Howard County police found the convicted felon wanted in the shooting of an officer as the man limped along U.S. 1 Thursday morning, concluding a manhunt that had begun the day before while authorities canvassed the area.
Stephon Prather, 29, was found walking with the help of two sticks near the spot where police said he exchanged gunshots Wednesday with three officers. Authorities said he had been shot twice in the legs and believe he spent the night in a storm drain where investigators later found a gun.
Prather's capture came after hundreds of officers — including aviation, canine and foot patrol units — scoured a half-mile-wide wooded area along the busy thoroughfare in Laurel.
The injured officer was Steven Houk, 30, who remained in serous condition Thursday. The married father has served with the department for two years after a stint in the armed forces.
"This has been a very challenging 24 hours," Police Chief William McMahon said at a news conference outside Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Houk's wife and parents were with him in the hospital, McMahon said.
"I've been able to speak to him several times, and he is in good spirits," the chief added.
Prather also remained at Shock Trauma, where he was being treated for the wounds to his legs.
The shootout erupted after officers were called to the area along U.S. 1, also known as Washington Boulevard, after receiving a report of a man with a gun. Police said Prather opened fire on the officers and then disappeared into the woods.
Another dramatic scene unfolded in the area the next morning, when an employee at a nearby business spotted Prather along the highway.
Freddy Pina, 23, of Ellicott City, who works at Omega Auto Werks in the 9400 block of Washington Blvd., said he was taking a car out for a test drive when he spotted a man on the side of U.S. 1.
"I saw the guy standing, and he had two sticks and his face covered with a red shirt or something," he said.
Pina then turned around and drove back into the parking lot. He said he found a nearby police officer and said, "It's him, it's him." Police captured Prather shortly thereafter.
A short while later, police said, they recovered the gun Prather used in the shootout. McMahon could not say Thursday how Prather obtained the weapon.
Due to a previous felony conviction in Prince George's County, Prather is prohibited from owning a handgun, according to John Erzen, a spokesman for the state's attorney's office there.
According to court records from 2006, Prather fired two shots at a family — including two children — as they attempted to flee from their car and into a home. He had gotten into an argument with family members earlier in the day.
After more serious charges were dropped, Prather pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree assault and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Less than two years into his sentence, he was given a reconsideration hearing, at which the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said he was amenable to drug rehabilitation. Prather was released for treatment in 2009, Erzen said.
Prather was later arrested in Alamance County, N.C., on charges of driving while intoxicated, speeding to elude arrest, and breaking and entering in an incident Dec. 22, 2011, according to records from that state. He was convicted of DWI.
Shaquita Davis, 24, a former neighbor of Prather in Upper Marlboro, said she was "still in shock." She added that Prather is not the type of person who "would carry a gun or shoot an officer."
Prather's family could not be reached for comment, and an attorney who previously represented him did not return a phone message.
McMahon said police "have a tremendous amount of work to find out why he did what he did … and a tremendous amount of work to make sure he is held accountable."
"The investigation is really just beginning," McMahon said. "He shot a cop. We take that obviously very seriously."
Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.