Abraham Dickens IV, 18, an unarmed burglary suspect shot to death Jan. 21 by a Prince George's County police officer, was killed by the second of two shotgun blasts that struck him, and the first would not have been fatal, a deputy Maryland medical examiner testified yesterday.
The testimony came at the police trial board hearing of Officer Lester J. Bethel, 26, charged with discharging his firearm when lesser force could have been used and unsatisfactory performance in using deadly force in connection with Dickens' death.
The board could clear Bethel or recommended what disciplinary action, if any, should be taken against him. The greatest discipilnary action would be removal from the force.
Yesterday, Deputy State Medical Examinier Bert F. Morton, who performed the autopsy on Dickens said "the shotgun round which struck the victim in the shoulder (the first shot fired) would not have been fatal alone with proper medical treatment. The round which struck him in the back (the second shot fired) was rapidly fatal."
According to police reports, Dickens was shot twice as he was climbing through a bathroom window of the Palmer Restaurant, 7222 George palmer Hwy., Seat Pleasant, about 5:30 a.m. Jan. 21.
The incident was the second shooting in a four-week period in which a white Prince George's County police officer shot to death an unarmed black suspect and it set off charges of racism by members of the county's black community.
Police reported that Bethel, who has responded to a burglary call, observed Dickens climbing out the window as he approached the side of the building. Police said Bethel ordered Dickens to halt and, when he appeared to reach into his pocket, fired his shotgun once, kneeled down and fired again.
Morton said the two shots were "seconds" apart. Earlier, Gary Neild, who lives above the restaurant, testified that he heard "a boom, a brief silence, and then another boom."
In his opening statement, defense attorney Benjamin Wolman said that Bethel, seeing Dickens reach into his pocket, "had to assume for his own protection that he might have a gun, especially since a felony was in progress."
David Grover, prosecuting for the county, opened by saying that Bethel "acted unsatisfactorily by putting himself in the open and failing to take proper cover, bringing about the shooting."
Bethel is also charged with two counts of using a shotgun not issued to him and with making a false statement to another officer during the investigation of the incident.
In March, County Commonwealth's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. decided against seeking an indictment against Bethel and said that in the opinion of the prosecutor's office "Bethel has not committed a criminal act" under state law. "This by no means suggests that the actions of Officer Bethel were proper nor that other appropriate sanctions might not be imposed," he said.