A 50-year-old North Laurel man was charged with assault with intent to murder a Howard County police officer Tuesday morning after police say he resisted arrest for a traffic violation and then grabbed at the officer's gun.
John Edward Williams, 50, of the 15800 block of Joyce Lane also is charged with assault, resisting arrest, carrying a concealed deadly weapon, malicious destruction of property and running a stop sign.
A District Court commissioner released him on personal recognizance later Tuesday.
Mr. Williams said he fought Officer William D. Perigo and tried to take his gun only because he thought he would be shot himself, court officials said.
Police contend that Mr. Williams showed disrespect for the law. They credit Officer Perigo's quick thinking and the help of another officer and two citizens for his safety. The officer suffered a cut to the lower lip and abrasions to his legs and left arm.
Last year, 73 Howard County police officers were assaulted while working.
Police said Officer Perigo, who has been on the force two years, could have lost his life Tuesday.
Officer Perigo saw a white Ford truck go through a stop sign at Davis Road and U.S. 1 at 10 a.m., according to police charging documents.
When the officer stopped the vehicle a short distance away at Madison Avenue, near the Prince George's County line, he said Mr. Williams, the driver, had an 11 1/2 -inch Bowie knife. Mr. Williams said he carried the weapon to fend off drunks at the Savage Historic Mill Trail, police said.
When Officer Perigo radioed for a police backup and began to arrest Mr. Williams, the man became irate, prompting the officer to spray him with pepper spray, police reports said. That's when Mr. Williams lunged at the officer and pulled him down, police said.
"I dropped to my knees and felt my holster unsnap," Officer Perigo wrote in his report. "I looked, and he had his right hand on the pistol grip of my service revolver and was trying to pull it free."
He yelled for two bystanders to help and rolled on the ground until Mr. Williams could no longer grip the gun, the officer reported.
When he turned over with his shirt ripped, a contact lens missing and his weapon drawn, another officer who had just arrived and two citizens tackled Mr. Williams, police said.
State police statistics show similar incidents were common in 1994. Last year, 4,178 Maryland law enforcement officers were victims of assault in the line of duty, 476 of them during traffic stops. Of those incidents, 83 percent involved physical force and 3 percent involved handguns, reports show.
"It's always a stressful situation when you go to arrest someone, and they resist because they have no respect for the law," said Sgt. Steve Keller, a Howard County police spokesman. "It's an unfortunate part of the job."
In January, a Howard police detective filed a civil suit against a Silver Spring woman who was charged with trying to hit him with her car during a fraud investigation in December.
In April 1993, that same officer was sprayed with his own pepper tear-gas spray while scuffling with a man high on PCP.
When the man tried to take the officer's gun, the blinded officer shot him six times in what a jury later called self-defense. The man later was sentenced to prison.