The internal affairs section of the Montgomery County police department is investigating why police fired at and wounded a 29-year-old Baltimore man who they sought initially as a suspect in an armed robbery at a grocery store, but who was charged only with being a "rogue and vagabond."
Police spokesman Phillip B. Caswell said Gregory Watkins was fired on by more than one officer and wounded in a patch of woods along University Boulevard around 4 p.m. Sept. 24.
Residents in the area said they heard "five or six shots" and smelled gunsmoke.
Police said Watkins was found to be unarmed. The circumstances of the incident are being withheld until the police department completes its investigation.
"There were shots fired," Caswell said. "Who fired them, how many, what range, I don't know. Was the suspect fleeing? I don't know."
Watkins was treated at Holy Cross Hospital for bullet wounds to his right ankle and left forearm. He is still using crutches and has a bullet fragment embedded in his ankle bone.
Watkins declined to be interviewed, but a relative at his home said, "There's no animosity on this end. He just wants to put this behind him. He's lucky to be alive."
The relative said Watkins plans to plead innocent to the "rogue and vagabond" charge.
The incident began as police were looking for a man armed with a handgun who held up a Safeway Store on University Boulevard on Sept. 23. The holdup man, described as slim, about 23 and having a mustache, escaped with a bag containing cash from the store's safe.
A day later a citizen flagged down Officer John King to report seeing two "suspicious" people getting a satchel out of the trunk of a blue Oldsmobile parked behind a Texaco station at the corner of Colesville Road and University Boulevard, according to papers filed by police in Montgomery County District Court.
The citizen also said he had previously seen the pair going into the Gino's restaurant across the street from the Safeway, according to the papers.
Police will not comment on how they may have connected the two men with the Safeway robbery the day before, but as King approached the pair behind the Texaco station, a man later identified as Watkins fled into the woods.
The patrolman was able to apprehend the second man, 26-year-old Marion Heath, a neighbor of Watkins in Baltimore. King found a pair of brown cotton gloves, three screw drivers and a bolt cutter in Heath's beige satchel, according to the court papers.
According to a police affidavit filed in the court, Heath told police that the tools belonged to Watkins and that the pair had come "to the area to use the bathroom but decided that they needed a tape player and would steal one out of the car."
Heath was arrested and charged with being a "rogue and vagabond," a misdemeanor charge brought against people suspected of having the intent to commit a crime and the tools or weapons to do it.
Spokesman Caswell said at the time police captured Heath that "they determined he wasn't the man they were looking for." Yesterday he said Watkins and Heath have not been ruled out as possible suspects in the robbery.
Police aided by dogs and a U. S. Park Police helicopter searched for Watkins more than four hours during a massive man-hunt that tied up traffic on University Boulevard near the intersection of Colesville Road. Police in the helicopter used a loudspeaker to call out: "Gregory Watkins, would you please come out of the woods, you will not be harmed."
The large-scale search lasted from 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. before being called off.
An officer patroling an hour and a quarter later spotted Watkins emerging from the woods and radioed for help, according to Caswell. She and the other officers who responded to her call fired their pistols, but hers were the only shots that hit Watkins, according to police.
Caswell would not identify the officer whose shots were believed to have hit Watkins. Her identity was confirmed as Patricia A. Hickey by a police official at the Silver Spring district and a police union official. It was Police Chief Bernard D. Crooke's decision that none of the officers involved in the shooting be placed on administrative leave, according to Caswell. Officers are routinely place on leave only when involved in a fatal shooting.
Watkins was charged with the "rogue and vagabond" offense Saturday morning after hospital treatment.
Caswell said that after the investigation is complete, "what ever can be released publicly will be released. We're not trying to hide anything."