Questions Persist in Fatal Shooting of Soldier

James E. Dean, with wife Muriel, is reported to have pointed a gun at an officer. He was fatally shot, but relatives say he was not threatening anyone.
James E. Dean, with wife Muriel, is reported to have pointed a gun at an officer. He was fatally shot, but relatives say he was not threatening anyone. (Family Photo)
By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 18, 2007

For Robert Purdy, each passing day raises more questions about what happened on Dusty Lane the day after Christmas.

Purdy's nephew James E. Dean was killed by a Maryland State Police trooper after a 14-hour standoff in his father's St. Mary's County home near Hollywood.

Before the incident, Dean, an Army sergeant who had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, had seemed to be turning his life around. Then he received a redeployment letter in mid-December that sent him into a downward spiral.

Police say Dean stepped out of the house as the standoff wound down and pointed a gun at an officer. As he did that, Dean was shot by a 17-year state police veteran who believed a fellow officer to be in grave danger. Authorities note that Dean had fired at three police vehicles while he was barricaded in the house.

Dean's family is not sure he was threatening anyone: His blood spattered about five feet into the home's entryway, leading them to believe he never went outside.

An investigation by the St. Mary's Bureau of Criminal Investigations and the state police homicide unit may reveal the answer. But Purdy and other relatives are frustrated by the investigation's pace and by what they described as unresponsiveness by the St. Mary's Sheriff's Office. The Bureau of Criminal Investigations is an inter-agency operation of the Sheriff's Office and the state police.

"There are so many questions that haven't been answered, and the stories change depending on who in the sheriff's department you talk to," Purdy said. "No one is taking responsibility for what happened, and we can't even get a face-to-face meeting."

Purdy said family members were told that they would receive a copy of the report with results of the investigation in the first week of February, but two weeks later neither the St. Mary's State's Attorney Office nor the sheriff has contacted them or returned phone calls.

State's Attorney Richard D. Fritz (R) ultimately will decide whether a crime was committed. His office did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment last week.

St. Mary's Sheriff Tim Cameron, who had been on the job for less than six weeks when Dean barricaded himself inside his father's house, acknowledged that he has not met with Dean's wife, Muriel, his parents or other members of his family. Cameron said he had planned to talk to them -- until he was contacted by Daniel Guenther, Muriel Dean's lawyer.

"At that point, you can't just have a face-to-face with them," he said. "It's not that simple when attorneys get involved. At some point, I'll be able to sit down with them and answer any questions."

Muriel Dean declined to comment at Guenther's direction.

Cameron said Fritz had set Feb. 5 as a "target date" for completion of the investigation report, but the sheriff added that it was never a hard and fast deadline. He said the section of the report from the Bureau of Criminal Investigations is complete and will be sent within the next few days to the Maryland State Police for officers there to combine with their contributions.

Lynda Purdy, a family member who said Dean was like a grandson to her, said delaying the report stalls the family's healing process. Purdy, a minister who performed Dean's wedding to Muriel last August, said family members have felt mistreated by law enforcement officers since they first called the sheriff's office to check on Dean's welfare Dec. 25.

"I have never heard of more callous behavior by the police as what happened that night," Purdy said, adding that family members were not allowed to talk to Dean after the police arrived at his father's house during the standoff and that his grandmother, who lived next door, was threatened with arrest. "And now they're completely ignored."

Lynda and Robert Purdy both said they hope to gain some closure from the investigation report, but they also want to see someone take responsibility for the events. They said nobody has answered their questions about who was making the decisions to release tear gas into the house and not to call members of the military to help the soldier inside.

"Someone needs to be held accountable," Lynda Purdy said. "I don't believe the outcome had to be this way, and I want to know why it was."

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