"A Blue Wall
The Washington Post presents a four-part series about shootings by Prince
George's County police officers.
Over the course of
15 months, Post reporters Craig Whitlock and David Fallis found that officers
had shot and killed people at rates that exceeded those of almost every other
large police force in the nation.
Since 1990, they
have shot 122 people, killing 47 of them. Almost half of those shot were
unarmed, and many had committed no crime. Prince George's top police officials,
unlike those in many other police departments, ruled that every one of the
shootings was justified.
We present some of
their stories here.
Gary A. Hopkins, Jr.
Nov. 27, 1999, Age 19
Hopkins, a college
student, was killed in the parking lot of the West Lanham Hills fire station as
he was leaving a late-night party with a carload of friends. Police said that
they stopped the car after someone told them a passenger was carrying a gun.
Authorities said Hopkins got out of the car and tried to grab an officer's gun
out of his hand. According to the police report, as the officer and Hopkins
wrestled for the weapon, a second officer, Brian C. Catlett, shot Hopkins once
in the chest. Witnesses said that Hopkins was shot without provocation and that
prior to the shooting, the same officers had harassed Hopkins and his friends.
Catlett was later indicted on charges of manslaughter, making him the only
Prince George's officer to face criminal charges for killing someone while in
uniform. Catlett did not respond to letters and phone calls by The Post seeking
comment. A Circuit Court judge subsequently found him not guilty.
Gary Leonard Sanford
May 20, 1998, Age 42
Sanford stopped his truck
along Route 1 in Hyattsville after a night of drinking. Cpl. Joseph M. Palmieri
approached him, then shot Sanford because, Palmieri said, he thought Sanford was
reaching for gun. Sanford, who was unarmed, bled to death.
May 23, 1996, Age 35
Partee and a white
friend were driving through Oxon Hill when they were spotted by Sgt. Richard
Logue. Logue and his partner followed the pair for several blocks before pulling
them over for going 43 mph in a 25 mph zone. The officers said as they stopped,
Partee reached for something under his seat and ran from the car. Logue chased
him. As they turned a corner, Partee stumbled and Logue said he saw a
"glistening black object" in Partee's hand. Logue fired, but the
bullet missed. Partee threw away the object, then tried to crawl away. Logue
said that when Partee then reached into his pants for another "black
object," Logue shot him twice, once in the back of each leg. According to
court records, the first object turned out to be an address book; the second, a
pouch containing marijuana and heroin. There was no gun. Partee was convicted on
drug possession charges, but appellate judges overturned the conviction, calling
the arrest and shooting an "illegal action."
Daniel Jose Torres
Nov. 20, 1998, Age 32
was waiting for his order at a Popeye's Fried Chicken restaurant when he was
confronted by Cpl. Alita V. Robinson. Robinson, who was in uniform and
moonlighting as a security guard at the restaurant, said she saw something that
appeared to be a marijuana-filled cigar behind Torres's ear. However, by the
time Robinson approached Torres, the object was gone. Robinson said she
pepper-sprayed Torres, who had initially been cooperative, after he stopped
complying and "pushed back toward me - real hard." Robinson then shot
Torres after she said he reached into his waistband. Torres was hit by one
bullet in the back and another in the buttocks. Police charged him with
second-degree assault and resisting arrest. Prosecutors added two more charges:
drug possession and failure to obey an officer. A judge found Torres not guilty,
saying police had no right to arrest him and that he was legally entitled to
Michael Otis Mills
Jan. 1, 1995, Age 24
Mills was sitting in the
driver's seat of his Chevy Blazer watching a fight outside a Capitol Heights
dance club when Cpl. Warren M. Hayes shot him. Hayes said he was breaking up the
fight when Mills gunned the engine and tried to run him over. Hayes said he
fired several shots as the Blazer hurtled toward him. Mills was charged with
assault with intent to murder, assault with intent to maim, assault with intent
to disable and reckless endangerment. In court, Mills acknowledged watching the
fight from inside the vehicle but said it never moved. He said that he put his
hands in the air to surrender when Hayes yelled at him to freeze but that Hayes
shot him anyway. Witnesses supported Mills's story, and a jury found him not
guilty on all counts.
May 2, 2000, Age 42
officials said Officer Michael A. Arnett shot Grant, a suspected burglar, after
he refused to drop a knife during an attempted break-in. Neighbors say Grant was
dressed only in his underwear and banging on a friend's door, yelling things no
one could understand. One neighbor said police were 30 to 40 feet from Grant
when he was shot. Five of the eight shots were to the back of his body,
according to an autopsy. Police said they shot Grant's dog after it attacked
them. Grant bled to death.
May 17, 1992, Age 19
Minter was shot while
sitting in his wheelchair on the steps of a Suitland apartment complex. Police
said Minter had been "verbally abusive" and disobeyed commands to keep
his hands behind his head. Cpl. Archie D. Joiner said he shot Minter because he
thought Minter was reaching into his waistband for a gun. Joiner had searched
Minter and a nearby bag moments before the shooting, witnesses said.
Feb. 25, 1991, Age 16
Mary Shields said she and her police dog tried to arrest Richardson after he and
a friend broke into Andrew Jackson Middle School in Forestville. Police said
Richardson, who weighed 140 pounds, tossed the officer's German shepherd into a
row of metal lockers, tore off the dog's collar and beat the officer into
unconsciousness. Shields said that although she was "hazy" on the
details, she remembered shooting Richardson while he was beating her. An autopsy
found that Richardson was shot in the upper back and in the back of the left
Tyrone Antwon Harris
May 13, 1997, Age 18
resident of Kent Village Apartments called police about 9:30 p.m. for an
undisclosed reason. Officers Matthew C. Barba and Harry W. Oldfield III
saw that the door to an apartment was ajar and burst in with guns drawn. They
found themselves face to face with Harris. Police said they fired in
self-defense when Harris attacked them and tried to grab their guns. A homicide
detective in charge of the investigation didn't interview the officers, nor did
he examine the officers' guns for fingerprints or test Harris's clothing for
gunshot residue. Both officers wrote nearly identical Discharge of Firearms
reports, changing only a few words. Antione Glasgow said he was in the apartment
and saw the whole thing. He told detectives Harris was leaving just as the
officers came in. There was a brief confrontation followed by gunshots, Glasgow
said, which left Harris face down with a gunshot wound to the head. Officers
stood over his body and fired a volley of shots into his back, Glasgow said.
According to the autopsy report, 13 rounds had been fired into Harris's back.
The crime scene report also stated that several bullets had been fired into the
floor. Three years later, lawyers for the county paid the family an undisclosed
amount to settle a lawsuit.
Major Maurice Anderson
Dec. 28, 1991, Age 46
and drunk, Anderson spent an afternoon inside a mall food court, sitting at a
table and listening to music through headphones. A shopper allegedly told two
off-duty police officers working as security guards that Anderson had a bulge
under his coat that looked suspiciously like a gun. The off-duty officers, David
Russell and Daniel Pearson, watched Anderson for more than 20 minutes until he
walked outside. They yelled for him to drop to his knees. Anderson paused, then
knelt on the cement walkway. When the officers continued to yell, he reached for
the radio on his belt to turn down the volume. Russell opened fire, wounding
Anderson in the thigh and elbow. After putting handcuffs on Anderson, the
officers discovered that he was carrying only a radio and a bottle of shoe
polish. Neither officer provided information about the person who made the gun
Sept. 28, 1991, Age 23
Simms was shot by police
officers on two occasions. The first time was by narcotics officers who threw
him to the pavement and shot him repeatedly with a BB gun, two times in the head
and six times along the spine, court records show. Simms, who did not have any
drugs on him and had not committed a crime, escaped with minor injuries. The
officers, Clarence W. Voundy and George B. Steffey Jr., were the first in Prince
George's to be charged with a crime for using excessive force. They were
convicted of misdemeanors and lost their jobs. Simms sued the department and the
county, settling for an undisclosed sum, but he complained that officers
continued to harass him.
Three years to the day after he was first shot, he had a fatal run-in with
officers. On that evening, Simms exchanged angry words with officers who had
stopped some people across from Simms's house. Simms and a friend were searched.
Officer James L. Bowman said that during the encounter, Simms took a swing at
Bowman's partner. In response, Bowman said, he hit Simms with a flashlight in
the back and between the shoulder blades. Bowman said Simms then swung around
with something in his hand that appeared to be a weapon. Bowman shot Simms, who
collapsed and died on the front steps of his house. Police said Bowman shot
Simms once in the chest. No weapon was found at the scene, but later that night
Bowman produced one at police headquarters. He said Simms dropped the knife
after the shooting and that he picked it up because he was afraid Simms might
grab it again. Witnesses disputed that account, saying they never saw a knife.
To the contrary, one of Simms's friends said, after officers hit Simms in the
face, Simms tried to run inside his house but was shot several times in the
back. An autopsy showed Simms had a laceration on his forehead and had been shot
10 times, including five in the back. His blood tested positive for PCP, a
hallucinogen. No fingerprints were found on the knife.
Bobby Philip Thomas
Sept. 21, 1996, age 41
Lyons was taking his daily walk in the early morning when he heard a noise
coming from a construction trailer. Thinking it was a burglary, he called police
from his cell phone and hid behind some bushes to see what would happen. When
officers arrived, they spotted Bobby Thomas standing next to the trailer.
Officer Dwayne W. Stevenson yelled for Thomas to stop, but Thomas took off. As
the officers closed in on Thomas, Lyons said Stevenson fired three shots at
Thomas's back. Thomas was hit once, underneath his right shoulder blade. The
bullet pierced his right lung and passed through his chest. In a written
statement, Stevenson said he fired in self-defense after Thomas reached into his
waistband and spun around. No weapon was found and evidence confirmed that
Thomas was shot in the back. Stevenson was exonerated. He declined to comment
for this series.
Robert Coates II
Feb. 27 1997, Age 19
Wendell Charles Brantley and David J. Adams were on patrol when they heard a
gunshot just before 11 p.m. Moments later, a brown Buick LeSabre driven by
Coates came barreling around the corner. Police say the driver stuck a silver
handgun out the window and fired several times at the officers. When he missed,
the officers said he veered the car and tried to run them over. The officers
said that in response, they fired 29 rounds at the Buick until it crashed into
the porch of a house. One bullet struck Coates in the eye. Evidence showed that
Coates squeezed the trigger only once and that the cartridge was found one block
away. Coates said that he fired once into the air to scare off muggers before
driving off. He said he didn't see the officers and didn't know who was shooting
Archie Elliot III
June 18, 1993, Age 24
Elliott was driving home
from his construction job when he was stopped by Officer Jason Leavitt of the
District Heights Police Department. Elliott failed a sobriety test and was
arrested. Leavitt called for backup then frisked Elliott, who was clad in only
denim shorts and tennis shoes with no socks. Officer Wayne Cheney of the Prince
George's Police Department responded to the call for backup. The officers placed
Elliott in the front seat of a police cruiser with his wrists cuffed behind his
back, buckled his seat belt, and closed the door with the windows rolled up.
Moments later, they said, they noticed Elliott had pulled a handgun out of his
shorts and was pointing it at them. Cheney and Leavitt fired 22 shots, striking
Elliott 14 times. Police say they pried a snub nose revolver out his hands,
which were still handcuffed. It was unloaded and investigators did not check the
gun for fingerprints. Elliott's parents filed a civil lawsuit accusing police of
planting the gun to cover up an execution. The lawsuit was thrown out of court
before it could go to trial.
Louis Eugene Randall, Jr.
May 11, 2001, Age 37
Eugene Randall, Jr., was in his mother's Fort Washington home chopping
strawberries when he began to plunge the paring knife into a plastic sugar
container. Winona Randall knew her son, a manic-depressive, needed his medicine
and called police for assistance. When officers arrived, she explained that he
needed some medication and implored officers not to hurt him. Officers, she
said, reassured her that they wouldn't hurt Louis Randall and that they would
use non-lethal force to subdue him if needed. By the time it was over, police
cars crowded the street, police snipers had shot out street lamps, two
military-style assault vehicles were on the scene, a helicopter hovered above
and Louis Randall had been shot eight times. Police said that Randall refused to
drop a "13-inch kitchen knife" and lunged at them, forcing an officer
to open fire.
Oct. 9, 1997, Age 21
relatives asked a neighbor to call police after he started behaving strangely.
Although Waiters had no history of mental illness or drug use, family members
grew concerned after he ran in and out of the house, poured water on his head
and smashed a window. By the time officers arrived, Waiters was being held down
by his father, Robert, who was trying to keep him from hurting himself. In the
confusion, officers initially pointed their guns at Waiters's father. As
officers ordered Waiters's father to sit on the couch, Dwayne Waiters ran into
the kitchen. Officers said he reached for a knife and lunged at them. The
officers opened fire shooting him a dozen times. Detectives found a butter knife
on the kitchen counter. Waiters's fingerprints were not on it.
April 20, 1995, Age 33
morning, R. O. Norman called his therapist to say that he had taken a lethal
dose of Lithium and that he had a gun. Concerned, she called police. When Norman
returned to his parents' Beltsville home, police blocked him in with their cars
as he tried to drive away. Norman said he got out of his vehicle with his arms
in the air. Police yelled at him to drop his weapon even though he had none, he
said. Finally, Norman said, he jumped up and down and yelled at police to shoot
him. Cpl. Richard Hart, Jr., responded with a single shot into Norman's belly.
Police said the shooting was justified. Hart did not respond to The Post's
request for an interview.
Jan. 7, 1999, Age 39
Cpl. Donald Bell said he
was parked outside a liquor store when he felt something hit his patrol car.
When he got out of the car, Bell said, he was struck on the head with a
"log" by Phillip Mickens. Bell, who said he feared for his life,
opened fire, hitting Mickens five times. As a result of the shooting, Mickens
spleen had to be removed and his right arm dangles uselessly at his side. He is
currently in the Crownsville State Hospital to determine if he is competent to
be prosecuted on an assault charge.
Julie Marie Meade
Nov. 21, 1996, Age 16
A suicidal Julie Marie
Meade called police from her mother's apartment in Laurel. It was the fourth
time in two months that she told police she wanted to die. This time, Meade, who
suffered from disabling panic attacks, told a dispatcher that once officers
arrived, she was going to point a gun at them, so they would shoot her. When
officers arrived, Meade walked outside holding a pellet gun and shouted for
police to shoot. Officers yelled at her to stop, but she kept walking and
officers shot her. She was fatally wounded, hit 15 times in the head, arm and
Dec. 12, 1992, Age 25
Strother's mother called
police, telling them her son was depressed, suicidal and had threatened family
members. Upon arrival, officers found Strother sitting in a running, locked car
in the driveway. Strother gunned the engine and turned up the radio, ignoring
officers' attempts to get him out of the car. Cpl. Ray A. Evans said he was
standing in front of the driver's side when the vehicle lurched forward. He said
he jumped off the driveway and fired, hitting Strother in the chest. Strother
died the day before before his 26th birthday. A witness to the shooting said no
one was standing in front of Strother's car when he was shot. In 1995, the
county settled a federal lawsuit filed by the family.
Prince Carmen Jones, Jr.
Sept. 1, 2000, Age 25
Jones, a Howard University
student, was on his way to his fiancee's house in Fairfax when he noticed a
Mitsubishi Montero was following him. The driver of the vehicle was Carlton B.
Jones, a narcotics detective in plain clothes. Prince Jones tried to evade the
officer's vehicle by pulling into a driveway and turning off his headlights a
block from his destination. What happened next is unclear, but Det. Jones fired
16 rounds into Prince Jones vehicle, hitting him five times in the back.
Officials later confirmed that Det. Jones had mistaken Prince Jones for someone
Gregory Allen Cooper
Dec. 9, 1999, Age 39
Police chased Cooper, a
suspected burglar, by foot until he climbed into an unlocked police cruiser that
had been left with the key in the ignition. Officers said they opened fire to
save the life of an officer who was wrestling with Cooper as the suspect put the
car into reverse. They fired 66 rounds. Cooper was hit in the head and abdomen,
according to an autopsy report.
Oct. 6, 1993, Age 22
Dreher was sitting in a
parked car talking to his girlfriend when three officers approached him. The
officers attempted to arrest him after he refused to roll down his window to
accept a ticket for driving with a suspended license. Officers said Dreher tried
to run over Officer Samuel M. Smith, who was standing in front of the car. Smith
fired a single shot into Dreher's chest. Witnesses said that Dreher was rude and
uncooperative but that officers tried to smash the car's windows when Dreher
refused to take the ticket. Witnesses said Smith was standing next to the car,
not in front of it. A photograph of the Acura shows a bullet hole above the
side-view mirror on the driver's side.
Dec. 1, 1996, Age 20
Lacount Stewart and his girlfriend, Cantrice Love, were sitting in a parked car
near her Oxon Hill home when officers approached them. As Officer James F.
Williams Jr. was leaning inside the car, police said, Stewart hit the gas pedal,
dragging Williams for several feet before Williams fell to the ground. As
Stewart sped off, Williams and Officer Jason T. Rorick and Cpl. Anne M.
Nicodemus fired 30 rounds at the car, according to court records. They missed
Stewart but hit Love in the left shoulder. Love sued the police, alleging
"deliberate malice" by officers. Her lawsuit is pending.
Bruce Asmora Scott
November 3, 1999, Age 37
Police said Officer Aaron
L. Smith shot a ''robbery suspect'' who flashed two steak knives and threatened
his life. The man, however, was a homeless, paranoid schizophrenic named Bruce
Asmora Scott. Smith confronted Scott as he crouched in a courtyard at the New
Carrollton Mall with a black bag and a gray folding suitcase stuffed with his
belongings. Smith was later awarded the Medal of Valor for shooting Scott. In
the retelling of the story during the award ceremony, police said Smith opened
fire when Scott ''produced two large butcher knives'' when the officer
encountered him and that Smith's action removed an ''armed and dangerous
individual from the community.'' Scott was convicted of of first-degree assault
and sentenced to six years in prison.
Clarence Edward Stewart
May 19, 2000, Age 51
Stephen A. Vitko asked Stewart to accompany him back to a Target store to
apologize to a manager who had accused Stewart of bothering customers. Witnesses
say the officer screamed at Stewart to stay out of the store, grabbed and shook
him without provocation or resistance. Police and witnesses agree that Vitko led
Stewart back to the store. When Vitko and another officer, Troy L. Wallace,
emerged from a security office with Stewart, witnesses said Stewart was
handcuffed and bound by his ankles, bleeding profusely from his head. As police
placed him face down on the floor, he lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead
an hour later. Police said Stewart died from an enlarged heart, and an autopsy
report also shows he had heart disease and high-blood pressure. But the autopsy
report also said Stewart's heart failure was triggered by "blunt force
injuries," including three deep head wounds and lacerations to his back and
right shoulder. The report indicated that several bruises showed that Stewart
had been injured after he was put in restraints. The medical examiner ruled his
death a "homicide." Vitko and Wallace did not respond to letters or
telephone calls seeking comment.
Thomas Charles Cox
Nov. 6, 1997, Age 44
death has never been disclosed publicly by police. The state attorney's office,
which is supposed to conduct an investigation when someone dies in police
custody, said it has no records of his death. Cox's autopsy states that he
"collapsed while being arrested." The autopsy found two
antidepressants in his blood and noted that he had "history of
psychosis." The autopsy did not explain wounds between Cox's fingers or
bruises on his wrists. A medical examiner ruled Cox died when his heart began
beating out of control while struggling with police. One of the officers
involved in the arrest was Lt. Joseph E. Cox, Thomas Cox's brother. According to
Alice Cox, their mother, she called Joseph to take Thomas to a psychiatric
hospital. Thomas refused, she said, and after officers restrained him to prevent
him from leaving, he sat on the ground and had a heart attack. She said Thomas
was not handcuffed and that excessive force was not used.
Charles Ivy Huddleston
April 26, 1999, Age 27
September 1998, police declared Huddleston a hero for rescuing a police officer
trapped in a burning car. Seven months later officers tried to arrest Huddleston
as he stood in line at a McDonald's. Officers said Huddleston had been driving a
Jeep that was stolen during a carjacking. They said he fled the McDonald's,
jumped back into the Jeep and sideswiped several cars trying to get away.
According to officers, Huddleston sustained minor injuries during the arrest so
they called for an ambulance. When he arrived at the hospital 30 minutes later,
he was shackled facedown on a stretcher with a sheet wrapped around his bleeding
head. The emergency room staff said he was jerking his body and spewing
obscenities. Doctors and medics spent 35 minutes trying to treat him before he
died. Police said that Huddleston appeared to be under the influence of drugs
and that his heart gave out. An autopsy found no illicit drugs or alcohol in his
blood. The autopsy showed he had a bleeding swollen eye socket, deep contusions
on the forehead, scalp and nose, and abrasions on the wrists and ankles. Police
deny restraining Huddleston in the hospital. According to hospital records,
however, officers put a mattress on his head while he was shackled to a gurney.
The state medical examiner ruled that Huddleston's heart failed while he was
being restrained partly because of an "anomalous" coronary artery. A
pathologist hired by Huddleston's family found blood in his lungs and wrote that
he died because he was unable to breathe.
Elmer Clayton Newman, Jr.
Sept. 22, 1999, Age 29
died in the back of an ambulance before it could leave the parking lot of the
police station in Oxon Hill. Police say Newman was a cocaine abuser and had
violently resisted arrest and injured himself. A witness says officers stood
around laughing as Newman, who was barefoot, handcuffed and soaked from the
rain, struggled to breathe. An autopsy report showed Newman had two fractured
ribs and two broken bones in his neck. Officers gave conflicting statements
about Newman's arrest and injuries. The state medical examiner ruled Newman's
death a homicide. A grand jury concluded that police had used excessive force
but was unable to indict anyone because it couldn't determine which officers had
injured Newman's neck, according to the state's attorney. A lawsuit is pending
in federal court.
Michael W. Murphy
Aug. 31, 1996, Age 26
was standing in his bedroom, naked and unarmed, when police shot him in the
chest. Earlier, Murphy left his apartment wearing no clothes and banged on doors
until neighbors called police. A Laurel officer, Sgt. Richard Speake, responded.
Laurel police said that when Speake arrived, Murphy was attacking his roommate
and then attacked and overpowered the officer. Speake fired a single bullet into
Murphy's ribs. Murphy's roommate said he did not attack her or the officer.
Laurel Police Chief Roy P. Gilmore said Murphy "lunged" for Speake's
weapon but did not actually touch him. An autopsy report revealed that after
Murphy was shot, he was struck by a metal police baton at least 11 times on the
back, arms, legs and shoulders. The autopsy said Murphy's wrists were cut,
indicating part of the struggle occurred after he was handcuffed. The state
medical examiner said the gunshot wound and "blunt force injuries"
caused Murphy's death.
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