“I thought he was going to die,” 13-year-old John DeVault Jr. said of a Southwestern District Baltimore police officer shooting his unarmed uncle in the leg.
On Monday, the teen was waiting for 40-year-old John Joseph Rau to walk him home from an art studio near the 2400 block of Washington Boulevard where he had just finished class.
At just after 7 p.m. – as Rau was approaching the studio – Devault Jr. says he witnessed commander Maj. Byron Conaway get out of a black police vehicle, yell, point his gun at his uncle, and then pull the trigger.
Police claim Rau refused to follow an order to show his hands, which caused Conaway to fire.
“He wasn’t resisting,” DeVault Jr. said. “His hand was out of his pocket, one had a cigarette in his hand – and he kept saying it was a chapstick.”
The teens mother, Dianna Warren, said her family is infuriated about the situation and claims that police lied when they said that Conaway immediately gave medical aid to Rau by administering a tourniquet.
Instead, the woman asserts that the truth of the matter is that Conaway stood over Rau with a gun and ordered others away as he lay on the street until a medic arrived with an ambulance that tended to the bullet wound.
“It was the same thing as this,” Warren told local reporters as she held up a small ball-shaped container of lip balm (pictured above). “This is what he had in his pocket of his hoodie. [Rau] told officers several times it was a chapstick. [He said] ‘all I have is a chapstick.’ When [the officer] shot him and he hit the ground, that’s what he had in his hand: a chapstick.”
“How do you explain [something like this] to a 13-year-old?” Warren asked. “He’s asking me, ‘If police stop me, should I run?’ I don’t want my child to run, but…”
Rau, who is now confined to a wheelchair, said Tuesday that his wound “hurts bad” – and that he plans to file a lawsuit against the Police Department. He did not otherwise elaborate about the incident.
Despite being commander of the district, Conaway has been placed on administrative duty. The 16-year veteran has faced scrutiny in the past.
In 2011, Baltimore settled a case brought forth by Terrell Perkins, which alleged that Conaway and other officers beat him without provocation during an interrogation in 2007, after the store he worked for was robbed.
Perkins claimed he was “physically battered” by the officers after they told him he was not under arrest and he tried to leave the room. He was charged with assaulting Conaway and with resisting arrest.
A jury would latter dismiss the assault charge and acquit Perkins of resisting arrest. He then sued the city, saying the officers had violated his rights, and won $67,500.
“I don’t understand why he shot him,” DeVault Jr. said holding back tears in reference to Monday’s incident. “He kept saying he had a chapstick and that was it. And [the officer] shot him anyway. I don’t know why you’d feel threatened by a chapstick.”