At noon on the day before Christmas, William (Sonny) Ray, 32 was arrested for shoplifting a pair of $7 hams from a supermarket on Marlboro Pike in Coral Hills. Some 60 hours later, in a recovery room at Prince George's General Hospital, Ray died, the fragments of a Police bullet lodged in his brain.
Between those two events, according to police officials, this is what occurred:
He was searched at scene of the arrest.
He was transported to the Prince George's district police station in Seat Pleasant.
He was processed on a misdemeanor charge.
He was searched again.
He was taken down a hallway to a cell where he would be held in lieu of posting $200 bond.
In the hallway, he broke free from a officer, peter F. Morgan.
He ran out a side door of the station and down a driveway to Addison Road. Officer Morgan ran after him to a narrow dirt path between a house and the Seat Baptist Church.
Officer Morgan yelled for Ray to halt. Ray did not halt. Officer Morgan pulled a gun and fired one shot that struck Ray in the head. He fell against a fence, unconscious.
What happened in that brief period of time has promted questions form several quarters - from Officer Morgan's superiors in the Prince George's County Police Department, from Ray's family, and from the Prince George's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The questions are these: Why did Officer Morgan use deadly force when attempting to catch a man who was being processed on a misdemeanor charge? And was Officer Morgan foolowing police regulations when he fired the shot that led to Ray's death?
For Ray's family, there is only one answer to the questions. As his 38-year-old brother, David, said yesterrday afternoon who had been searched twice and had no weapons on him, for shooting a man who was picked up on a shoplifting charge. You can arrest him, you can put him in jail, but you don't shoot him down like a mangy dog."
For the Prince George's Police Department, however, the answers are still to be determined. Morgan has been put on administrative leave - suspended with pay - while the internal affairs division conducts an ivestigation of the incedent.
Although the police investigators will not comment on the case General Order 77-67 of the police regulations for Prince George's County offers clear guidelines on the use of deadly force by police officers. It reads:
"The discharge of firearms shall be restricted to the apprehension of persons who in the course of a crime used or threatened the use of deadly force or grievous bodily injury, or, if the officer reasonably believes there is a substantial risk that the person whose arrest is sought will cause death or grievous bodily harm if his apprehension is delayed."
David Ray argues that his brother had no weapons and therefore did not threaten "deadly force or grievous bodily harm" to Officer Morgan or anyone else.
Several sources in the police department noted, however, that the security guard who arrested Ray at the Giant Food Store on Marlboro Pike said in a sworn statement that Sonny Ray had told him he took the two hams because he wanted to sell them to get money to buy heroin. The statement said Ray told the security guard that hewas a heroin addict.
"When you have a heroin addict on the loose like that," said one police source familiar with the case, "there is a danger that he would attack someone on the street to get the money to get a fix. There is the likehood that he was desperate to escape because he knew he would be locked up without the drug. In a situation like that, there is a clear danger."
The police also state that during the second search of Ray, they found two syringes in his pocket.
Ray's family, which gathered yesterday at the southeast Washington home of his sister, Elizabeth Woods, offered another explanation for the syringes.
"Sonny had diabetes," said his mother, Ella Ray "We made sure that he always carried the syringes and the insulin with him. He was never in one place very long, healways on the loose, so we had to make sure that he wouldn't have any trouble with his diabetes."
Officials at Prince George's General Hospital, where Ray died, could not confirm that he was a diabetic. That is expected to be officially determined by the state medical examiner in Baltimore, who is to conduct an autopsy on Ray's body Wednesday.
The Prince George's NAACP chapter's youth division chairman, Arthur Jackson, said he contacted the Ray family yesterday and said he would help them hire a lawyer. "It seems like a case of unecessary force against a black man white policeman," said jackson.
Jackson said he did not blame Officer Morgan for shooting at Ray. "But," he added, "there is no reason to shoot him in the head. He could have him in the leg."
David Ray said the family "wants to press charges against someone, but we don't know how to go about it. There's really no need to prosecute the man who did the shooting. It's the whole system out there in Prince George's. They have a history of brutality against black people."
Ella Ray said that her dead son had frequent run-ins with police in Prince George's and Washington ever since he dropped out of high school. "But he never did the kinds of things that hurt people," she said. "He was never known to beat up on cops. He was afraid of them."