A special police officer assigned as a security guard at a Northeast Washington McDonald's restaurant shot and wounded a teen-ager and a man early yesterday after he mistakenly thought one of them had pulled a gun on him.
Joe Fowler, a 36-year-old guard with the Simmons Security Service, fired three shots at the teen-ager and the man shortly after the two had argued with a cashier about 2 cents the cashier said they owed on a $4.18 bill for four Big Macs, according to D.C. police and one of those who was shot, Joel Simpson, a 21-year-old unemployed construction worker.
Simpson said that he and his 16-year-old nephew were shot a few steps outside the restaurant, at 75 New York Ave. NE, with Fowler hitting Simpson above his right elbow and his nephew in the upper left chest and left arm. Simpson was treated for the wound at Washington Hospital Center and released, while the youth was listed in fair condition at the hospital.
By all accounts, the incident started shortly before 3 a.m. when Simpson, his nephew and two others ordered the Big Macs but came up two cents short when the nephew handed $4.16 to the cashier.
Simpson said he told the cashier he could be "trusted for the 2 cents" and then cursed her "because she got smart with my nephew.
"We were just a little loud in the store," Simpson said. "In the meantime we was arguing with the guard. He said he was going to jump on us if we didn't straighten up."
Simpson said one of his companions paid the two cents they owed and then he walked out of the restaurant with his nephew.
"We didn't even know (Fowler) was following us," Simpson said. "My nephew turned around and he got shot first. I started running and then got shot."
Fowler, who is licensed by the D.C. police department to carry .38-caliber service revolver while he is acting as a security guard, told police that Simpson and his nephews "became unruly and used profanity" in their argument with the cashier and that he asked them to leave the restaurant. t
The security guard said that one of the two "placed his hand in his jacket as if he was going to pull something out," according to police. Fowler said that he saw "something shiny," which he took to be a weapon, and that it was at this point he fired the three shots.
James Rohls, McDonald's Washington-area security manager, said that eventually, either all or almost all of bill for the Big Macs was paid, but that one of the men in the incident had threatened to shoot fowler.
Police said they found no weapon on either Simpson, who lives at 153 U St. NW, or the nephew. Simpson said the only shiny thing he had was a chain around his neck and that no one made any shooting threats against Fowler.
Police said the U.S. Attorney's office here is investigating the incident, but that no charges have been filed.
Police Capt. Gary Abrecht, an acting district commander, said that as a general policy policemen and special police officers are only justified in firing their weapons "in self-defense or to protect others against an attack (they have) reasonable grounds to believe could result in death or serious bodily injury."
A spokesman for Simmons Security declined to comment on the incident, saying only that "the facts are not clear."