Md. trooper's killer still sought; restaurant dispute blamed

State Trooper Wesley Brown, 24, was ambushed and killed by a gunman early Friday after an altercation with an unruly patron at a Forestville Applebee's, where he was working as a part-time security guard. Surveillance tape is being reviewed.
By David Nakamura and Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 12, 2010

It was early Friday morning when off-duty Maryland State Trooper Wesley Brown left the Applebee's restaurant in Forestville, where he worked as a part-time security guard. Half an hour earlier, he had thrown out a disorderly patron who had refused to pay his bill.

Now, things seemed calmer as Brown -- wearing a bulletproof vest and a jacket marked "police" and carrying his police-issued handgun -- stepped toward the brown Maryland State Police cruiser parked just beyond the front door. He was talking on his mobile phone.

Moments later, Brown, 24, was dead, gunned down shortly before 12:40 a.m. by an unknown assailant in the dark. The gunman ran away, while Brown, covered in blood, stumbled into the restaurant and collapsed as patrons frantically dialed 911.

This was the scene police described Friday as they combed the restaurant, its parking lot and surveillance video for evidence in a case that one officer described as the "cold-blooded killing" of a young officer whose life seemed full of promise. Brown had recently asked his girlfriend, a District police officer, to marry him, family members said, and on Friday he was scheduled to lead a youth group on a tour of New York as part of a mentoring program Brown founded three years ago.

The gunman "took a whole lot from this family," said Brown's father, Sylvester, who sat with family outside his Northeast Washington home Friday afternoon. "If my son had arrested him, this wouldn't have happened, but that's not how my son is. He just told him to leave."

Investigators do not know how an argument over a restaurant check could have escalated into the ambush of a police officer and are trying to make sense of the killing. "It is something that is unfathomable. It shocks the conscience," said Maj. Andy Ellis, a spokesman for the Prince George's County Police Department, which is overseeing the investigation.

The shooter "knew this was a trooper," Ellis said. It wasn't clear how many times Brown had been shot, but police found several shell casings in the parking lot. The customer who failed to pay his bill is considered a "person of interest," Prince George's County police said, adding that they believe he returned and shot Brown. During a review of surveillance tapes from the restaurant and a nearby bank, police released images of that person. They also have interviewed at least 50 patrons and restaurant workers.

"It doesn't appear [Brown] even had a chance to draw his weapon," Ellis said. "It appears he was ambushed from the outside."

Although Brown was wearing a bulletproof vest, the bullets somehow entered in a way that allowed at least one to pierce his heart, Ellis said.

Police described the suspect as a black male between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-8, about 130 pounds, and having short hair and a bit of a beard. He was wearing a Hugo Boss jacket. Ellis said the identity of the shooter is "a mystery at this point -- we don't have a name or know who this guy is" but is considered armed and dangerous.

Brown, the youngest of nine children, had overcome a youth marked by occasional trouble, family members said.

"He was a remarkable young man. He was on his way to becoming a fine trooper," said Maryland State Police Sgt. Rodney Morris, his supervisor. "All he wanted to do was serve Prince George's County."

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