Wicomico County’s state’s attorney said he’s convinced the Salisbury police officer involved in the shooting of fugitive James Norris on Feb. 3 did nothing wrong, and in fact put his life in danger to protect fellow officers.
Officer Milton Rodriguez struggled with Norris — wanted on weapons and related charges and known to be distributing drugs in the Delmar area — trying to restrain him and ordering him to show his hands, but Norris refused.
When Rodriguez felt himself losing his grip on the man’s wrists, he fired his weapon. Norris also fired one of the two guns he was carrying as he sat that afternoon in a friend’s car. It had had been stopped by a state trooper on Route 13 south in Salisbury.
“It is unreasonable to suggest Rodriguez could have backed away without jeopardizing his and all others’ lives and safety,” State’s Attorney Matthew Maciarello said. The taking of any life is tragic, he said, but Rodriguez’s quick actions saved his and other officers’ lives.
He showed the media a video recording of the incident, explaining Rodriguez, 50, an 18-year veteran of the police department and four-year member of the Maryland State Apprehension Team, had gotten a tip that Norris was in the car, being driven south on Route 13. The driver was his friend, a woman identified only as T.L. Her full name was withheld to protect her.
Later, she told police Norris noticed the Maryland State Police car behind them as they drove, became nervous, and asked if her car’s registration was current and exterior lights were working.
The trooper who stopped them was Stephen Hallman, who had been radioed and asked to identify the passenger, to determine if it was Norris, whose criminal history record lists multiple convictions.
Hallman stopped the car and approached the driver’s side. As Norris kept a close eye on him, Rodriguez, who had received a tip Norris was in the car, but who didn’t know how much information Hallman had, walked up to the passenger side window and knocked.
Norris rolled down the window. Rodriguez asked his name and he replied, “James,” then muttered a string of words ending in “die.”
Rodriguez saw Norris’ hands rotating in his pockets. When he spotted a handgun, he tried to hold Norris’ wrists, yelling, “Don’t move. Don’t move.”
Rodriguez later reported that Norris said, “Kill me or I am killing you” and the struggle continued.
Later, Rodriguez told investigators, “I grabbed his wrist area with my left hand, his right wrist area with my left, and I tried to push him as hard as I could I guess into the middle of the vehicle so he couldn’t move his other hand … but he started to come out and that’s, you know, that’s when … I was yelling at him to stop. Don’t move. Stop. Don’t move. And … I yelled it a lot, and he wouldn’t do it.”
Meantime, State Trooper Kevin Secrist arrived, opened the back door and tried to pin Norris’ arms against the seat. He heard two gunshots, and felt Norris go limp.
It isn’t certain if Norris killed himself, or if Rodriguez’s bullet claimed the 26-year-old man, who had been convicted of drug violations, probation violations, felony criminal conduct, receiving stolen property, burglary and terroristic threatening.
“Rodriguez thought he brought his head down and shot himself but it escalated quickly … The bullets are indiscriminate. They just go,” Maciarello said
Autopsy pictures, shown but not released to the media, revealed a bullet hole 5¾ inches below the top of Norris’ head, exit wound and several tattoos, including flaming skulls across his chest.
Others said “Stop snitchin,” “Trap 5th star,” “Mob,” and “West side.”
Maciarello wouldn’t speculate on a correlation between the tattoos and gang activity, saying he wanted to preserve some dignity for Norris. “The tattoos speak for themselves,” he said.
As for Rodriguez, “didn’t do anything at all wrong,” Maciarello said.
“His actions were absolutely justifiable.”
Reach Susan Canfora at email@example.com.