Questions Swirl Around the Case of Peyton Ham, a Maryland Teen Killed by Police

Peyton Ham was 16 years old when he was shot and killed by a police officer in Leonardtown, Maryland. It’s a very sad case, made far sadder by the questions swirling around his death, the seeming unwillingness of the police department to explain what happened and the lack of a public outcry that has followed other suspicious police shootings.

The details are sparse. On April 13 of this year, Maryland State Police say an officer responded to two 911 calls about a “suspicious” male on Hollywood Road. This officer believed Ham was pointing a real gun at him, and he opened fire, shooting even after the teen fell because he appeared to be pulling a knife. At the time, police said they didn’t know how many shots were fired or how many times Ham was hit.

Here are some details, via Defector.

The cops released a photo of a knife with a three-inch blade they say they found on Ham’s person, but no other weapon was found. The officer had evidently mistaken a toy gun for a real one, according to them. The officer’s name is Joseph Azzari, a fact only released to the public after weeks of pressure from Ham’s grieving family.

Police released almost no other details about the shooting. Police say the pair of 911 calls the sparked the confrontation were made by a male or males who did not offer a name or any other personal information. Police have released no video footage or audio recordings of the encounter. Ham’s friends and family held rallies to call for justice, which were attended by groups connected to Black Lives Matter and the NAACP, but authorities balked at releasing more info and the case stalled. Defector speculates that the lack of footage may have played a role in the lack of widespread media attention, allowing the state police to “basically act like the killing never happened.”

In August,  St. Mary’s County Times reported that they had acquired an audio recording of Ham’s shooting. They did not upload the recording for the public, nor did they say how they had gotten it, but reporter Guy Leonard described what he heard and it raises more questions than answers. As the County Times reports, according to Defector:

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  • At 1:26:35 p.m. on April 13 the trooper begins firing his service weapon, a Glock 22 .40 caliber pistol, which has a magazine capacity of 15 rounds.
  • At 1:26:39 p.m., the firing has stopped briefly after 10 shots; those shots were fired in five seconds.
  • At 1:26:42 p.m., the recording shows the trooper fired shot number 11 three seconds after the initial salvo. Evidence markers from the scene indicated the officer moved about nine to 12 feet closer to Ham before firing shot number 11.
  • At 1:27:30 p.m., emergency sirens can be heard, 48 seconds after the 11th shot was fired.
  • At 1:27:39 p.m., the officer opens fire again, firing four additional shots at close range, 57 seconds after shot number 11. The gunfire ended at 1:27:42 p.m.

The County Times says neither the police or the state’s attorney have contested their reporting of this audio. Police and prosecutors say they have been unable to determine how many of these 15 shots hit Ham. The St. Mary’s County state’s attorney says they have yet to finish their autopsy, for a boy who was killed in April.

The County Times also reports that the state’s attorney “hopes” to release their final report on the investigation into Ham’s death by the end of September. They’ve got, as of this writing, about 12 hours.

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