“He enjoyed what he was doing, and people enjoyed working with him,” said Lt. Dan Sheffield, who worked overtime assignments with Morris.
Even as they mourned, police officials were piecing together how Morris’s life ended so suddenly.
About 11:50 a.m., Morris and Officer Michael Risher were investigating an attempted car break-in at a gas station in the Laurel area, police said. An employee soon saw the silver Acura involved in the crime, police said. The officers turned on their overhead lights and hurried to catch up to the Acura, said Julie Parker, a police spokeswoman. They caught up to the Acura on I-95, Parker said.
They began to call in their location and the Acura’s license plate number to a dispatcher. But what happened next remains unclear, police said. They said Morris, who was driving, lost control of the cruiser about 1 p.m. and veered off the highway and into a ravine. Morris, who was thrown from the vehicle, suffered severe head injuries and was pronounced dead at a hospital, police said. Risher was injured and was released from the hospital late Monday.
Police Chief Mark Magaw said the officers were doing “great work.”
Investigators were still trying to determine how fast the cruiser and the Acura were traveling and whether the officers were wearing seat belts, Magaw said. Law enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case, said witnesses reported that the Acura was speeding, and some suggested it might have run into or cut off the police car. Magaw said investigators were still checking those accounts.
Although Prince George’s officers generally are required to have a supervisor’s approval before initiating a pursuit — and generally are not authorized to initiate pursuits in nonviolent crimes — it remains unclear what happened in this case.
Parker called the incident an “apparent pursuit,” and investigators were trying to determine whether proper procedures were followed.
On Monday, dozens of uniformed county police officers congregated outside Prince George’s Hospital Center, wiping away tears and embracing. The last officer killed in the line of duty in Prince George’s was Thomas P. Jenson, who died in a crash on an icy road in February 2010 as he was responding to a report of a man who had broken into a woman’s apartment by throwing concrete through a window.
‘A very sad day’
“Today is a very sad day for the Prince George’s County government and our public safety community,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said in a statement. “Each day, the men and women of our police department face life-threatening circumstances so that our citizens can be safe.”
Magaw said Morris was particularly well known in the District 6 station, having gone through Police Explorers there before becoming an officer.
“They’ve known him since he was 15, 16 years old,” Magaw said. “He loved this department and what he did for a living.”
Morris was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but grew up in the Laurel area and became a U.S. citizen in 2009. He is a 2007 graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School and most recently lived in Laurel.
Officer Willie Stover, who worked in District 6 until a recent transfer to District 4, recalled how Morris took pride in his appearance. Stover said that when he first met Morris, he commented on how nice Morris looked in the dress uniform. Stover said that Morris preferred it to the utility uniform because he “looked very sharp in it.”
“He was just a regular person,” Stover said. “He was still a police officer, but he was just a regular, young guy.”
On Monday night, police officers gathered outside Morris’s home said the family did not want to comment. Risher’s family could not be reached.
‘Really a good guy’
Stover said that although he and Morris worked different shifts in District 6, they became close friends, having dinner and exchanging phone calls. He said that Morris volunteered with the same Police Explorers program that had put him on the path to becoming an officer and that he hoped to one day help manage it.
Sheffield said that Morris was an enterprising officer who “always had that knack to try something new.” He said that when other officers saw him arrive at the scene of a call, “you knew you were with a friend.”
“Morris was really, really a good guy,” Sheffield said. “It’s not going to be the same without him.”
Jennifer Jenkins, Ann E. Marimow, Robert Samuels and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.