The Greater Washington Board of Trade honored as heroes yesterday three D.C. police officers who shot and killed Bruce Wazon Griffith, the suspected slayer of D.C. police officer Arthur P. Snyder.
More than 700 persons attending the board's annual "heroes lucheon" stood and applauded as officers Adrian M. James, Robert H. Lanham, and John A. Bonaccorsy were presented silver medals for their "extraordinary or unusual heroism" in confronting Griffith on Feb. 14.
Griffith, who allegedly shot Snyder on Feb. 11 when the officer tried to arrest him on a drug charge, was the focus of a massive three-day manhunt. Through their infomants, Lanham and James were able to spot Griffith as he got into a cab. They called for assistance from Bonaccorsy to make a traffic stop of the cab. After the cab was stopped, the driver jumped out and Griffith began firing at the police officers who returned the gunfire and killed him.
"What they did was very heroic work,"said Roger D. Estep, a Howard University official who served on the committee that selected the three officers, along with nine other policemen and firefighters, to receive the heroism awards.
The police report that recommended James, Lanham and Bonaccorsy for the heroism award said, "If any officers ever deserved praise for performing above and beyond the call of duty, [the three officers] most certainly have earned all the honor and acclaim that we can give them."
City Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) said after the awards ceremony that the three officers "were trying to capture somebody. They had to use force. It's unfortunate that they had to use force. But I feel all the people involved carried out their responsibility in a responsive fashion."
However, Bob King, director of social planning for the 14th Street Project Area Committee, said, "In view of what happened in the Griffith situation, I don't se how anyone could be rewarded . . . To put 11 or 12 bullets into a man and endanger a cab driver's life, I just don't think the Board of Trade should have taken that position."
There was an extraordinary outpouring of public sentiment for Griffith at the time he was shot, in part because some segments of the Washington community viewed him as a hero.
Before the awards were presented at the luncheon held in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Mayor Marion Barry praised the fire and police departments. "We have the finest police and fire departments of any in the country," he said. "Each and every day those of you come to work, you are doing it to help the community. It's a difficult job. For police officers, you never know when you may have to face a shotgun or a revolver . . . I can imagine the difficulty of [a firefighter] having to go into a burning buildings."
That is exactly what happened to firefighter Reginal N. Johnson, who was presented the gold medal "for an act of valor beyond the call of duty." Johnson risked entrapment in a burning building to save an elderly woman.
Also receving a gold medal was homicide detective Ronald E. Washington, who was off duty attending a wedding when a guest became unruly and threatened to kill a security guard. Washington intervened and exchanged gunfire, killing the guest. Washington, who has said he doesn't want to carry a gun again, has asked to be retired on disability.
Other who received silver medals were police Sgt. Arnold A. Nicholson detective McKinley L. Williams, and firefighters William J. Anger Jr., Walker P. Carpenter Jr., Rodney W. Philips, Stephen R. Sandy and Capt. Michael C. Tippett.