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Howard Co. police officer testifies he shot first in Route 1 shootout

One of three police officers involved in a shootout that left one officer wounded along Route 1 in North Laurel last year said that he believes he fired the first shot, according to the officer's testimony delivered Wednesday in Howard County Circuit Court.

Howard County police officer John Jackson said that he shot at Stephon Prather, 30, on the afternoon of Oct. 23, 2013, after he saw Prather, who was standing in the middle of traffic on Route 1, pull a gun from his jacket and point it in the direction of two other police officers. One of those officers, officer Steven Houk, was shot once in the abdomen and had to be transported by medivac to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.  

Houk, who also testified Wednesday, survived the shooting and was released from the hospital later that week. 

The testimony was delivered Wednesday during Prather's jury trial. Prather, who was shot twice during the exchange and led police on a 17-hour manhunt before being apprehended, faces three counts each of first- and second-degree attempted murder, as well as felony gun and assault charges in connection with the incident.  

The court also heard testimony Wednesday from six additional witnesses including two firefighters who observed the shooting, one driver who recorded a portion of the event on a cellphone video, which was played for the jury, and an expert witness in the field of video analysis.  

The armed exchange occurred at around 4 p.m. on October 23, 2013. Police had been called to a car dealership located in the 9500 block of Route 1 after a salesman reported that he thought a man, later identified as Prather, was concealing a gun in his right-hand jacket pocket. 

The first responding officer, officer Stella Dieu, testified Tuesday that she encountered Prather outside the business. She testified that, shortly after she arrived, Prather began walking in the traffic lanes on Route 1 northbound, halting and slowing traffic in the process. Dieu, who followed Prather by walking on the right-hand shoulder, said she then called for backup. 

Jackson and Houk arrived separately in quick succession and approached from the south, according to their testimony. Both men said they exited their cars with their guns drawn at their side and approached Prather and Dieu. All three officers testified that they shouted commands at Prather, specifically, to remove his right hand from his pocket, but that he did not comply.

Seconds later, gunfire erupted, according to testimony from multiple witnesses. Multiple witnesses testified that Prather, who was located in the median, fled west across Route 1 southbound before disappearing into the woods.

Jackson, who testified as a prosecution witness, said he arrived as backup to a call of a possible weapons violation and observed Prather walking north along the median on Route 1. He said he left his car parked in the northbound lane and ran toward the direction of Prather and Dieu, who were walking approximately 20 feet apart along parallel tracks up Route 1. 

Jackson said he ran to a spot in the median approximately 30 feet south of Prather and pointed his handgun at him. Houk testified that he parked his car on the right-hand side of Route 1 northbound and proceeded through traffic, with his gun drawn and down, to a position almost parallel to Jackson's position and just off the road on the right-hand side. Houk said he did not point his weapon at Prather until he heard gunshots. 

All three officers, as well as multiple witnesses, testified Prather was walking backward up the road, meaning he was facing the officers. 

Jackson, who, according to witness testimony, had the best view of Prather's right side, testified he saw Prather pull a black gun from his jacket and point it in the direction of Houk and Dieu. Jackson testified that he fired his gun first, but that he believes Prather fired immediately afterward. 

Jackson said he fired all twelve rounds in his magazine during the shootout, and he told Prather's defense attorney that he was shooting to kill. 

Houk and Dieu testified that they did not know who fired first and that the first gunshots happened in quick succession. They both said they started shooting at Prather after witnessing him firing. Other witnesses, however, testified Wednesday that it was Prather who shot first.

Michigan resident Curtis Hunt, who was in North Laurel that day on business, said he was driving on Route 1 southbound during the shooting. Hunt, who said he was 75 yards from the scene, testified that he saw Prather produce a gun, bend over, raise his right arm, twist and shoot -- all prior to any other gunshots.

Gregory Bowers, a code enforcement officer at the City of Laurel, said he was sitting in northbound traffic in a pickup truck when the shootout happened. Bowers testified that he heard "close to 20" gunshots, and that he believes Prather shot first and the officers returned fire. 

The trial is expected to continue into next week. 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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