The FBI said yesterday that it has opened an investigation into the death of a man who was fatally shot by police officers who were responding to a suspected burglary in Seat Pleasant on Thursday.
The case is the seventh FBI probe this year into possible civil rights violations by Prince George's County law enforcement officers, as well as the second investigation in two weeks into a fatal shooting involving the Prince George's County Police Department.
Peter A. Gulotta Jr., an FBI spokesman, said agents are looking into circumstances surrounding the death of Gregory Allen Cooper, an unarmed black man who was shot by six Prince George's police officers and a Metro transit police officer about 2:45 a.m. Thursday.
Prince George's police said the shooting occurred after they unsuccessfully tried to arrest Cooper, 39, in connection with two burglaries in a strip shopping center in the 7800 block of Central Avenue.
According to police, Cooper fought off several officers and a police dog and led them on a foot chase before he jumped into an idling patrol car. Police said they opened fire on Cooper as he tried to drive away because he was dragging a Metro transit police officer who was clinging to the outside of the cruiser.
Gulotta declined to say what spurred the investigation, although he said that the FBI often reviews civilian deaths that result from police actions. He said the findings will be turned over to Justice Department officials, who will decide whether to prosecute.
"We have the latitude to do that and we do so frequently," he said.
The FBI is investigating two other cases in which civilians died after struggling with Prince George's police officers this year.
The most recent incident occurred on Nov. 27, when a Lanham man, Gary Albert Hopkins Jr., was fatally shot by a Prince George's police officer after he allegedly tried to grab another officer's gun. The other death occurred on Sept. 22, when a Suitland man passed out in a holding cell after fighting with several Prince George's police officers.
Gulotta said the FBI was not giving special attention to Prince George's County.
"Prince George's is a large jurisdiction with a lot of police officers, so it's not unusual to have a lot of civil rights investigations going on at once," he said.
At a news conference held Thursday, a day before the latest probe was announced, Prince George's Police Chief John S. Farrell said he didn't mind the extra scrutiny that his department has received from the FBI in the past.
"We welcome any kind of review by anyone," he said, noting that all civilian deaths involving police are also reviewed by a county grand jury and local prosecutors. "Every one of these cases is extensively investigated."
Prince George's police, who identified Cooper yesterday, said he had no fixed address. Maryland District Court records show that he has listed addresses in Hyattsville, Riverdale and Wheaton.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.