Suspect arrested in shooting of Howard County police officer

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Officer Steven Houk’s first name.

A man suspected of shooting and wounding a Howard County police officer was arrested Thursday morning after a massive manhunt.

Stephon Prather, 29, was charged with attempted murder of a police officer and several counts of assault against officers, according to authorities.

The wounded officer, Steven Houk, 30, was in serious condition Thursday afternoon, said Sherry Llewellyn, a Howard County police spokeswoman.

“He’s had some surgery and is doing well,” Llewellyn said. “His prognosis is good.”

Prather is accused of opening fire at officers along a commercial strip of Route 1 in the Laurel-Savage area Wednesday afternoon. The incident began about 4 p.m., when an employee of a business on Route 1 called police to report a man with a gun, Llewellyn said.

As Houk and two other officers approached the man, he began to shoot, police said.

Houk, a two-year veteran of the department, was struck. At least one officer returned fire, but it was not clear whether that officer was Houk. It also was unclear whether the officers and the gunman had exchanged words before the shooting began, Llewellyn said.

After the gunfire, the man darted into the woods near the highway, police said

Prather, who was identified as a suspect late Wednesday, was captured just before 9 a.m. Thursday after authorities from several agencies searched through the night on foot, in vehicles and with K-9 units and helicopters.

On Thursday morning, officers spotted Prather walking on the shoulder of Route 1 near Lynn Buff Court. When officers confronted him, he surrendered, said Howard Police Chief William McMahon.

Authorities said that they later found a weapon that they think is Prather’s in a storm drain and that he may have spent the night there. They said Prather had suffered a gunshot wound to the leg.

Some area residents said they were nervous Wednesday night, knowing that a search was underway for the shooter, and were relieved at news of the arrest.


Stephon Prather (Courtesy of Howard County Police Department)

“Everybody was scared,” said Heather Wagner, 23, who lives in a residential neighborhood off Route 1 less than two miles from where Prather was arrested. “It was definitely a shock to be driving home and learn that there’s a shooter on the run, right where you are headed.”

Howard police, who identified Prather as the suspected gunman from footage taken by a surveillance camera, said they did not know what led to the shooting, which is under investigation.

Court papers show that Prather has had previous run-ins with law enforcement. In 2006, he got into an argument with family members. As they were driving away from their home in Landover, Prather chased after them with a gun. Prather then shot at them as they ran from the car back to the house, according to Prince George’s County court records. Along with two adults, a 10-year-old and 1-year-old were in the car at the time, the documents state. No one was injured.

Prather was convicted of assault in the incident and was initially sentenced to five years in prison. In 2007, a judge agreed to reduce his sentence, sending him to a drug rehabilitation facility and requiring he serve five years of probation. Prather had spent almost a year and a half in jail when his sentence was reduced.

According to the court papers, before entering rehab, Prather suffered from marijuana and alcohol abuse and depression.

In a letter to a judge asking for his sentence to be shortened, Prather explained the death of an older cousin in 2005 has caused him a “tremendous amount of agony.”

“He was shot in the head 3 times and his life [expired while] I was holding him in my arms,” Prather wrote. “Your honor, that situation alone has driven me to emotional distress.”

I'm a Washington Post reporter, working an early morning shift that deals with crime, lottery winners, traffic, you name it.
Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.
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