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Man steals officer's cruiser, is fatally shot by police after pursuit

A man pulled over on Interstate 95 early Tuesday morning was able to flee in a Baltimore County police cruiser before being fatally shot by officers just inside the city line, officials said.

Police have identified the man as Monpreet Chona, 26, of Halethorpe. It remained unclear how the officer surrendered the patrol car, with county police saying that aspect remains under investigation. City police, who are investigating the shooting because of where it took place, said no guns were recovered from the suspect or his vehicles.

Authorities said the incident unfolded at about 2 a.m. when the driver of a white Nissan operating without headlights refused to pull over in Catonsville at the intersection of Harlem Lane and Edmondson Avenue.

Baltimore County police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said the officer did not pursue the vehicle, but an officer from another precinct later saw the Nissan on the Beltway and attempted to stop him. The officer continued behind the suspect as he drove south on I-695, until the suspect crashed at the I-95 split, county police said.

The man "began to engage the officer in a fight, and the suspect told the officer he had a gun and would shoot the officer," said Anthony Guglielmi, the chief spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department.

Police now say the man did not have a gun, but he was able to steal the officer's cruiser, which police tracked to a Motel 6 on Caton Avenue, just across the county boundary in southern Baltimore's Violetville neighborhood.

As the officers arrived at the motel, they saw a dark-colored Ford Bronco speeding out of the parking lot, Guglielmi said. That vehicle was pulled over, but a passenger — believed to be the initial suspect — jumped into the driver's seat and again fled from officers.

Investigators are questioning three others who were inside the SUV. Guglielmi said police were "examining the relationship between them and the suspect."

Guglielmi said the fleeing vehicle crashed into a city police cruiser, and officers from Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County shot him multiple times.

Chona was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was later pronounced dead. No other injuries were reported.

Court records show Chona had a criminal record, including charges in 2009 and 2006 for what appeared to be similar cases of fleeing from officers.

In 2006, he was charged in Baltimore County with failure to stop, driving without a license, possessing a fraudulent license, false statements to officers, and drug possession. He pleaded guilty later that year to the drug distribution charge and received three years in prison; a notation in the court file indicates he was recommended for boot camp or a youth program at the Patxuent Institute.

Later, in June 2009, he faced traffic citations in Baltimore County for negligent driving, failing to stop, eluding police by fleeing on foot.

Before that, he was charged in 2004 in Baltimore County with robbery and assault and pleaded guilty to a theft count, receiving time served, and received three years of probation for a drug distribution charge in Baltimore City. A handgun in vehicle charge in January 2009 was dropped by city prosecutors.

Chona's family declined to comment Tuesday night.

Baltimore County officials declined to answer questions about the incident, including why officers were pursuing the vehicle, how the officer lost his or her cruiser, and the names of the officers involved in the shooting.

Three county officers — with 18, 19, and five years of experience, respectively — fired their weapons and have been placed on routine administrative leave. None have been previously involved in a police shooting, county officials said.

Last week, Baltimore County police were pursuing a burglary suspect who got into a three-vehicle accident on Dulaney Valley Road, killing one of the suspects, 20-year-old Aaron Nathaniel McCoy, and requiring hospitalization for three uninvolved drivers. County police said they called off that pursuit just before the accident and were tracking the suspect vehicle from the air.

Cole Weston, president of the county police Fraternal Order of Police lodge, declined to discuss details of Tuesday's incident but said the incident underscored the dangers officers face.

"Make no mistake about it, this is a dangerous job, and we run into dangerous people who have terrible intentions," Weston said. "That's what our people face 24-7, 365. This is just another example of that."

Anne Arundel County police spokesman Justin Mulcahy confirmed that one Anne Arundel officer, a 19-year veteran of the agency assigned to the Northern District, fired his gun at the suspect.

Mulcahy said the officer got involved after Baltimore County police broadcast a "lookout" for a stolen police vehicle and officers learned the vehicle had passed into Anne Arundel County.

Guglielmi said no weapons were recovered from Chona or his vehicles, but police found a hammer in the SUV.

City police officers did not discharge their weapons, Guglielmi said, but homicide detectives from the agency are investigating the case because the shooting occurred in the city. Homicide detectives investigate all police-involved shootings.

Dave Jacobs, 27, got stuck in traffic on I-95 caused by the police investigation, and said in an email to a reporter that it was the "most police I have ever seen." He said he pulled out his smart phone and began listening in on a scanner application.

He said police made several references to maintaining safety during the pursuit. "One officer kept coming over the radio saying 'Guys, let's remember at each exit and intersection that our No. 1 goal and priority is the safety of our citizens here.' I thought that was pretty cool and very level headed in such a situation and they deserve credit for that," Jacobs said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Dean Jones Jr. contributed to this report

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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