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Crime

Prince George's County police officer shot by fellow officers during gun battle

A Prince George's County police detective was inadvertently shot and killed by a fellow officer during a chaotic gunfight Sunday when a man opened fire on a police station in Landover, police said.

Preliminary autopsy findings showed that Jacai Colson, 28, a plainclothes narcotics detective, was shot by another officer when Colson arrived amid the shootout, county Police Chief Hank Stawinski said at a Monday evening news conference.

"He was arriving in an unmarked vehicle and found himself in the middle of a gunfight," Stawinski said.

The alleged gunman, Michael Ford, "intended to die during a gun battle with police," police said in a written statement. Investigators recovered cellphone video of Ford dictating his will minutes before he opened fire on the suburban police station northeast of Washington.

Ford was wounded but is expected to survive, police said.

Two younger brothers of Ford also have been charged in the ambush. Police said the brothers watched and filmed the shootout.

"We have individuals videotaping as if it's a game, as if it's something they were going to put on YouTube and glorify," said the police union leader, John Teletchea.

Police said there is no indication the brothers acted as part of a larger organization or movement.

The three Ford brothers were planning the attack Sunday as late as 4:17 p.m., about 10 minutes before the first shots, Stawinski said.

Armed with a handgun, police said, Michael Ford began firing randomly, shooting at least two cars and an ambulance.

Officers returned fire and, into this scene, Colson arrived.

"Detective Colson drew fire to himself and in doing so was mortally wounded," Stawinski said. "Detective Colson reacted to a set of circumstances that, quite frankly, I don't think he was entirely prepared for."

Police are investigating whether Colson was mistaken for a gunman or shot by an errant round.

"We believe the fired round that led to Detective Colson's death was fired by one of his fellow Prince George's County police officers," Stawinski said. "I am not prepared to say which of those officers might have fired that round."

He said officers responded with restraint because of homes behind the gunman. Colson reacted with heroism, Stawinski said; his efforts provided cover for other officers.

The chief said his department was crushed.

"To learn that in your attempt to preserve life and protect people, that you've struck another defender down, that's particularly devastating," he said.

Colson was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police identified Ford's brothers as 21-year-old Malik Ford and 18-year-old Elijah Ford. All three face charges of second-degree murder, six counts of attempted first-degree murder and nine counts of use of a handgun in the commission of a felony, police said.

The chief said there were no outstanding warrants against the Michael Ford, but that information conflicts with a sheriff's report from Greenville, S.C., which said he was being sought for allegedly assaulting his wife there the day before.

Colson would have turned 29 this week and had served four years with the department. Sheriff's Deputy Dominick Chambers, a friend from the police academy, said they celebrated their four-year anniversary as officers the day before Colson was killed.

"He always wanted to be a police officer," Chambers said. "Everyone is taking it real bad, real bad. I'm talking to my classmates, checking in on them. We're not doing well."

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis spent more than 20 years in the Prince George's County department and said he considers the agency family.

"The agency comes together in typical fashion and wraps their arms around each other," Davis said. "The fact that this may be an incident that involves friendly fire … makes it all the more painful to endure."

Stawinski said the agency "coped with this kind of tragedy before." Officers from the previous incidents returned Monday to help the department cope.

Stawinski did not specify which incident he meant, but in 1988 a member of the Prince George's SWAT team accidentally killed a fellow sergeant during a drug raid.

Officer Gary Sommers shot Sgt. Mark Murphy after Murphy stepped between Sommers and a suspect. The men were best friends.

Sunday's incident also bore similarities to the 2011 fatal shooting of Baltimore Officer William Torbit outside the Select Lounge club. Torbit was in plainclothes responding to help with crowd control when he got into a confrontation with a clubgoer.

Torbit was overtaken by the crowd and opened fire, killing Sean Gamble. Other officers on the scene did not realize who Torbit was and fired back, killing him. The incident prompted changes in the agency, including requiring plainclothes officers to wear vests that identify them as police

A civil lawsuit filed by the families of Torbit and Gamble was dismissed by a judge after five weeks of trial last year.

The Associated Press and The Washington Post contributed to this article.

jfenton@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contribute to this article.

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