After fatal shooting, county officers receive awards for valor

Two officers have been given awards for valor by the Baltimore County Police Foundation for their role in an incident in which one shot and killed a Texas man allegedly involved in a Dundalk burglary.

North Point Precinct officers Jacob T. Heins, a 12-year veteran, and Phillip G. Twisdale, with six years on the force, have returned to their jobs after county prosecutors declined to charge them in the incident that killed 22-year-old Joshua Michael Lopez.

Both were hailed at an awards dinner in Hunt Valley "for their bravery and heroism during a life or death struggle," according to the program of the Tuesday event held by the foundation.

Lopez' relatives had said in September they were outraged by his death at the hands of police, and they questioned the account given at the time of a struggle. They demanded an outside investigation. The family did not return calls Wednesday.

Cole B. Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, said "it was a very serious incident, and we are glad that they [the officers] acted appropriately. It was nice to see the police foundation recognize them."

An investigative file obtained by The Baltimore Sun under a Maryland Public Information Act request paints the following picture of the Sept. 23 encounter between the officers and Lopez, a Navy quartermaster based in Norfolk, Va.:

Police had been responding to reports of break-ins in the Dundalk neighborhood, and several residents had called after reporting young men wandering through dark streets with backpacks.

The file says Heins noticed a young man in a white T-shirt and gloves carrying a black backpack in the 7800 block of Seaside Drive.

After speaking with the officers, Lopez gave the bag to Heins. As Heins walked to his patrol car, the file says, Lopez started to follow him. Twisdale attempted to steer Lopez away, but the three became involved in an altercation.

During the fight, Heins struck Lopez with his flashlight but dropped it, and pulled a second one from his belt. He could not call for assistance, the documents said, because his radio had been ripped from his shirt and was out of reach.

Heins said he then sprayed Lopez three times in the face with pepper spray, but the suspect still continued to resist. Heins dropped his second flashlight before striking Lopez in the legs and back with a baton. Twisdale was attempting to restrain the man throughout the confrontation, the files say.

"He's going for my gun! He's got my gun!" Twisdale told Heins, according to the report.

Heins then dropped his baton, grabbed his gun and shot Lopez in the head and neck.

Surveillance video from a nearby home shows the officers stopping Lopez about 2:20 a.m., the report said. About a minute later, the men are seen on the ground fighting, and about two minutes after that, one person stands and it appears the fight has ended.

The investigative file says another man who had been with Lopez told them the two had stolen items from a car, entered a home and tried to take a television set but woke the resident.

Lopez and two other men were being investigated by authorities for similar thefts in Norfolk, the file said. Stolen property had been recovered from Lopez's home after authorities executed search warrants.

Nicholas Layman, 20, of Dundalk, is charged with burglary. His trial is scheduled for May 1. His attorney did not respond to calls seeking comment Wednesday.

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