Residents castigate police actions

The Baltimore Sun

Frustrated by the amount of information provided in the wake of the apparent accidental shooting of two teenage boys by an undercover officer, residents of the Howard County neighborhood where the incident took place vented their anger at police last night.

Some residents of the Pleasant Chase community in Jessup say they believe that the actions of the officers conducting drug surveillance April 7 put people at risk.

About 50 residents attended a meeting last night to air their concerns and get information, with several complaining that officers at the shooting scene were rude and would not tell them what was going on.

At one point in the meeting, as Howard County police Chief William McMahon described the victims, who are ages 14 and 15, as "young men," one resident shouted "kids." Other attendees voiced their agreement.

"No one here is advocating drugs, but was it worth the risk that was put to all the people?" Jacqueline Mason asked McMahon.

The shooting happened about 5:20 p.m. April 7 in the 8300 block of Pleasant Chase Road, when, police said, an undercover narcotics officer was getting out of a car with his gun drawn and it accidentally went off. A single bullet struck Garcia Wilson, 15, and Dwain Usery, 14, both of Jessup.

Last night, Capt. Tara Nelson, commander of the criminal investigations bureau, said that several undercover officers were conducting drug surveillance in the neighborhood because they planned to execute a search warrant at one home.

McMahon said that officers spotted the boys engaged in suspicious activity with occupants of a car that pulled up on the street where they were walking. Police said that the boys' activity was unrelated to the home under investigation.

McMahon said that as the officer stepped out of the unmarked car, he held his gun out to his side with his finger on the trigger but that his foot got stuck on the ledge of the car and he lost his balance.

McMahon said it is against standard police practice for an officer to place his finger on the trigger unless there is a threat to the officer or another person.

"This was an absolute accident," McMahon said. "That officer is very distraught over this."

The department's internal affairs division is investigating the shooting, and the officer's name is not being released because he was working undercover, according to police.

Police said that a preliminary investigation determined that the bullet grazed Wilson's arm before hitting Usery in the abdomen. Both teens, who attend Hammond High School in Columbia, have been released from the hospital.

At the time of the shooting, police said illegal drugs were recovered at the scene but gave no details.

Charles Ware, a Columbia-based attorney for Wilson's family, said in an interview that the boy "was not involved in any drug deal."

Ware said that the Wilson family's priority is for their son to recover.

"They are thoroughly shocked and, like the community, wondering, 'How could this happen?'" he said.

"The community where the shooting occurred always has the right to understand why there's any kind of shooting ... but especially when it's on the part of law enforcement officials," Ware said. "People have the right to know what happened."

Ware also said the teen told him that he heard two gunshots.

McMahon said investigators scoured the area for a second shell casing but did not find one. "We're pretty confident that it was just one bullet," he said.

Last night's meeting was organized by the Rev. Khalfani Drummer, a five-year resident of the community.

"We take issue with the seemingly reckless and improper use of force in what is a quiet community," he said before the event. "Several of our children - en route to soccer practices and just playing outside - and adults were moments away from possibly becoming victims of an 'accidental shooting.'"

Even though residents vented many of their frustrations, some expressed optimism about developing better communication with police.

"I think it was really good that they came out," said Deborah Drummer, Khalfani Drummer's wife. "We want the kids to continue to feel safe and trust law enforcement. I just believe they will do us right."

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