Baltimore prosecutors found Officer Zachary Rutherford was justified for fatally shooting Tyree “Colion” Moorehead when the community activist attacked a woman in the street last year.
The Office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates released a 16-page investigation of the incident Friday and concluded there would be no criminal charges against the officer.
“As the officers were approaching and ordering the Involved Citizen [Moorehead] to ‘get down,’ he threw himself on top of the female citizen and held the knife close to her face and neck,” investigators wrote in the report. “At this point Officer Rutherford began to shoot his service weapon upon the Involved Citizen. The officer had a reasonable belief that the Involved Citizen was armed and presented an imminent threat to the life of the Victim.”
Moorehead, 48, was known as a community activist for spray-painting “No Shoot Zone” hundreds of times across Baltimore. Three months before his death, he had been shot in his neck. A friend said Moorehead fell into a state of anguish from the lingering trauma of his injury and a recent stint in jail.
A bystander’s cellphone video of the police shooting spread on social media and showed Moorehead struggling with someone in the street when a police SUV pulls up. Fellow activists said the behavior seen in the video was totally out of character for Moorehead.
A Baltimore Police Department spokesman could not immediately provide Rutherford’s status on Friday evening. Following the shooting, he was placed on administrative duty pending the results of an investigation.
On the afternoon of Nov. 6, 2022, police were called to North Fulton and West Lafayette avenues in West Baltimore for reports of a man armed with a knife and threatening a woman.
Investigators later interviewed the woman, who was not identified in the report. She told investigators that she did not know Moorehead and was walking in the street when he approached her holding a knife and asked for water. She said he grabbed her and began to drag her into the street by her purse, according to the report.
When police arrived and saw Moorehead holding the knife over the woman, Rutherford ran toward them and shouted “get down,” wrote investigators, who reviewed the officer’s body-worn camera.
“At which time the Involved Citizen launched on top of the Victim with his head burrowed in her pelvic region. As he laid on top of the Victim, the Involved Citizen remained holding the large knife within inches of the Victim’s face,” investigators wrote.
According to the report, Rutherford fired four shots before Moorehead began to roll off the victim. He still held onto the knife and Rutherford fired an additional nine shots.
“As soon as Officer Rutherford stopped shooting, the Involved Citizen stretched his right arm toward the curb while still holding the knife and Rutherford fired a fourteenth and final shot which finally caused the Involved Citizen to stop all movement and drop the knife,” investigators wrote.
Moorehead was pronounced dead at the hospital. The woman was unharmed.
In the days after the shooting, some community activists questioned why Rutherford fired so many shots. Others speculated online that Moorehead had intended to instigate police into shooting him — what’s known as “suicide by cop.”
Moorehead’s father, who was not identified in the report, had arrived before police and tried to persuade his son to put down the knife. During an interview later with investigators, he speculated that his son was fighting with the woman over the purse because it may have contained drugs, according to the report.
“He expressed that he did not believe the officer should have fired as many shots as he did,” investigators wrote. “He alleged that his son was fully incapacitated after the first four shots were fired and that he no longer posed a threat.”
In the report, investigators made no determination of Moorehead’s motivations.