The Anne Arundel County police chief defended Maryland’s new “red flag” protective law Monday, just hours after a 61-year-old man was shot and killed while officers were trying to serve a court order requiring him to surrender his guns.
Chief Timothy Altomare said the fatal shooting in Ferndale was a sign that the law, which went into effect Oct. 1, is needed. There have been 19 protective orders sought in the county since then, tying Harford County for the most in Maryland, according to a report on the first month. Statewide, about half of the 114 orders sought have been granted.
“If you look at this morning’s outcome, it’s tough for us to say ‘Well, what did we prevent?’ ” he said. “Because we don’t know what we prevented or could’ve prevented. What would’ve happened if we didn’t go there at 5 a.m.?”
Altomare said the two investigating officers, who he did not identify Monday, “did the best they could with the situation they had.” One of them fatally shot Gary J. Willis at his Linwood Avenue home.
Tuesday morning, police identified two five-year veterans of the department — Cpl. Jessica Hooper and PFC Gary Zawodny — as the officers involved. Both were assigned to the bureau of patrol and have been placed on administrative leave per departmental policy, according to a news release.
Police said Willis answered the door at 5:17 a.m. with a gun in his hand and initially put it down next to the door as he first spoke with the officers.
Protective orders by county
There have been 19 protective orders sought in Anne Arundel County since the “red flag” law went into effect Oct. 1. This map shows the number of protective orders that have been sought by the rest of Maryland’s municipalities in that time.
Police said he “became irate” when officers tried to serve him with the emergency risk protective order and picked it up again.
As he struggled with the officers over the gun, it went off but didn’t strike anyone. One of the two officers then fatally shot Willis with his department-issued firearm, a police spokeswoman said.
Maryland legislators passed the law last year authorizing “extreme risk protective orders,” also known as a red flag law. It allows family members, law enforcement and others to seek a court order to temporarily prohibit people’s access to firearms when they show red flags that they are a danger to themselves or others.
It is considered the strongest in the nation, giving a wider range of people who can petition for an order.
One of Willis’ nieces said another family member requested the protective order to temporarily remove his guns after an incident at the house Sunday.
Altomare said the two officers have been placed on administrative leave, as per procedure following an officer-involved shooting, but said nothing indicates the officers did anything wrong.
“My heart goes out to the family for their loss,” he said, adding no one was at the home other than the officers and Willis.
Willis was being served an emergency risk protective order following an incident at the house Sunday night. A niece said one of her aunts requested the protective order to temporarily remove his guns.
According to a report by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Anne Arundel County had 19 such petitions sought against individuals in October, tied with Harford County for the most in the state. There have been 114 statewide, a rate the sheriff’s office project would lead to 1,342 in the first year.
Altomare said of the protective orders the granted in the county, his officers have handled nine and seized “around 33 guns” in the process.
The chief said while he is “cautiously optimistic” the rate of protective orders won’t increase too rapidly, the department is building a storage facility specifically to accommodate the increase in seized firearms.
He remains convinced that the law is working.
“Of course it causes me concern that officers might be put into a position where they’re confronting a person who’s exhibited evidence of non-clear thought with weapons,” he said.
But he said he rather have a trained officer confronting someone in that situation than a civilian.
Gary J. Willis was 61, according to an update from Anne Arundel County police.