Charles A. Moose, the Montgomery County police chief who led a three-week manhunt for snipers who killed 10 people in the Washington metropolitan area in October 2002 and later resigned amid controversy over payments he received for a book he wrote about the investigation, died Nov. 25 at age 68.
His son David Moose confirmed the death but did not immediately cite a cause. In a Facebook post, Chief Moose’s wife, Sandy, said he died at home while watching a football game. According to public records, he lived in Palm Harbor, Fla., a suburb of Tampa and St. Petersburg.
Chief Moose was chosen to lead the 1,000-officer Montgomery police department in 1999, after 24 years in Portland, Ore., where he rose from patrolman to a six-year tenure as police chief. He was the first Black police chief in Portland and the second in Montgomery County, a Maryland jurisdiction just north of D.C.
In both departments, Chief Moose was credited with improving relations with minority populations and adopting community policing, in which police officers seek to strengthen bonds with local residents to reduce crime. (Chief Moose wrote a dissertation about community policing for his PhD, which he received while on the Portland police force.) Known for his contradictions, he was alternately praised for his public outreach and criticized for arrogance and a volatile temper.
He faced his sternest test as a police chief beginning Oct. 2, 2002, when a man was shot to death while walking across a parking lot in the Aspen Hill area of Montgomery County. Within 24 hours, five more people were killed in suburban Maryland and the District.
Chief Moose took charge of a multiagency task force investigating the shooting rampage because the first killing occurred in his jurisdiction. He coordinated the police response, which included the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service, Maryland and Virginia state police and local departments in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. He became the public face of the investigation, giving several briefings a day.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said he got to know Moose during the investigation, when Manger was chief in Fairfax County, Va.
“We all knew we were dealing with a criminal investigation that had impacted the community’s sense of safety more than anything either of us had dealt with before,” Manger told The Washington Post on Friday. “I was impressed by how seriously he took that responsibility.”
When a 13-year-old boy was wounded near a school in Bowie, Md., on Oct. 7, Chief Moose became emotional at a news conference, his eyes filling with tears.
“Someone is so mean-spirited that they shot a child,” he said. “Now we’re stepping over a line … it’s getting really, really personal now.”
Every few days for three weeks, there was another shooting, and yet the police could not find the culprits. Chief Moose suggested that the killers may have been driving a white van.
As the death toll mounted — two men were killed while pumping gas in Virginia; an FBI analyst was killed while she walked outside a Home Depot in Fairfax County — the D.C. region was paralyzed by fear. Sporting events were canceled, children were kept home from school, and people crouched low while filling their cars with gas.
Some law enforcement officials praised Chief Moose’s leadership of the investigation — “one of the best operations I’ve seen,” an ATF officer told The Washington Post — but there were questions from the beginning about how he handled the probe and dealt with the media.
When The Washington Post and WUSA-TV (Ch. 9) reported that a tarot card had been found at the site of one of the killings, Chief Moose lashed out, saying that information should not have been made public, later claiming the news organizations were responsible for five additional deaths.
“I have not received any message that the citizens of Montgomery County want Channel 9 or The Washington Post or any other media outlet to solve this case,” he shouted. “If they do, then let me know. We will go and do other police work, and we will turn this case over to the media.”
Internal feuds erupted among the various police agencies, according to reports at the time, with one Montgomery officer calling the situation “just a mess.”
Early in the investigation, D.C. police had seen a blue Chevrolet Caprice with New Jersey license plates near one of the shootings, but that information was not widely circulated, with the public still on the lookout for a white van. At news conferences, Chief Moose began to read from scripts prepared by the FBI. He revealed that the snipers had left a phone number at one murder site, and he implored them to contact to authorities.
On the morning of Oct. 22, Conrad Johnson, a Montgomery County bus driver, was killed outside his bus in the same Aspen Hill neighborhood where the shootings began 20 days earlier. With information gleaned from several law enforcement agencies — and from an alert motorist — members of the Montgomery County SWAT team, Maryland State Police and FBI converged at a rest stop near Frederick, Md., at 3 a.m. on Oct. 24 and arrested 41-year-old John Allen Muhammad and 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo. They were asleep in their car, a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice.
The D.C. snipers, as they were called, were charged with 10 counts of murder in the Washington area and were later linked to killings in other parts of the country.
“We have not given in to the terror,” Chief Moose said at the time. “Yes, we’ve all experienced anxiety. But in the end, resiliency has won out.”
While still serving as police chief, he wrote a memoir about what he called the largest manhunt in U.S. police history. He reportedly was paid $170,000 for the book, plus more than $4,000 in consulting fees for a movie project. A county ethics commission ruled that Chief Moose was prohibited from profiting from his work as a police officer. He challenged the finding in federal court and went ahead with his plans.
“I care a lot more about this case than anybody in this room,” he said at a commission hearing. “So to have people say to me that I’m going to jeopardize these people going to prison or accepting the death penalty so I can write a book is like about the meanest thing anybody can say to me.”
Amid a huge public outcry, Chief Moose resigned in June 2003. It was then learned that he had neglected to report a five-figure settlement he had received from Marriott International after he charged the hotel chain with racial discrimination during a stay at one of its properties in Hawaii.
Chief Moose’s book, “Three Weeks in October,” was published in September 2003 and described previously unknown aspects of the investigation. He appeared on national talk shows to discuss the D.C. sniper case, even though Muhammad and Malvo had not yet gone to trial.
“Personally, I don’t understand why someone who’s been in law enforcement his whole life would potentially damage our case or compromise a jury pool by doing this,” James A. Willett, a Virginia prosecutor who helped lead the case against Muhammad, told The Washington Post.
Former Montgomery County executive Doug Duncan, who hired Chief Moose, praised him Friday for his “deep sense of caring and commitment to the community he served” and said the chief was the victim of “a rotten deal” in the controversy surrounding his resignation.
The Morning Sun
Muhammad and Malvo were convicted in connection with the killing rampage. Muhammad was executed in 2009; Malvo is serving a life sentence in Virginia.
Charles Alexander Moose was born Aug. 11, 1953, in New York City. He grew up in Lexington, N.C., where his father was a high school biology teacher and his mother was a registered nurse.
Chief Moose, who said he often experienced racial discrimination while growing up in the South, graduated in 1975 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He intended to go to law school, but one of his political science professors, Reuben Greenberg — later the first Black police chief in Charleston, S.C. — encouraged him to apply for the Portland police force, which he joined in 1975.
Despite several disciplinary actions, which Chief Moose said were racially motivated, he became Portland’s police chief in 1993. He received a master of public administration degree in 1984 and a doctorate in criminology and urban studies in 1993, both from Portland State University.
He had two sons from his first marriage, to Linder Barrett, which ended in divorce. He had a stepson from his second marriage, to Sandra Herman, in 1988. A complete list of survivors could not be confirmed.
After leaving Montgomery County, Chief Moose never led another police agency. He served as a patrolman with the Honolulu Police Department from 2006 to 2010 before retiring to Florida.