Terry Miller told the police officer that she didn't have time to wait for him to write her a speeding ticket. "My baby's home alone," Miller said, suggesting that the officer follow her green sedan three blocks and give her the ticket at home.
The police officer, Michael Blank, agreed. Minutes later, what had begun as a routine traffic stop on a Saturday night in late January ended with Blank shooting and killing Miller's husband, Ken, 28, in front of the Millers' apartment.
Blank was cleared of blame. He told state police investigators that he had been attacked by Ken Miller when he tried to follow Terry Miller into the apartment, and that Miller forced him to the ground and was choking him. Within a week, Blank was back on the streets of Brunswick, writing tickets and making arrests.
The repercussions of that shooting still linger in Brunswick, a city of 5,000 along the Potomac River in western Maryland. This is a city of two-story bungalows, where everyone knows everyone else and where it is rare for anyone to be arrested for anything more serious than drunk driving or distribution of marijuana. When Miller died, the mayor and city council sent flowers to the John T. Williams funeral home and two police officers kept vigil outside, in their patrol car, as a sign that they joined in the mourning. Until January, no police officer in Brunswick had ever shot--or killed--anyone.
Since the shooting, Blank, a Frostburg, Md., native who has been a police officer in Brunswick for two years, says he has been tormented by the knowledge that he killed someone. "Not a day goes by, not an hour goes by that I don't think of it," he says. "It haunts me at night; sometimes I don't get any sleep at all."
Unlike police officers in large cities or counties, Blank cannot transfer to a different beat. And so he is constantly reminded of what happened. Sometimes, for example, when local youths see him, they fall flat on the sidewalk, yelling, "Bang bang! Shoot me, I'm dead."
Then there are the times he stumbles into Terry Miller. "She came in here the police station to pay a parking ticket and I didn't know she was here," he recalled recently. "We saw each other and I stood there at least a lifetime. I couldn't say anything. I wanted to but I couldn't. Her eyes got big and she started crying and walked out the door."
Several weeks later, Blank again ran into Miller, this time when he was going to buy some cooked chicken in Fast Eddie's food store on Potomac Street, Brunswick's main artery. "I saw her and ran out and sent another officer to get the chicken," Blank said. "What do you say to someone after you've done something like that?"
But some of his worst moments, Blank says, occur when people he meets do not mention the shooting. Then he wonders whether they're thinking of him as the police officer who killed Ken Miller.
At the time of the shooting, Terry and Ken Miller had been married for a year and a half; they had an 8-month-old daughter, Jessica. The Millers had met six years earlier, at a party in Ken Miller's home. "Ken was drinking, you know, and guys will say anything," Terry Miller recalls. "He walked up to me and told me he loved me."
Ken Miller was a sheet metal worker who belonged to Brunswick's American Legion and Loyal Order of the Moose. He liked to go deer hunting and fishing, and in the summer he and his friends would tie five or six inner tubes together and float down the Potomac River, with a cooler full of beer on one of the inner tubes.
"We'd float for 7 to 10 miles and then stop off at a friend's house and play horseshoes the rest of the day," says friend Buddy Cunningham, 28, a steelworker.
The Millers spent much of Jan. 29 doing chores--grocery shopping, going to the laundry. That night, Terry Miller decided to go out for a drink at the Moose lodge. Shortly afterward, Ken Miller also stopped at the lodge, prompting his wife to dart into her car and speed home to check on their baby.
When Blank and Terry Miller parked their cars early that Sunday morning and walked the few feet toward the Millers' one-story cinder-block apartment, Ken Miller, who had just returned home, was standing in front of the apartment, according to Blank and Terry Miller.
When Blank reached the steps in front of the apartment, Miller told him he could not go in his house. Blank remembers Miller saying, "You ain't coming in my house or I'll shoot you," according to Blank's statement in a police report. But Blank continued walking up the steps, according to his own statement to police. Miller then hit Blank in the head, knocking him down the steps to the ground.
Why did Blank persist in getting into the Millers' apartment after Ken Miller told him he wasn't welcome? "From her Terry Miller's hysterics, my interpretation was that someone was being cruel to the kid. My main concern was making sure the baby was all right," said Blank.
Seconds before Blank drew his gun, Miller pushed him to the ground, according to the police report. Blank got to his feet and hit Miller several times with his nightstick, according to Terry Miller and Blank's statement to state police.
The next thing Blank knew, according to his statement, Miller was on top of him, choking him with his hands. Blank said in the statement that he could not breathe and that when Miller kept choking him, he feared for his life. He pulled his gun and shot Miller in the thigh. The shot hit an artery; Miller was pronounced dead on arrival at Frederick Memorial Hospital.
In deciding not to bring charges against Blank, assistant state's attorney Lawrence A. Dorsey Jr. and state police Sgt. Victor Wolfe cite the same reason: that Terry Miller's official statement to the police corroborates Blank's statement that her husband was strangling Blank. But Terry Miller says that she could not see whether her husband was strangling Blank because it was midnight and dark outside.
The police report containing Terry Miller's statement tends to confirm that she did not actually see her husband strangling Blank. Her statement says, "Kenny had the officer down and I heard someone say something about Kenny choking the officer."
Today, Terry Miller says that she cannot remember who told her that her husband was choking the officer. She says it might have been one of the police officers who interviewed her.
She says she did not ask Blank to come into her home and that he should not have tried. But Wolfe said Blank was justified in trying to get into the apartment. "Police officers don't stop just because of resistance," Wolfe said.
Almost everyone on the street in Brunswick knows something about the shooting. Some raise questions that people everywhere ask when a police officer shoots and kills someone: Was the officer's life really in danger? Did the officer act properly?
Others, like Judy Jones, 29, a friend of Terry Miller, ask a more basic question: "Why didn't Blank use mace or something other than a gun?"
"There's a lot of talk here about why he was carrying a gun like that," said Betty Merriman, an aunt of the Miller family. "That's just giving him a license to kill," said Merriman, who, like others, now wonders whether police officers in her small town should carry guns at all.
Brunswick police chief William Miller says that mace would not have been much help to Blank because people sometimes become angrier and more difficult to control when mace is sprayed in their faces.
Blank says he doesn't think mace would have worked--but he wishes he had had a can of it that night, he adds, or perhaps an electric nightstick.
Wolfe, who conducted the investigation into the shooting, sees the situation this way: "I'll agree with anyone who says if Blank had mace under those conditions and momentarily blinded Miller and incapacitated him, the man might be alive today. But the fact is that he didn't have it and he used the only means available to him. He had the right to shoot and he did."