A D.C. jail inmate who was taken to D.C. General Hospital's emergency room yesterday morning after complaining of seizures wrestled a gun from a corrections officer and ended up in a shootout with police, D.C. authorities said.
James Nero, 41, of the 700 block of Longfellow Street NW, was shot twice in what police officials described as a "bizarre, movie-type thing" and "an old-fashioned gun battle." No one else was injured, and Nero, who was being held in the jail pending trial on a charge of assault with intent to kill, was listed in stable condition after surgery, officials said.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has asked Erik Christian, his senior adviser on public safety, to convene a team of District administrators to make recommendations for tightened security for inmates taken to D.C. General. He also has asked Inspector General Charles C. Maddox to investigate the incident. The jail is adjacent to the hospital, at 19th and E streets SE.
Officials said the incident began about 2 a.m. yesterday, when Nero told jail medical personnel that he was ill. He was examined by a jail staff member, who decided that Nero needed medical attention, according to jail Warden James C. Riddick Jr. The warden said he does not know who at the jail examined Nero or who determined that emergency treatment was necessary.
A corrections officer, whom officials declined to identify, escorted Nero to the hospital and placed him in a "strong room," a cell-type area for prisoners awaiting treatment. Nero was in ankle shackles but wasn't handcuffed, which, according to D.C. Department of Corrections spokesman Darryl J. Madden, violates a policy that all inmates be handcuffed when they are being transported to and from the jail.
"We don't know why he wasn't," Madden said.
About 7:30 a.m. at the hospital, according to D.C. Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, Nero asked permission to use the restroom. As the corrections officer led him back to the emergency room's triage area, Nero overpowered the guard and took his .38-caliber revolver.
After getting the gun, Gainer said, Nero fired at least one shot to break the chain connecting his shackles and another shot in the hospital, then ran. A hospital employee who heard the gunfire screamed, "He's got a gun," Gainer said.
Fifth District Officer Antoinette Moore, who was with a prisoner in a holding area about 10 yards from the emergency room, heard the commotion and ran into the emergency room. She saw Nero armed and radioed for backup, but her radio didn't work inside the hospital, Gainer said.
Moore and a corrections officer then chased Nero out of the building, police said. Outside, Nero tried to carjack a nurse who pulled up at the emergency room entrance, Gainer said. He then crouched behind the car and fired at Moore, who fired back.
"He's shooting at her, and she's shooting at him," Gainer said. "This was a running, old-fashioned gun battle. She stayed hot on his trail."
Gainer said Nero ran about 300 yards down an embankment and around a corner to a fenced area near the hospital's detoxification unit. By then, 5th District Officers Charles Robinson, Leon Johnson and Wayne Walker had arrived and parked their patrol cars to block Nero's escape, officials said.
Nero shot at the officers, Gainer said. One bullet went through Johnson's pants leg but did not hit him, Gainer said. Nero was arrested after being shot once in the shoulder and once in the leg by officers. He was charged with assault with intent to kill, Gainer said.
The four officers, all of whom have been on the force for at least nine years, were not placed on paid administrative leave as is routine when an officer fires a weapon. Instead, Gainer said, the officers met privately yesterday with the department chaplain and will be given a week or so off to regroup.
Moore was "too shook up" about the incident and did not want to be interviewed, Gainer said.
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey praised the officers, saying the way they handled the situation was "almost textbook." He said the officers will be considered for the department's award of valor. The corrections officer whose gun was taken will be placed on administrative duty and will not have contact with inmates pending the outcome of an investigation into the incident, Madden said.