A Prince George's County policeman who fatally shot an unarmed, fleeing shoplifting suspect Christmas eve.
The grand jury reached its decision after hearing from 10 witnesses, including the officer himself, in its effort to sort out an event that had stirred strong community feelings laced with racial overtones.
Morgan, the policeman, is white. The suspect, 32-year-old William Ray, who was shot in the back of the head after being picked up on shoplifting charges, was black.
Morgan, wearing an American flag pin and a sharpshooter's medal on his uniform said he was "greatly relieved" by the decision of the grand jury, which numbered 20 members, including six blacks. Morgan yesterday expressed his determination to win complete vindication from an administrative police trial board scheduled for March 14.
"We believed there was sufficient probable cause to believe a crime had been committed," said State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. "The case was represented."
Marshall said he still is eaiting for a final report before deciding whether to seek indictment in an unrelated incident of Lebster J. Bethel, another Prince George's policeman assigned to the Seat Pleasant district. Bethel, who is white, shot and killed a black burglary suspect last month while the man was climbing out of the rear window of a restaurant and liquor store, according to police.
Both shootings occured in the heavily black Seat Pleasant section. The first man, 32-year-old William Ray, was shot in the back of the head two hours after he was picked up for allegedly stealing two $7 hams from a Coral Hills supermarket.
According to police reports, Ray escaped after being booked at the Seat Pleasant station. After a brief chase to a nearby churchyard, Morgan, the police officer, ordered Ray to halt, then fired the fatal shot.
In the second shooting, three weeks later, Officer Lester J. Bethel shot and killed a burglary suspect as the man was climbing out of the rear window of a restaurant and bar on the George Palmer Highway, according to police reports.
The two shooting deaths had triggered angry reactions from some blacks in the community and strong statements in support of police actions from law enforcement officers, including Police Chief John W. Rhoads who yesterday asserted the shootings had "nothing to do with race."
"It is just a problem of clarifying our general order concerning the use of firearms . . ." Rhoads said. That clarification will be released today.
Rhoads, at a press conference held before the grand jury decision was released, attacked "those who were using the racial issue of th shootings to get in front of a podium in their communities."
In what turned to be a day of police-related press conferences, Sylvester Vaughns, president of the county NAACP branch, announced the NAACp would represent the families of the two slain black police suspects in a damage suit against the police.
Informed of the grand jury's decision late yesterday, Vaughns said it was "no more than I expected. There is still 100 percent no indictments against police officers in Prince George's County. Bud Marshall is still batting zero."
At his earlier press conference Vaughns announced a citizen march on Upper Marlboro to be held Feb. 17 to protest what he termed a lack of response by County Executive Winfield M. Kelly on a number of recent issues touching on race.
"We are calling for a march of the poor, the senior citizens, the county labor force, those who reel under the burden of property taxes and those who find that our county government has been less than honest with us," Vaughns said at his press conference held in the lobby of the County Administration Building.
Five floors up, Kelly later held his own press conference to deny Vaughns charges and ascribe the attack to politics. He enjoys excellent relations with black civic leaders Kelly said.