A man being sought for violating his probation held a sheriff's deputy at gunpoint in a Hampstead apartment last night, then fatally shot himself after ordering the officer to read his suicide note, officers said.
Deputy Ed Smith had been sent to the apartment -- alone and without a police radio -- when the 25-year-old man surprised the officer by pulling out a .32-caliber revolver and pointing it at him, the deputy said.
Sheriff's officials said the deputy's lack of back-up and radio, which forced him to later find a telephone to call for help, were hazards created by budget constraints that they say have put officers' safety at risk.
"I was being held hostage and I was wondering how long it was going to take," Deputy Smith said after the ordeal. "I tried to engage him in conversation . . . he had just read the Bible and I asked him if he believed in God, and in heaven and hell. I was
just stalling for time, hoping my dispatcher would send someone."
Sheriff John H. Brown said he has been fighting with county officials to get more money for portable radios, which cost about $1,000 apiece. Some deputies carry them, "but there aren't enough of them to go around," Sheriff Brown said.
"Crime is moving into Carroll County, and I've got officers who are having guns pointed at them at point-blank range," he said. "And they keep cutting my damn budget."
The 45-year-old deputy had gone to the second-floor apartment in the 1200 block of N. Main St. about 8:15 to serve an arrest warrant on the man, whose identity was being withheld pending notification of relatives.
The deputy said he knocked on the door of the apartment and was met by the suspect, who at first seemed cooperative. Deputy Smith told him he had warrants charging him with violating his probation and failing to appear in court on that charge. Sheriff's officials had no information about why the man had been put on probation.
Deputy Smith said the man agreed to come along and turned to get his coat. Suddenly, the deputy said the man spun around and was holding a gun he had concealed.
"He thrust the gun out and kept ordering me to sit in a living room chair," the deputy recalled.
Not wanting to be a sitting target, Deputy Smith said he refused several times to sit in the chair.
"I didn't want to be in a position where I couldn't go for my gun if I had to," he said.
Allowing the deputy to remain standing, the gunman picked up a note from a table and handed it to the deputy, demanding he read it.
The deputy had just begun reading the note when he heard a gunshot behind him. He said he turned and saw the man on the ground.
"I didn't know if he had shot at me, or shot at himself, or pretended to shoot himself," Deputy Smith said. "And I didn't have a radio to contact anyone, so I went out in the hallway and was met by a neighbor who heard the shot. I used a phone in one of the apartments to get help."
When he went back in the gunman's apartment, he saw the man had shot himself in the right temple and was still alive, but unconscious. The man died later in the evening at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
Deputy Smith, who joined the sheriff's department two years ago after retiring from a 22-year career with the Baltimore police force, said he felt he was unnecessarily put in a life-threatening situation because he had neither back-up nor a radio.
"I've got a problem with this county not supplying equipment," he said. "And you just shouldn't be making someone go out on a warrant alone."
Sheriff Brown, who also came to Carroll after retiring from Baltimore police, said he is angry about not getting more money for equipment and personnel.
"What's it going to take, one of my deputies getting killed?" Sheriff Brown said. "We have to beg for necessities.
"It's a matter of priorities. What's a police officer's life worth?"