A dozen witnesses yesterday disputed the official version of Tuesday night's fatal shooting of a Washington man by Prince George's County police officers at Eastover Shopping Center.
The witnesses said the victim, William Robinson, 38, was fleeing police, not shooting at them, when he was shot and killed.
Robinson fired first at police, according to both officers and witnesses, prompting police to fire at him. Police say Robinson then fired a second time and officers returned his fire; witnesses say Robinson did not fire any shots at police after the initial burst.
"When they shot him in the leg, the first time police shot at Robinson he didn't shoot again," said Joyce Young, 21, of 4000 Livingston Rd. SE. Young was about to drive out of the parking lot after shopping for groceries when she heard gunfire and stopped her car to watch.
A county police spokesman said Robinson continued to fire. "He was running toward the opposite end of the parking lot, he fired one shot at the cruiser and put a hole in the windshield," just before police fired their fatal shots, said Cpl. Frank Kobilis.
The medical examiner's office in Baltimore said Robinson died of multiple gunshot wounds to the abdomen.
The incident began Tuesday at 6 p.m. when Robinson took a gun out of his pocket in front of a jeans vendor in the shopping center parking lot and pretended to shoot the vendor's television. "He saw my TV and said, 'Is that a TV?,' " said the vendor, who did not want to be identified. "He said, 'Cut it on because I want to play cowboys with it.' "
Then he pretended to shoot the television for the next 20 minutes, according to the vendor. When Robinson left, the vendor called police, who found Robinson in the nearby Grand Union grocery store.
Around 6:30 p.m., police officer Eugene Patterson and security guard David Tonkins followed Robinson out of the Grand Union and ordered him to put his hands on the police car. Robinson refused, according to Delia Holiday, who was sitting outside the store.
"He said, 'No and you better not shoot me because I'll kill you.' " said Holiday. "Then I saw him reach for the gun."
Robinson then pulled out the gun and shot twice, witnesses and police said, puncturing the window of the Grand Union. No one was injured.
Police fired once at Robinson and yelled at him to stop but he continued running across the parking lot, according to Holiday and other witnesses.
By then, several police cars had gathered in the parking lot and numerous police from different directions fired their guns at Robinson, who fell to the ground, on his stomach.
"The police were like on the shooting range, taking their test on the shooting range," said Young.
"The cops were shooting at him but he wasn't shooting at them," said Sandra Gray, 19, of Southeast Washington.
Police said, however, that Robinson fired a shot in the direction of plainclothes Officer Donald Graham just before Robinson was fatally wounded by police. Graham was not injured, but police said a bullet hole from Robinson's gun pierced the windshield of Graham's police cruiser.
The medical examiner yesterday did not have an exact count of the number of bullets that struck Robinson; neither did police, who said they were waiting for a report from their internal affairs unit.
"After he fell, the security guard ran and kicked the gun away from the man," said Gary Stoddard, 19, who saw the shooting from his father's record shop.
Police then turned the man over and handcuffed him. An ambulance arrived within minutes, at 6:44 p.m., and a paramedic unit arrived at 6:48 p.m.
The paramedic unit gave Robinson oxygen, according to witnesses.
Witnesses differ in their accounts of Robinson's treatment at that point. Young and a few others said officers refused to remove the handcuffs from him and interfered with paramedics' efforts to treat him. A number of other witnesses, however, disputed that account and said Robinson received prompt care and that the handcuffs were removed when ambulances arrived.
Officers called a U.S. Park Police helicopter to transport Robinson to a shock trauma unit in Washington or Baltimore, but Robinson died at 7:07 p.m., four minutes after the helicopter landed at the Oxon Hill fire station near the shopping center, said fire department spokesman Capt. Jim Mundy. Mundy said police did not interfere at all in paramedics' efforts to treat Robinson.
One witness, Joyce Young, said she saw Robinson moving and groaning on the stretcher until 7:30 p.m., after the paramedic unit had stopped giving him oxygen.
"He was moving like he was cold," said Young. "The police put a sheet over him and he put his head out from under the sheet. They let that boy lay there and die."
Only two witnesses said they saw Robinson move his head from under the sheet.
Mundy said he did not know the time that the paramedic unit left the scene. A spokesman at Prince George's General Hospital, where Robinson was transported, said Robinson arrived at 8:25 p.m. and was pronounced dead on arrival.
Robinson had lived alone in his one-bedroom, first floor apartment on First Street in Southeast Washington since 1977. Until last year, he dressed in a business suit and was employed as a clerk for a copying company, according to a neighbor, Eunice Camp. Then he lost his job and began drinking wine on the steps outside his apartment and talking to himself, Camp said.
"He was very strange and quiet, especially when he drank," said Darius Hollinshead, who lived upstairs from Robinson. "Sometimes he would not speak at all, other times he would holler."
Another neighbor, Dennis Brooks, who lives in the apartment next door, said Robinson "seemed to, like, go and come. One week he'd be okay, the next week he'd be acting sort of weird. He was a very private dude."