'I Pulled My Gun Out, It Went Off' Continued from Page 6
Four 6th District officers were working overtime on a routine traffic roadblock on June 9, 1996, at 50th and C streets SE, checking whether drivers had valid licenses and were wearing seat belts. At 2:20 a.m., a blue 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme pulled up. The driver, Eric Antonio Anderson, 18, of Landover, was alone in the car.
Lt. Stewart Morris approached the Cutlass and asked the driver for his license and registration. Morris later told investigators he got "a bad feeling" and thought the driver was going to flee. Morris asked him to turn his engine off.
"What do I got to do that for?" Morris said the driver responded.
"I think we have got a problem," Morris shouted to the other officers at the roadblock.
What happened next surprised Morris as much as it did Anderson, Morris said later.
"I saw a flash coming from my left side and heard a single gunshot at the same time," Morris told investigators. "I looked to my left and saw Officer Terrence Shepherd."
Shepherd, 22, who had been on the force two years, had come to back up Morris, but Morris said he was unaware of that until after the shot was fired. "I didn't hear Officer Shepherd say anything before, during or immediately after the shooting," Morris said.
The bullet from Shepherd's gun passed through Anderson's left shoulder, aorta and esophagus before lodging in his right shoulder blade. Anderson's car went 50 feet in reverse and struck a tree. He was taken to Prince George's Hospital Center and pronounced dead at 2:55 a.m. He had a .04 percent alcohol level in his blood, well below the legal limit.
No weapon was found in Anderson's car.
Immediately after the shooting, Capt. Joshua Ederheimer, the commander of the roadblock, ran into Shepherd.
"I said, 'Shep, what happened?'‚" Ederheimer later told police investigators. He said Shepherd responded, "Captain, I pulled my gun out, it went off, my finger was on the trigger." Ederheimer said he believed Shepherd was telling him the shooting was accidental.
Shepherd was placed on administrative leave with pay pending a criminal investigation into the shooting.
Shepherd told prosecutors he had switched places with Morris, stepping in front of him and questioning Anderson himself. This contradicted Morris's statement that he didn't see Shepherd until after the shot. Shepherd said he intentionally fired because he feared for his and Morris's safety. The driver refused commands to put his hands on the wheel, Shepherd added, and had rummaged in the car's console as if he was trying to get a weapon.
Shepherd also said he heard the vehicle go into reverse and start to move. He said the car was now a threat to him and Morris and other officers on the scene. "Once he put the car in gear and went back, it was easy enough for him to put the car back in the driver's position and strike us," Shepherd later testified in a police disciplinary hearing. He said he fired after the car moved back three to four feet, according to an investigative report by police.
But two other officers on the scene, James Minor and Jacques Doby, said in statements to investigators that the car did not start moving until after the shot. Both officers said they saw Shepherd slightly behind Morris after the shot not in front of the lieutenant.
The evidence also contradicted Shepherd: The gunpowder residue on Anderson's shirt indicated that he was shot from less than 24 inches away not the three to four feet in Shepherd's account to investigators. The left-to-right path of the bullet through Anderson's torso also indicated he had been sitting still, not moving backward, when he was hit.
Finally, a stain on the back left side of Morris's white uniform shirt turned out to be lead residue "probably from gases emitted from the ejector on the right side of the weapon," according to a police laboratory report. That undermined Shepherd's story that he fired after moving in front of Morris.
Eighteen months after the shooting, the U.S. attorney's office decided not to prosecute the case criminally. A spokesman for the office declined to comment.
The police department started its own internal investigation and found that Shepherd's reasons for firing were "unsupported by witnesses or the evidence," Lt. Rodney Parks wrote.
Parks said Shepherd should face administrative charges of using unnecessary force and making false statements. John C. Daniels, the 6th District commander, agreed with the force charge but disagreed with the false statement charge.
After a disciplinary hearing before the department's trial board, Shepherd was fired on Oct. 23.
At the hearings, Shepherd was portrayed as an officer with several commendations who had started his career in 1990 as a 17-year-old cadet in the police museum. Shepherd had had few complaints lodged against him; he had shot and killed a man who threatened him with a knife while he was off duty in 1994. He also had shot at a car in a previous incident. Both earlier shootings were ruled justified, according to his trial board testimony.
Shepherd told The Post recently the police investigation was flawed. He disputed several of its findings and questioned the stain on the back of Morris's shirt, saying the shirt was not turned over to homicide until four days after the shooting.
Shepherd said he plans to appeal his firing to an arbitration process.
"There are other cases like this," he said. "The penalty they gave me I think was unjust. The only thing I did was assist another officer and it's like I'm the sacrificial lamb out of this ordeal."
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