Prince George's County Police Chief Michael J. Flaherty issued a point-by-point response last night to a storm of criticism that has struck his department after the fatal shooting Monday night of a D.C. police officer by a Prince George's officer.
The response was contained in a five-page letter sent to D.C. Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. that refers to the incident several times as "tragic" and "a tragedy." The letter was simultaneously released to the press. An aide to Turner said he had not read the letter last night.
In it, Flaherty said that although the D.C. chief "appeared to be satisfied with the facts provided you, it appears that the information is not getting down to the rank and file, and possibly some of your unnamed officials and police officers who are making erroneous statements to the news media."
One anonymous D.C. officer was quoted yesterday as saying the entire incident was "mishandled." Aides to Flaherty said he was particularly distressed by a graphic appearing as a backdrop to a television news broadcast suggesting the possibility of a "cover-up."
The letter to Chief Turner set out to detail five "issues" raised in the fatal shooting of D.C. Officer James L. Gordon, 40, who was killed at his home in Largo by county police Cpl. Robert W. Raimond, 27, who was answering a burglary call.
County police have said that the area had been plagued by burglaries recently and Raimond, after finding evidence of a break-in, saw an armed man through the window of a lighted family room. Raimond ordered the man, who he thought to be a burglar, to "freeze," then fired when the man raised his hands as if he were holding a weapon, county police said.
Officer Raimond has been placed on administrative leave with pay pending a review by Prince George's police and the county prosecutor.
One concern raised by D.C. police personnel, who declined to be identified, was that two paramedics who arrived with an ambulance were prevented from administering care to Gordon.
In his letter, Flaherty said under the heading "Response by Ambulance and Paramedic Personnel," that an ambulance arrived 13 minutes after being requested.
After the house was searched, the paramedics were advised "to disregard," the letter continues, adding: "The investigating detective, a 15-year veteran of the Homicide Unit, checked the body and advised no need for paramedics."
On the question of whether medical treatment was provided "in timely fashion," the letter says that "the bullet caused severe trauma to the heart" and an assistant medical examiner said that "even if a doctor had been present, Officer Gordon could not have been saved."
Responding to complaints that notification of D.C. police officials was tardy and that they had been prevented from entering Gordon's house, the letter gives a chronology of events and says:
"In summary . . . at no time were any metropolitan police officials turned away from the scene or denied any information regarding this incident."
The letter goes on to cite "witnesses' observations at the scene," saying that three persons heard yelling or voices, and one heard the words: "Police, Freeze" and saw "Officer Gordon turn toward Cpl. Raimond raising his weapon in a shooting position."
The letter also cites a visit that Flaherty, two other county police officials and two police chaplains made Tuesday to extend condolences to Gordon's sister, who lived with her brother. "I also offered her assistance with transportation, securing her home and any other assistance the county police could provide," Flaherty said in his letter.
Then, the letter notes that Flaherty met with a deputy D.C. police chief at the 5th District station where Gordon had been based.
"Once again we sincerely regret the occurrence of this tragic chain of events. If you or any of your officers have a specific complaint I will have it looked into, however, I do feel that these clarifications will assist in providing a greater understanding of this unfortunate tragedy," the letter concludes.
Prince George's State's Attorney Alex Williams, who was said to be "visibly disturbed" by the shooting, was briefed by police investigators yesterday and promised a thorough and critical investigation. The prosecutor will review the written police report and determine whether the shooting was justified, and then submit the information to a grand jury.
Also yesterday, Prince George's officials said they had evidence that a burglary had taken place at Gordon's house before the shooting. They said a television set and a videocassette recorder had been taken from the house, but added that they still had no suspects.