I arrived at the hospital, the first person I saw, I saw my pastor, and I saw my neighbor. And as they were staring at me when we got out of the car and the way they were looking at me, I just passed out. When I came to, they were telling me that Kevin never made it. They knew he was deceased, that the bullet had burst his heart. That he was deceased. So how are you telling me that he’s talking, he’s alive, he’s well, he’s going to be arrested for something that he didn’t do, but you already knew that he was deceased. That he had, he had already died.

At that time the doctor talked to me, and he said that he didn’t have a chance that it had went in and it burst its heart, and he died on the scene. I didn’t realize that he was gone by the time they put him in the ambulance. By 2:00, I think it’s around 2:00 or 3:00 that afternoon, Baltimore City Police Department had come together and did a press conference. And the press conference, they said that the officer was justified. How could you justify homicide that you never even did an investigation? A homicide that occurred that morning. How could you justify the officer’s actions? I would never understand that. Never understand that. I don’t understand it to this day.

August 12 of this year will be 12 years of Kevin’s death. And I still don’t understand, how could they say that the officer was justified. I wrote letters to every political person. We were in the middle of election year. Nobody wanted to touch the case. It was like this hush hush, sweep under the rug conversation. Nobody wanted to talk to me or my family. So we sought the help of Mr. Dwight Pettit, the attorney, in 2007. In February I received the phone call from the detective to say that the officer wasn’t criminally charged. I knew he wasn’t going to be criminally charged because the day of the incident you already said that the officer was justified from taking my 14 year old son’s life.

And it has truly been a devastating experience. It has turned my family’s world upside down. For one minute, you know, you’re right side up, and the next minute your whole world just goes toppling upside down, not knowing where to go, who to get help from, who to talk to, because it’s like everybody is don’t want to have a conversation, from the mayor’s office, to anybody from the state’s attorney’s office. No one ever called to apologize for taking my son’s life. Just, unjustly, just, just like a bag of trash, that you just swept him under the rug.

So I refuse to let this city just sweep my son’s death under the rug. I’ve been his voice, a voice that has been crying out from the grave all these years for the truth to be told, that he had no chance. The officer was not in any type of danger. He was in no harm for him to take Kevin’s life.

This has been really a traumatic experience. No one offered me medical attention. No one offered my grandchild medical attention. I have been traumatized. They don’t think about what this, this type of devastation does to families. I had to call my daughter in the military that’s fighting for the country to come back to the United States and Baltimore City to know that your brother at 14’s life was taken by a person who is paid to protect and to serve, not to take their life unjustly. So a travesty has been done to our family, and we have not received any justice in all these years.

On September 20 of 2017 I was at the Royal Farms down on Washington Boulevard. After the officer Robert Midir took Kevin’s life, he was moved from the Southwest District police station. On that day, which he may never admit publicly, but in our private moment in the store, in that encounter, he realized in his heart that he did something that was not right. So as I said to him, I forgive you because I don’t want God-. My heart has been so heavy all these years. And in order for me to have a peace in my heart, I forgave him for taking my son’s life.

And that’s been the hardest piece, because that’s all I wanted from the beginning to admit that you did something wrong. That the police department, the City of Baltimore, has done an injustice to our family. An injustice. To admit that you took my sons life unjustly. That’s what I’ve always wanted. Because it’s not-. My son is gone. It’s to help other families so this injustice will not be done to other families. Had they listened to us back in 2006, that would prevent a lot of things that are taking place now. You have so many families whose life has been taken, and the police department has covered it up. Time after time after time they have covered it up, swept it under the rug, because they feel that our children’s lives doesn’t matter. But they do matter, because they have families that love them. They have parents, they have homes, they have sisters and brothers. They had, they were part of a community that loves them. And it’s not their place to take our children’s life unjustly and to cover it up, and try to sweep our children’s life under the rug like they did not matter. And they do matter.

STEPHEN JANIS: What did the officer say to you when you forgave him? Did he respond?

GRETA CARTER: He responded. At first he didn’t speak. He wouldn’t talk. He just put his head down. I extended my arms out, and I hugged him. I extended my arms to him. I embraced him, because the heavy burden that has been on my shoulders-. And I know he has been carrying the burden as well. He said to me that every time he closed his eyes, he sees my son. He sees my son. That’s why I embraced him. To let him know, as Kevin’s mother, you took my son’s life unjustly in front of me. My heart is heavy. I forgive you, but God, you have to forgive yourself. And the only way to do that is through whomever you believe in. That’s why I embraced him.

STEPHEN JANIS: Did he embrace you back? I mean, how did he react?

GRETA CARTER: It was very emotional. He embraced me back, and then he left quickly. He left very quickly. But justice will be served. Because people don’t realize, things that we do you, can sweep it up before man, but you can never hide before God.