Nearly a year after Baltimore police Sgt. David Burch leapt from a barber’s chair while off-duty to shoot and kill Carlos Ortega, who was in the midst of a shooting spree, state investigators and city prosecutors have cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing.
The decisions — announced Friday by the Independent Investigations Division of the Maryland Office of the Attorney General — will allow Burch, who joined the Baltimore Police Department in April 2014, to return from desk duty.
The report by state investigators does not clearly illustrate any motive behind Ortega’s November 2021 shooting spree, which took the lives of two separate barbers in East Baltimore and wounded one other person. Ortega’s final victim was Burch’s barber, Rafael Jeffers, who was killed by Ortega as Burch sat in Jeffers’ barber’s chair.
Surveillance footage from the Bladi Style Barber Shop on O’Donnell Street shows Ortega entering the shop and reaching for a handgun before shooting Jeffers twice as Burch sat in the chair. Ortega then tells Burch to get out of the way, at which point the off-duty police sergeant took out his firearm and used it to shoot and kill Ortega as he stood over Jeffers’ body.
Citing an unidentified witness, the report says Ortega had a “history of talking to himself,” was robbed eight months prior to the shooting, and said in text messages that the person who ordered an attack on him was extorting him.
Mike Davey, an attorney for the Baltimore City Lodge #3 Fraternal Order of Police, called the timeline of the investigation by the state and decision by city prosecutors “absolutely ridiculous.”
“What’s frustrating is the entire incident was captured on video,” Davey said. “There were no questions about what happened or how it happened.”
Davey said the already-lengthy investigation was delayed further when it sat with city prosecutors for several months.
The probe of the November 2021 shooting by the attorney general’s office was completed in July, but prosecutors at the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office did not notify the state of its decision not to prosecute the case until Oct. 26, according to a statement by the attorney general’s office.
“Meanwhile, the officer sits answering the phone for a year because the Baltimore Police Department will not put him back on full-duty,” Davey said.
The Baltimore Police Department did not immediately respond to a question about Burch’s current duty status.
A bloody day in November 2021
An extensive review of footage and interviews by state investigators revealed the following: On Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, Burch was getting his hair cut by Jeffers in the back of the shop, while another barber was cutting another person’s hair next to them.
At around 3:08 p.m., Ortega entered the shop and reached for a gun in his waistband, racked the slide and said something in Spanish that is inaudible on surveillance footage, but what witnesses later recalled as either “This is for you not to mess with anyone,” or, “I told you not to mess with everybody.”
Eight seconds after he had entered the barbershop, Ortega fired twice at Jeffers, who fell immediately to the ground. Ortega then yelled in Spanish for Burch to move.
Burch used the opportunity to sneak behind Ortega, who had his back turned to him, and reach into a satchel he was wearing to take out his personal handgun.
Six seconds after Ortega shot Jeffers, Burch fired six shots, and Ortega fell on top of Jeffers in between the barber’s seat and the wall. Burch then trained his firearm on the front door and instructed the other barber to call police.
Earlier that day, police later determined, Ortega had been involved in two other shootings.
First, around 2:30 p.m. on East Oliver Street, Ortega got into an argument with someone who stabbed him, causing Ortega to retrieve a handgun from his apartment and shoot Jose Pena multiple times while he sat in his car, according to state investigators.
The state investigation is the first such report to mention the stabbing, and, due to redactions, it is not clear who stabbed Ortega. Pena, who survived his injuries, was identified as the shooting victim in a Baltimore police report.
After fleeing that scene, Ortega went to Eastern Avenue, where he shot and killed Villegas Cotto, another East Baltimore barber, according to state investigators. He then went to the Bladi Style Barber Shop, where Burch happened to be having his hair cut.
In determining whether Burch violated any laws, state investigators concluded it would be difficult to show that Burch did not act reasonably considering the danger to himself and others in the barber shop.