A retired Prince George's County policeman testified today that his superiors orchestrated a "robbery" of a High's store in Adelphi in 1967 in which fellow officers shot and killed a suspect lured into the holdup by a police informant.
John R. Cicala, 49, told a federal court jury that is hearing a $9 million "death squad" lawsuit against the police here that Det. Joseph D. Vasco, now the second highest ranking official in the county police department, instructed police informant Gregory Gibson to recruit a "couple of patsies" for the holdup. He said Vasco also provided Gibson with a getaway car and selected the particular High's store to be robbed.
Cicala said Vasco attended to these details after their commander, Lt. Blair Montgomery, had called them into his office in the Hyattsville detective bureau a week earlier and told them he "wanted a holdup to go down . . . and for us to obtain some participants."
Vasco "said he wanted Gibson to get a couple of patsies," Cicala testified, and if anything happened to them, "don't worry about it."
Gibson reported a few days later that he had recruited two participants, Cicala said. Vasco then selected the High's at 9101 Riggs Rd. in Adelphi as the target, Cicala said.
At 11 p.m., on June 8, 1967, the robbery "went down," Cicala said. Suspect William Hunter Matthews, 18, armed with a handgun, was shot dead by police staking out the store. A second suspect, Marvin Rozier, 18, was arrested outside the store. Gibson, the informant who had accompanied the suspects to the store, was ordered by Vasco to "get lost," Cicala said.
Cicala's testimony set the stage for claims by Rozier, Matthews' family and the survivors of a second suspect shot and killed in another holdup in 1967 that police and Prince George's State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. authorized and staged a series of phony holdups.
The families contend the actions violated the suspects' 14th Amendment rights to due process. Vasco, Montgomery, Marshall and two other defendants, police Capt. James Fitzpatrick and former assistant State's Attorney Benjamin Wolman, have denied the allegations.
Defense attorneys have told the jury that police officers did not instruct informants to recruit holdup participants but that informants had come to the police with information about impending robberies. The use of informants and subsequent stakeout of business establishments, they said, were in response to a rash of convenience store robberies and burglaries in 1967.
Vasco and the other police defendants are expected to testify later, challenging Cicala's version of the High's holdup in June 1967.
Outside the presence of the jury today, Cicala testified that the officers who participated in the High's robbery were referred to jokingly as the "death squad" by fellow officers.
Defense attorneys objected to the term, and Judge Herbert F. Murray ordered witnesses and attorneys not to use it in the presence of the jury.
The "death squad" incidents occurred 15 years ago but did not come to public light until a series of articles containing the allegations was published in The Washington Post in early 1979. Families of the suspects involved in the incidents subsequently sued the police and Prince George's County.