Angle of Bullets Called Suspicious


root - Posted on 11 September 2000

by Tom Jackman and Jamie Stockwell

(Reprinted from the Washington Post, courtesy of chris98@pacbell.net)

The shots by a Prince George's police officer that struck and killed a Hyattsville man in Fairfax County last week entered the man's back at a 45-degree downward angle, which attorneys for Prince C. Jones's family said indicates that he was hit as he was driving away, down a hill.

The findings, from a private autopsy performed for the man's family, seem to contradict police statements that Cpl. Carlton B. Jones, an undercover narcotics detective, fired into the back of Prince Jones's Jeep as it rammed the unmarked police Mitsubishi Montero.

Ted J. Williams, a lawyer representing Prince Jones's family and a former D.C. homicide detective, questioned whether the officer was seated in his vehicle when the shots were fired. According to Williams, the autopsy found that Prince Jones was shot five times in the back and once in the forearm, also from the back.

But Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said yesterday that "we have one independent witness who puts the police officer in the vehicle when he shoots. I don't think there's any question the officer was in the vehicle." Horan would not identify the witness.

Horan attributed the downward trajectory of the bullets to the detective's Montero being "slightly higher. He's above where the other guy [Prince Jones] is." He said the trajectory "all depends on where the guy [Prince Jones] sits."

Manufacturers' specifications show that the difference in the vehicles' heights is about four inches.

Williams said that if Prince Jones was backing up when he was shot, "some of the bullets would've hit him in the side."

"When you look at where the bullet wounds are, that to me is consistent with him moving away, looking ahead, not having his body in a contorted or twisted manner," Williams said.

Fairfax police, who are conducting a criminal investigation of the shooting, would not respond to Williams's theory. They have not released any results of the official autopsy.

The FBI is conducting a separate criminal investigation to determine whether Prince Jones's civil rights were violated, and there is also an internal investigation by Prince George's police. Carlton Jones, 32, who is on leave with pay, has been questioned by Fairfax police, but not by Prince George's officials.

The investigations come as Prince George's County officers have shot 12 people in the past 13 months--five of them fatally--and two other persons have died in police custody. At the same time, Justice Department officials say they are moving toward expanding the federal civil rights probe of the Prince George's canine unit to include the entire department.

Royce Holloway, spokesman for the Prince George's police, would not comment on the findings of the family's attorneys and deferred all calls to Fairfax County police. He said the department will not issue any statements until the investigation is complete.

Prince Jones, 25, a personal trainer at Bally's Total Fitness in Prince George's Plaza and a student at Howard University, was shot and killed about 3 a.m. last Friday. Carlton Jones and his supervisor followed Prince Jones's Jeep from Chillum, across the District and into the Seven Corners area of Fairfax County.

Prince George's Police Chief John S. Farrell said this week that the detectives were following the Jeep after receiving a tip that it could be connected to the theft of a police service weapon. Farrell said that the officers did not know who was driving the vehicle and were following it merely to find out where it was going.

He said that because officers did not plan to stop or confront the driver, they did not notify Fairfax officials that they had entered the county.

Farrell suggested that the detective may have feared for his life as his vehicle was being rammed, possibly justifying the use of deadly force. Prince George's police policy specifically prohibits shooting from one vehicle at another if the other vehicle is only ramming the police car.

Gregory D. Lattimer, another attorney for Prince Jones's family, said that if Prince Jones was driving in reverse into the Montero when the officer fired, there should be gunpowder residue on the glass particles blown into Jones's Jeep by the shots.

Williams theorized that Prince Jones, "in fear, not knowing who this person was, clearly seeing that it was not a police officer, may have backed into the person's vehicle in an effort to leave the area."

"Out of his own fear," Williams said, "he may very well have had some contact with the police vehicle, trying to get away in a very frightening moment."

Holloway, the Prince George's police spokesman, said that nothing restricts an officer from traveling across jurisdictions to conduct an investigation. Until the officer feels it is necessary to take action, he does not have to contact local authorities.

Area attorneys said that while the surveillance of Prince Jones was not unusual, the shooting--several jurisdictions away--was clearly rare.

"Absent the shooting, there was nothing unusual about the incident," said Robert C. Bonsib, a Washington defense lawyer.

Bonsib said that many questions surround the case and that the "whole point of a surveillance is to not be seen."

Said James Klimaski, a lawyer in the District who has represented several plaintiffs in alleged police misconduct cases: "I haven't seen anything like this other than what happens with a hot pursuit. You have officers who shoot suspects in their own jurisdiction, but to cross the county line and take action like that without notifying the local authorities, that's just very rare."

Earlier this week, attorneys for a Laurel man filed a $10 million lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt against Prince George's police and a dozen individual officers, alleging that undercover narcotics detectives followed him into Anne Arundel County, pulled him from his car and beat him.

Brian Romjue, 19, alleges in the lawsuit that he was stopped on Brock Bridge Road last September, forced into an unmarked vehicle and driven to an unknown location. He said that an officer grabbed him by the collar and hit his head, while another officer slammed his head into the passenger side window.

The officers named in the lawsuit are Sgt. Steven Piazzi, Sgt. Kevin Davis, Sgt. Joseph McCann, Capt. Buddy Robshaw and eight other unidentified men.

"This lawsuit is twofold: We are seeking the money because Brian needs long-term psychiatric care, and we hope that the Prince George's police take responsibility for these illegal actions committed by the officers," attorney Barbara R. Graham said yesterday.

A county attorney did not return a telephone request for comment.

Holloway said that an internal investigation into that incident is being conducted.

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