SUICIDE BY COP: CELL PHONE REVEALS PEYTON HAM PLACED CALLS TO 911 THAT LED TROOPER TO HIS TRAP
From: Richard D. Fritz, State’s Attorney
Colonel Woodrow W. Jones Ill
Maryland Department of the State Police
1201 Reisterstown Road
Pikesville, Maryland 21208
Date October 19, 2021
SUBJECT: Fatal Officer-Involved Shooting of P. H,
The Office of the State’s Attorney has completed its review of the fatal shooting of P. H. I on April 13, 2021, by Maryland State Police Trooper Joseph Azzari.
We based our investigation on MSP and other police agency reports, 9-1-1 calls, radio transmissions and records, CAD reports, crime scene and aerial drone photographs, a mobile phone Live Photo, eyewitness statements and recorded interviews, medical examiner postmortem and forensic reports, Saint Mary’s County Public School records, Amazon Blink camera records, and other evidence submitted to this office by the Maryland State Police Homicide Unit (MSP). We weighed the voluntary statement of the involved officer in this analysis. The Saint Mary’s County Grand Jury also participated in this investigation, and we considered those proceedings in our examination.
The Office of State’s Attorney has the responsibility to review the use of deadly force by law enforcement in Saint Mary’s County and determine whether it was used in conformity with the law. Our review is a criminal investigation, not a review of tactics or procedures used by law enforcement. As such, we focus on whether, under Maryland law, the use of force was justified because the officer actually and reasonably believed that such action was necessary to defend against the imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person.
Prosecutors are required to meet two standards before seeking an indictment in a criminal case. First, we must be convinced that a potential defendant committed a crime. Second, we must also conclude that we would likely prevail at trial, based upon admissible and reliable evidence, where we must prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether to bring charges is one of the most considered decisions that a prosecutor makes in any case, especially where, like here, there has been a tragic loss of life.
In order to make the proper assessment under these standards, our prosecutors and
P. H. was 16 years old at the time of this incident.
investigators evaluated physical and forensic reports and testimonial evidence in the form of witness accounts. We compared witness accounts to the physical and forensic evidence, to other credible witness accounts, and witness’ prior statements made throughout the investigation, including proceedings before the Grand Jury. We worked with MSP, our investigators, and the Grand Jury to interview witnesses to evaluate their accounts and obtain more detailed information. In doing so, we assessed the witness’ demeanor, tone, bias, and ability to accurately perceive or recall the events of April 13, 2021. We credited and determined that a jury would appropriately credit those witnesses whose accounts were consistent with the physical and crime scene evidence and with other credible witness accounts. We did not credit and determined that a jury would not credit those witness accounts that were contrary to the physical and forensic evidence and with other credible witness accounts.
Based on our investigation and analysis, we have concluded that P. H. intentionally engaged in behavior that posed an apparent risk of imminent serious injury or death, with the intent to precipitate the use of deadly force by law enforcement personnel towards himself. As a result of P. H. l s actions, Trooper Azzari was in reasonable fear for his life considering the facts and circumstances confronting him and acted in lawful self-defense and the defense of others when he fired his duty weapon at P. H. The evidence, viewed as a whole, supports the conclusion that Trooper Azzari’s use of deadly force was reasonable under Maryland law. Accordingly, we will not file criminal charges, and this matter will be closed without prosecution.
Summary of the Evidence
The encounter between Trooper Azzari and P. H. took place over an approximately two-minute period beginning at about 1:26 p.m. on April 13, 2021. Trooper Azzari was on duty and driving his MSP-issued marked patrol vehicle. MSP did not equip Trooper Azzari with a Taser or with a body-worn camera.
On April 13, 2021, P. H. made two calls to 9-1-1, reporting a suspicious man with a gun at his residence at Hollywood Road in Leonardtown, Maryland. During the first call at 1:21 p.m., P. H. stated, “Uh, there’s some guy acting suspicious; I think he has a gun, come here now. ” During the second call at 1 :23 p.m., P. H. stated, “Uh,
Hollywood Road, Maryland. Um, there’s some guy acting suspicious; I think he has a gun, can you, just come now, man.
St. Mary’s County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) broadcasted a dispatch to all police officers in the area, notifying them of the information described by P. H. and the location = Hollywood Road in Leonardtown. Investigators later learned that P. H. made the calls from a phone found with him, and the number provided at the beginning of the first 9-1-1 call belonged to a relative of P. H.
At approximately 1:26 p.m., Trooper Azzari arrived at the location first from the nearby MSP Barrack, wearing a full police uniform and driving marked MSP vehicle T13. Trooper Azzari stated he did not activate his lights or sirens for tactical reasons to not alert any potential suspect of his arrival. Trooper Azzari parked behind
Hollywood Road, the driveway next door to —and was immediately confronted by P. H., who came from behind a parked vehicle in the driveway of Trooper Azzari stated that P. H. was walking towards him, saying: “I have a gun. ” P. H. displayed a replica Sig Sauer P250 firearm bearing markings of an actual P250 handgun but designed to shoot BB-style projectiles. The reproduction is nearly impossible to distinguish from a real firearm without close inspection and was not outfitted with an orange tip or other indication that it was designed to shoot pellets.
Witnesses stated that Trooper Azzari had just exited his patrol vehicle, and P. H. was approximately 17 feet away from Trooper Azzari. P. H. was holding a large gun with both hands, with his elbows locked out and the gun pointed at Trooper Azzari. Trooper Azzari drew his MSP duty weapon and gave numerous commands to P. H. to drop his gun, but P. H. continued to approach him with his weapon pointed at Trooper Azzari. Trooper Azzari fired 11 rounds at P. H., striking him. Trooper Azzari ordered P. H. to the ground and, at 1 p.m., advised ECC that shots had been fired and the suspect was down.
Immediately after the initial shooting, the evidence establishes that Trooper Azzari approached P. H. to render medical assistance. Trooper Azzari gave numerous commands for P. H. to lay on the ground while searching around him to determine whether there were any more weapons present. However, as Trooper Azzari approached him, P. H. removed a knife from his pocket and brandished it while beginning to stand back up. During this encounter, P. H. stated to Trooper Azzari that he wanted to die. Trooper Azzari gave numerous commands for P. H. to drop his knife, as did several witnesses. Trooper Azzari fired four more rounds after P. H. ignored his repeated orders to drop the knife.
Trooper Azzari immediately responded to his patrol vehicle to retrieve his medical bag and render further aid to P. H. However, additional police officers arrived and began administering CPR and attempted lifesaving measures. A short time later, St. Maryt s County Emergency Medical Service (EMS) units arrived and took over medical intervention and resuscitation efforts. P. H. later succumbed to his injuries.
Initial Law Enforcement Investigation.
Within minutes of Trooper Azzari’s initial encounter with P, H. on April 13, 2021, MSP Troopers and Saint Mary’s County Sheriff’s Department officers (SMCSD) responded to the shooting scene, along with EMS personnel. At approximately 1:45 p.m., the MSP Homicide Unit assumed the investigation. Law enforcement notified the State’s Attorney’s Office of this shooting at approximately 3:00 p.m., and we responded to the location to receive a briefing and walk-through of the scene. Thereafter, MSP Homicide and our office conducted cooperative yet independent investigations into the shooting.
Trooper Azzari’s Account
MSP Trooper Joseph Azzari stated that he shot P. H. in response to a perceived deadly threat. Trooper Azzari made a voluntary statement following the shooting to MSP investigators on April 19, 2021. MSP recorded the interview, and his attorney was present.
Trooper Azzari has been a member of the Maryland State Police for approximately two years and seven months. Trooper Azzari was working a day shift on April 13, 2021. He was at the Leonardtown MSP Barrack preparing for court when a county-wide ECC dispatch reported a man with a gun in a neighborhood nearby, at Hollywood Road in Leonardtown. Given the severity of the call and his location, approximately 550 feet away, he responded immediately. Trooper Azzari did not activate his lights or sirens, trying not to alert any potential suspect of his arrival. As a result, the in-car camera was not activated.
The evidence indicated Trooper Azzari pulled into — Hollywood Road, the driveway next to the location reported by ECC, and pulled to the back of that residence. Trooper Azzari stated that he observed a white male coming from behind a car parked next door at Hollywood Road immediately upon exiting his vehicle. Trooper Azzari described the male as largerwith long hair and indicated that he was armed with what he believed to be a handgun in his right hand, pointed at Trooper Azzari. A report from an eyewitness traveling past the scene on Hollywood Road at the same time supports this account.
Trooper Azzari reported that P. H. ignored numerous loud and clear commands to drop the weapon while the suspect was only a few yards away. Fearing for his life, he believed deadly force was the only option available to him at that point. Trooper Azzari stated that he fired his service weapon at P. H., striking him, and that P. H. released the gun. 5 Trooper Azzari immediately radioed that shots had been fired and that P. H. had been injured and requested emergency medical assistance to his location.
Trooper Azzari explained that he noticed that P. H. had received an injury as a result of the gunfire, so he retrieved a tourniquet from his duty belt and approached P. H. to render emergency first aid. Trooper Azzari circled P. H. while he was kneeling to ascertain whether other weapons were present. Trooper Azzari reported that while he was very near P. H. and attempting to begin medical aid, he gave numerous commands to P. H. to lay on the ground. However, as Trooper Azzari approached him, P. H. removed a knife from his pocket and brandished it while beginning to stand back up. P. H. stated to Trooper Azzari that he wanted to die. Trooper Azzari gave numerous commands for P. H. to drop his knife, as did several other witnesses present, including relatives of P. H. A very short (approximately two-second) Live Phot0is consistent with this part of Trooper Azzari’s account.
Trooper Azzari’s s explanation, and that of witnesses present, indicate that P. H. refused numerous commands given by Trooper Azzari to lie on the ground and drop the weapon. Multiple witnesses said that they also asked P. H. to drop the knife, but he did not. Trooper Azzari reported that P. H. then said he wanted to die and stood up and approached Trooper Azzari with his knife still in his hand. Trooper Azzari was once more in fear for his life and discharged his weapon again.
Trooper Azzari immediately responded to his patrol vehicle to retrieve his medical bag and render further aid to P. H. However, additional police officers and EMS personnel arrived and began administering CPR and attempted lifesaving measures.
Statement of Patricia W.
Patricia W. called the MSP Leonardtown Barrack and reported to the police that she and her adult son were out running errands and heading south on Hollywood Road at the time of this incident. MSP investigators responded to Patricia W. t s home and conducted an interview. MSP recorded the interview, and her adult son was present.
Patricia W. was in her vehicle heading south on Hollywood Road when she observed P. H. holding a gun with both hands, with his elbows locked out and the gun pointed at Trooper Azzari, she advised that Trooper Azzari also had his weapon drawn and was standing near his car, approximately 15 feet from P. H. Patricia W. described P. H. t s gun as “large.” Patricia W. noticed Trooper Azzari appeared to be calm, and P. H. appeared to be very angry. As she drove by, Patricia W. could see Trooper Azzari speaking but could not hear him, A short time later, she heard gunfire.
Ballistic evidence indicates that Trooper Azzari initially fired 11 rounds.
Statement of Michelle M.
Michelle M. was interviewed by MSP on April 13, 2021, at approximately 3:45
p.m., with her adult daughter Allison M. present. MSP recorded that interview. Michelle M. resides next door to P. H. at —Hollywood Road, and this incident partially occurred on her property. Michelle M. and Allison M. reported that they were inside their residence when they heard gunshots very close to their house, Michelle M. went to her window, which faced —Hollywood Road, and from there saw Trooper Azzari and P. H. Michelle M. heard Trooper Azzari ordering P. H. to the ground and saw P, H. comply for a short time.
Michelle M. saw Trooper Azzari very close to P. H., who was kneeling on the ground and bleeding, when P. H. retrieved the knife from his pocket and began to stand up. According to Michelle M., Trooper Azzari repeatedly ordered P. H. to drop the knife. She heard P. H.’s relative, standing on her porch at— Hollywood Road, also shout for P. H. to drop the knife. Michelle M. indicated that she also told P. H. to drop the knife, but he did not. Michelle M. stated that when P. H. attempted to stand up, he was facing the officer and still holding the knife and that Trooper Azzari fired again.
Michelle M. – Live Photo
At approximately 1 p.m., Michelle M. captured a Live Photo on her iPhone and provided it to MSP. In the Live Photo, P. H. is kneeling on the ground with an object in his hand. Trooper Azzari is clearly and loudly ordering him to “Put the knife down! while he walks from the back of P. H. to the front. In the Live Photo, witness Kellee B. appears on her porch a short distance away, and responding SMCSD officers are passing by the scene with their emergency equipment activated. According to dispatch records, the SMCSD officers would return to the location a short time later after mistakenly passing it.
Statement of Kellee B.
On Friday, April 16, 2021, MSP investigators interviewed Kellee B. at her residence at — Hollywood Road. Kellee B. is a relative of P. H. and declined to speak with investigators on the scene during the initial investigation. For this recorded interview, Kellee B.’s attorney was present.
On April 13, 2021, Kellee B. was in the back bedroom of her residence when she heard approximately seven gunshots. She ran to the front of the house and told her mother to get down on the ground. As they were gathering themselves, her mother looked out of the front of the house and stated, “I think that’s P. ” Kellee B. looked out of the house and saw someone standing in the driveway adjacent to her house, but the person was facing away. As P. H. pivoted and stood up, directly facing Trooper Azzari, she recognized him. Kellee B. heard Trooper Azzari say, “Drop the knife!” Kellee B. said that she also began yelling for P. H. to drop the knife. She could see the weapon in P. H.’s right hand. Kellee B. noted that when she yelled to P. H., he did not acknowledge her or say anything to her directly, but she did see him say something to Trooper Azzari, although she could not make out what it was. She said P. H. was shaking his head and mumbling, so she could not hear what he said, but she saw his mouth moving. Kellee B. reported that P. H. was standing up with the knife in his hand when Trooper Azzari fired an additional three or four shots.
Statement of Victoria B.
On Friday, April 16, 2021, MSP investigators interviewed Victoria B. at her residence at—Hollywood Road. Victoria B. is related to P. H. and declined to speak with investigators on the scene during the initial investigation. For this recorded interview, Victoria B. l s attorney was present.
On April 13, 2021, Victoria B. was in her kitchen when she heard loud bangs and looked out her living room window. Victoria B. saw a police officer walking towards their house, and she yelled to Kellee B. that the noises were gunshots. Victoria B. said that she ran back to the kitchen and looked out of the front door, where she saw someone standing in the driveway next to her house. At this point, Victoria B. said she couldn’t be sure who the person was but wondered if it was P. H. Victoria B. walked to the front door but not onto the porch, and when P. H. turned around, she recognized him. Victoria B. reported that when P. H. turned to face the police officer, the officer said to him, “You dropped the gun; now drop the knife, ” Victoria B. indicated that Trooper Azzari repeatedly ordered P. H. to drop the knife, but he refused.
Victoria B. said she heard Kellee B. yell for P. H. to drop the knife, so she also cried, “P., just drop the knife!” twice. Victoria B. said that Trooper Azzari gave numerous orders for P. H. to drop the knife and then fired what she believed to be three rounds, which struck P. H. in the chest and caused him to fall to the ground. Victoria B. stated she was unsure why P. H. would engage in this behavior.
Physical and Forensic Evidence Scene
The investigation indicated that Trooper Azzari fired a total of fifteen (15) rounds from his MSP-issued Glock 22 handgun. Trooper Azzari fired the rounds in two separate events during the same incident. Investigators recovered fifteen total .40 caliber shell casings and took numerous location and aerial drone photographs. MSP detectives also secured body-worn camera footage from responding SMCSD officers.
P. H.’s Mobile Phone
As part of this investigation, the MSP Computer Crimes Forensic Laboratory completed an extraction of an iPhone found with P. H. upon the initial arrival of EMS personnel. The forensic extraction of the mobile device indicated that P. H, was the primary user of the phone.
Other information from the forensic extraction relevant to this investigation and analysis includes discussions by P. H. with school faculty and others concerning his grades. On April 13, 2021, during the hours immediately before this incident, P. H. discussed with others his current grades and the reasons for him having to soon return to school four days per week. There were no other apparent stressors, conflicts, or issues identified in the extraction.
The extraction indicates one outgoing phone call to 9-1-1 at 1:21 p.m. that lasts 1 1 seconds and another call to 9-1-1 at 1:23 p.m. that lasts 15 seconds. There was no fürther outgoing activity on the phone.
MSP investigators recovered a hand-written note from a pocket of the shorts that P. H. was wearing during this incident. The message had one word: “Sorry.”
Blink Security Cameras
Pursuant to a search warrant, MSP investigators obtained videos and records from Amazon Blink security cameras at P. H.’s residence at Hollywood Road. None of the videos returned by Amazon included events immediately preceding or during this incident. However, one video shows witness Victoria B. on the front steps of Hollywood Road immediately following the shooting as police and EMS responded to the incident.
Search warrant records showed that an authorized Blink account user deleted 73 security camera videos from April 13 to April 14, 2021. Records returned under the search warrant specified that most of the videos were “deleted by client name Michael’s iPhone.” During an interview with Michael B. , a resident of—Hollywood Road, he indicated to MSP investigators that he had not deleted any videos and that any such deletions were probably deleted automatically by the system due to storage space issues. However, the Amazon search warrant reports indicate that any videos deleted by the system would show a “0” in the “deleted by client number” column, and not “Michael’s iPhone.”
An autopsy was conducted on P. H.’s body by the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) on April 14, 2021. The autopsy indicated seven gunshot wounds of the neck (2), chest (l), left shoulder (1), left arm (2), and right forearm (l) with associated injuries to the internal organs, as well as internal bleeding. The examiner recovered five bullets. There was no visible evidence of close-range fire on the skin surrounding any of the entrance wounds.
Controlling legal authority, including precedent from the United States Supreme Court and the Maryland Court of Appeals, establishes that it was reasonable for Trooper Azzari to perceive P. H.’s actions as a threat of death or serious physical harm while P. H. was pointing what appeared to be a firearm at him. After that, when P. H. pulled a knife from his pocket and moved towards Trooper Azzari while refusing repeated commands to drop the weapon, it was reasonable for Trooper Azzari to believe that P. H. would try to harm him again.
We must judge the reasonableness of police use of force from an officer’s perspective on the scene rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The determination of reasonableness must consider that their sworn duties to our community often require police officers to make split-second judgments about the amount of force necessary in a situation in tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving circumstances.
Based upon our investigation and analysis, we find that the intentional actions of P. H. triggered this tragic course of events and that Trooper Azzari was in reasonable fear for his life considering the facts and circumstances confronting him. Accordingly, Trooper Azzari acted in lawful self-defense and the defense of others when he fired his duty weapon at P. H. The evidence, viewed as a whole, supports the conclusion that Trooper Azzarits use of deadly force was reasonable under Maryland law. Accordingly, we will not file criminal charges, and this matter will be closed without prosecution.
 Before becoming a police officer, Trooper Azzari served in the United States Marine Corps.
 Hollywood Road is a busy thoroughfare in Leonardtown, Md. Schools, businesses, government offices, and residences are all located in this area.
 According to the Medical Examiner’s report, P. H. was 6 foot tall and weighed over 200 pounds.
 Live Photos is an Apple technology that allows a single photo to both be a still image and, when activated, a short video with motion and sound.
 “With this new guidance, we will begin offering in-person instruction four days a week for targeted groups of students. Beginning Monday, April 12, 2021, the following groups of students will be able to attend classes Monday-Thursday: Students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs); English Language Learners (ELLs); Homeless students; Students who are failing more than two core classes. Superintendent’s Letter, March 25, 2021. https://www.smcps.org/fonns/strategic-planning/718-letterfrom-the-superintendent-moving-towards -the4th-quarter-mar-25-2021/file
TROOPER INVOLVED IN FATAL SHOOTING ON APRIL 13, 2021 IN LEONARDTOWN, MD IDENTIFIED
Maryland State Police Homicide Unit investigators are continuing an investigation into a trooper-involved shooting that occurred in Leonardtown on April 13, 2021. The involved trooper is identified as Trooper Joseph Azzari, who is assigned to the Leonardtown Barrack as a road patrol trooper. He has been a Maryland state trooper for two years and seven months.
Trooper Azzari remains on administrative leave pending the results of the ongoing investigation.
This is the procedure in trooper-involved shootings. The Maryland State Police Internal Affairs
The division is conducting an administrative investigation. This is also a standard procedure.
Upon completion of the criminal investigation, it will be presented to the St. Mary’s County State’s Attorney’s Office for review.
LEONARDTOWN, MD. – The police investigation of the cell phone number used to make two 911 calls to the St. Mary’s Emergency Control Center has revealed the phone was used by Peyton Alexander Ham in a tragic case of suicide by cop.
An examination of the phone, according to sources close to the investigation, reveals information that drug use, depression, and a desire to commit suicide led up to the calls that brought a Maryland trooper to the house next door to where he lives and the fatal shooting on Hollywood Road in Leonardtown, Maryland, on April 13, 2021.
The scenario of the shooting, which left bullet holes in the house across the street from where the shooting took place occurred in this way, THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY has learned: the Maryland trooper, who is still not yet identified, got out of his vehicle and didn’t see anyone around. The trooper began to walk around the property and suddenly Peyton Ham came out from a concealed place and took a shooting stance and aimed his replica gun at the trooper. The trooper immediately fired. Ham then pulled a knife on the trooper and the trooper fired again, with the result of the gunfire leaving one bullet wound in the groin and two in the chest of Ham.
Maryland State Police Media Relations Commander Greg Shipley has been contacted to confirm the information reported to have been gleaned from Ham’s cell phone is correct.
In an email, Shipley responded: “The Maryland State Police investigation is continuing. I cannot confirm your allegation.”
A message requesting a statement on this development for attorney Chris Longmore, who said he is the family spokesman of Peyton Ham, has not been returned, as his receptionist stated he is working remotely.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255.
Suicide by cop’ becomes more challenging as suicide rates rise
FROM BEHIND THE BADGE:
One of the big public health crises of recent years has been the increase in rates of suicide over the last few decades in the United States. According to the National Center of Health Statistics there has been a 33 percent increase in the rate of suicide from 1997 to 2017.
The increase in suicide has created unique challenges for law enforcement and their response to these incidents, in particular the police response to incidents where victims precipitate a response in order to get the police to kill them — referred to as “suicide by cop.”
California Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) defines “suicide by cop” (SBC) as when a person ‘‘engages in behavior which poses an apparent risk of serious injury or death, with the intent to precipitate the use of deadly force by law enforcement personnel towards that individual.”
According to a report by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), “each year from 2015 to 2018 there were approximately 900 to 1,000 fatal officer-involved shootings in the United States. By various estimates, approximately 10 to 29 percent or more of officer-involved shootings involve Suicide by Cop incidents.”
According to PERF, an SBC event has certain defining characteristics: A subject threatens the life of the officer or another person, or attempts to make the officer believe he poses such a threat, in order to give the officer no choice but to use lethal force to stop the threat.
In other words, the person cannot bring themselves to take their own life, so they create a scenario in which police are compelled to use deadly force. Across the country officers are being trained in de-escalation in order to disrupt the attempts of those seeking a fatal encounter with police.
Despite additional training these encounters can oftentimes be spontaneous and dynamic events that do not always allow for a graduated response.
One such case was in June 2019. A Fullerton police officer was on his way to the vet with his K9 when a vehicle appeared to intentionally speed by him. When the officer attempted to stop the vehicle, it made contact with his unit and ended up facing toward him the wrong way on the freeway. Getting out of his police unit the officer attempted to engage the female driver. In body camera footage that was later released you can see the female driver in a shooting stance with a firearm pointed at the officer. The officer responded with lethal force and, despite heroic attempts at rendering aid, the driver later passed away. MORE