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  •   Praise for Officer Slain in Line of Duty

    By Paul Duggan
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, February 14, 1995; Page E1

    D.C. police Officer James Madison McGee Jr., dead at age 26, was eulogized and buried yesterday, the third member of his department killed by gunfire in the line of duty in little more than a year.

    "I asked the question Why?' " D.C. Mayor Marion Barry told hundreds of mourners at Galilee Baptist Church in Suitland. The mayor was recalling the telephone call he received from Police Chief Fred Thomas after the shooting last Tuesday, informing him that an officer had been slain.

    "I'm sure the family asked the same question: Why, at such a young age?' " Barry continued. From a pulpit behind McGee's closed, flag-draped coffin, the mayor looked directly at the dead officer's closest friends and relatives seated at the front of the church, including McGee's widow and two daughters, Krystal, an infant, and Keirra, 5. "I don't know the answer," Barry said. "Only God has the answer."

    Then a soothing warmth came to his voice. "But I believe in a God who doesn't make any mistakes," he told the grieving family. "So James Jr.'s going to be all right, he's going to be all right."

    McGee, a Tennessee native who graduated from Anacostia High School and joined the police force in 1990, was killed by a fellow officer's bullets as he tried to help a taxicab driver who was being robbed. But yesterday's eulogies steered clear of the tragic circumstances of the shooting, focusing instead on McGee's dedication to his job.

    Uniformed police officers from across the area packed the church's sanctuary, overflowing into halls and filling a nearby classroom, where they watched the service on closed-circuit television.

    Afterward, a funeral procession several miles long – and including more than two dozen taxicabs – rolled out of Suitland in the chill air, headed for Southeast Washington and a traditional drive past the slain officer's last duty post, the department's 7th District station in the 2400 block of Alabama Avenue. Then the procession returned to Suitland, to the snow-dusted Washington National Cemetery, where McGee was buried.

    "James Jr. fought the good fight," Barry said. "He believed in being a part of the community and the community being a part of him."

    Thomas directed some of his remarks specifically to McGee's widow, a patrol officer in the 6th District. "Officer Stephanie McGee, you're still a member or our department," the chief told her. "We love you, and we care for you, and we want to help you and to be there to support you. Please stay with us, and we will be there to assist you."

    Police said James McGee, who was off duty and in civilian clothes, was at 25th Street and Good Hope Road SE shortly after 11:30 p.m. last Tuesday when he saw a taxicab driver struggling in the street with one of two men who apparently had just robbed the driver. McGee intervened and was detaining one of the two alleged robbers at gunpoint when a pair of uniformed, on-duty officers pulled up at the intersection in a patrol car.

    In what a prosecutor later called "a flash of events, a cacophony of confusion," one of the uniformed officers, Michael A. Baker, drew his weapon and ordered McGee to put down his gun, unaware that McGee was a fellow officer. Police said that McGee, without dropping his gun, began to turn toward Baker, and that Baker, fearing for his safety, fired two shots.

    Thomas and other senior police officials have said Baker acted properly under the circumstances, despite the tragic outcome.

    The alleged holdup men, Richard D. Gibson and Ronald A. Garnett, both 28, of Southeast Washington, were arrested and ordered held without bond on armed robbery charges. The U.S. attorney's office said it may seek to prosecute them on felony murder charges in McGee's death.

    In eulogies yesterday, Thomas, Barry and others focused on McGee's attempt to arrest the robbery suspects despite being off duty.

    "Officer McGee could have driven past that intersection," the chief pointed out. "He did not have to intervene. But he chose to do so, and not because he was paid a great sum of money. Police officers aren't paid nearly enough for what they do. He intervened because he cared."

    McGee was the third D.C. police officer to be shot to death in the line of duty in little more than a year. On Dec. 30, 1993, Officer Jason E. White, 25, was gunned down while trying to question a suspect in the 200 block of 14th Street SE. On Nov. 22, Sgt. Henry J. "Hank" Daly, 51, a homicide detective, was fatally shot inside D.C. police headquarters by a suicidal gunman who also killed two FBI agents assigned to a unit with Daly.

    "Those of us who are left ought to commit ourselves to getting these guns off the streets and getting larceny out of the hearts of those who would rob and steal and kill us," Barry said.

    He urged his listeners, in McGee's memory, to show concern for young people growing up in tough circumstances and help them avoid lives of crime.

    "We have to show them some love and attention," the mayor said. "They may not be your children or my children, but they're somebody's children."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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