Prince George's County Police Capt. James Fitzpatrick denied in federal court today that he and other officers instructed informers to solicit participants for a series of convenience store holdups in 1967 in which two men were shot and killed by waiting police.
"No sir," Fitzpatrick, 44, answered crisply several times when asked if he and Assistant Chief Joseph D. Vasco Jr. had staged the holdups 15 years ago when both men were rank-and-file detectives on the county force.
Fitzpatrick, Vasco and a third officer, retired major Blair Lee Montgomery, are the object of a $9 million civil rights lawsuit being tried in federal court here. The three are accused of masterminding a series of so-called "death squad" holdups and burglaries in the Hyattsville area.
Survivors of the two slain men, plus two other men arrested in the incidents, filed the lawsuit, contending police violated their civil rights by directing informers to invite them to participate in the crimes.
Montgomery, like Fitzpatrick, has denied the allegations on the witness stand, saying that informers came to them with tips on planned robberies and burglaries and detectives then staked out the targeted stores.
Vasco, who has denied the accusations in court papers, is also expected to testify soon.
Fitzpatrick testified at length today that he cultivated numerous informers in the 1960s, pressuring them to help him solve crimes and arrest suspects by promising to seek reduced sentences for them in criminal cases pending against them.
He disputed claims by informers who testified earlier in the trial that he had instructed them to recruit participants for crimes.
Referring to handwritten notes he had made in 1967, he said they indicated in several instances that the informers came to him with initial information about planned crimes.