Police Panel Calls Shooting Unjustified
Pr. George's Man Was Left Paralyzed
By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2004; Page B01
A panel of Prince George's County police commanders has contradicted the findings of an internal investigation and the conclusions of a grand jury, ruling that a police officer had no justification for firing a shot that paralyzed an unarmed man, according to documents.
The panel -- made up of the assistant chief, two deputy chiefs, a major and a civilian police manager -- recommended that administrative charges be filed against Cpl. Charles K. Ramseur for firing a shot that severed the spinal cord of Desmond E. Ray in December 2002.
State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said yesterday: "I think this is definitely a step in the right direction. From the standpoint of public confidence in the police policing themselves, this is the right thing to do."
The Executive Review Panel was created to provide oversight into allegations of police misconduct after a 10-year period in which Prince George's police shot and killed the most people, per officer, of the 50 largest police departments in the nation.
Since 1992, Ramseur, 42, has shot and wounded four people in the line of duty, records show. Police officials found no wrongdoing in the three shootings preceding the Ray incident.
Leaders of the police union and lawyers involved in previous misconduct cases said they could not recall an instance in which Prince George's police concluded that an officer's shooting in the line of duty was inappropriate.
"If you say the shooting isn't justified, you have to take serious action," said Redmond Barnes of the People's Coalition for Police Accountability, a group advocating changes in the police department.
In December, Internal Affairs Lt. William Gray recommended that Ramseur, a 15-year police veteran, be cleared of wrongdoing. Earlier that month, a county grand jury turned down a request by Ivey to indict Ramseur on charges of reckless endangerment and first- and second-degree assault.
The Executive Review Panel asked Gray to provide additional evidence, officials said, and on April 14, the panel concluded that Ramseur's shooting was unjustified.
Police officials did not make the Executive Review Panel's conclusion public because it is considered a personnel matter, said Barbara Hamm, a spokeswoman for Chief Melvin C. High. John E. Smathers, a Laurel lawyer representing Ray in a federal civil lawsuit against Ramseur and the county, obtained the panel's conclusions as part of the legal discovery process and provided copies to The Washington Post.
The case now goes to a civilian review board, which could receive it within the next two weeks and will have 40 working days to submit its recommendation.
High will weigh the input from both groups before deciding whether administrative charges against Ramseur are warranted.
Ramseur is on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the internal investigation. His attorney did not return a phone call.
Percy Alston, president of the union that represents county officers, said Ramseur is disappointed by the panel's recommendation. "He wants to come back to work," Alston said.
In the first of the previous shootings, in June 2000, Ramseur shot and seriously wounded an unarmed man behind an Adelphi pizza parlor. A federal civil lawsuit by that man, Jose Buruca-Melgar, is pending.
The night Ray was shot, Ramseur was part of a SWAT team preparing to serve a search warrant on a Capitol Heights house.
Ramseur said that when SWAT officers jumped out of a van, Ray leaped from a car, ran away, threw a bag of crack on the ground and reached toward his waistband.
After Ray was shot, a second shot fired by Ramseur whistled into a nearby house and narrowly missed the head of an elderly woman who was in the kitchen. Ramseur was armed that night with an MP-5 submachine gun, an assault weapon.
Ray, who lives in Forestville, said he walked away, did not have or throw any drugs and did not reach for his waistband. Last fall, a District Court judge acquitted Ray of drug possession.
When High came to the chief's job in May 2003, he pledged to improve the department's performance. One of his initiatives was establishing the Executive Review Panel to improve oversight over police shootings, in-custody deaths and other uses of force, said Hamm, the police spokeswoman. High established the panel to review whether police policies and training needs to be changed and to consider the actions of individual officers, Hamm said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company