The Prince George's County Police Department yesterday brought five administrative charges against officer Lester J. Bethel in connection with the fatal shooting Jan. 21 of 18-year-old Abraham Dickens IV, an unarmed burglary suspect.
The county state's attorney, Arthur A. Marshall Jr., said last week he had decided against seeking a criminal indictment against Officer Bethel, and that Bethel had not committed a criminal act under state law. Marshall said in his opinion that "this by no means suggests that the actions of Officer Bethel were proper nor that other appropriate sanctions might not be imposed."
Bethel was charged yesterday by the department's internal affairs division with unsatisfactory performance in using deadly force which led to a fatal injury, violation of the department's general order on use of firearms in using deadly force when lesser force could have been used, making false statements to a superior officer, and two counts of unauthorized use of a fellow officer's weapon.
The charges against Bethel will be heard by an administrative hearing board on June 1. He will remain on administrative leave with pay until after the hearing, police said.
The shooting was the second in a period of less than one month in which a white Prince George's County police officer fatally shot a black suspect.
On Dec. 24, officer Peter F. Morgan fatally shot William Ray, 32, in the back of the head as Ray allegedly was attempting to escape after being arrested hours earlier on shoplifting charges. Morgan was cleared of criminal charges by a grand jury Feb. 1.
The two incidents stirred strong community feelings in the heavily black Seat Pleasant area where both took place.
According to police reports, Bethel arrived at the Palmer Lounge Restaurant in Landover at about 5:45 a.m. on Jan. 21.
Police said he saw Dickens climbing out of a rear window. When Dickens moved his right shoulder, police said, Bethel fired his shotgun once, then dropped to his knee and fired again. Both shots came from "fairly close range." Dickens was pronounced dead on the scene.
On Feb. 1 , as a result of the two fatal shooting incidents Prince George's County police officers were issued more stringent firearms policy. It requires officers to have a "conviction or firm belief," rather than simply a suspicion of clear and present danger before firing a weapon.
"In my estimation it precludes the shooting of any individual who is unarmed," County Police Chief John W. Rhoads said at the time. He added that he did not think the new policy would have prevented the two shootings.
Bethel, who joined the county police force in 1972, had three times previously wounded people, once in 1975, once in 1976 and on Oct. 29, 1977. In that incident a woman was struck in the leg by a bullet fragment after Bethel had fired at a dog.
Bethel was cleared by police investigators in all three incidents.
No criminal charges have been brought against Bethel.