An unarmed man who was shot in the back by a Prince George's County police officer last month had his spinal cord severed by the officer's bullet and will be paralyzed for life, the young man's attorney said.
Desmond E. Ray, 22, remains handcuffed to his hospital bed at Washington Hospital Center because county police have charged him with cocaine possession and other offenses, said John E. Smathers, Ray's attorney.
A bullet fired by Cpl. Charles K. Ramseur remains lodged in Ray's lung, Smathers said. Ray, who is 5-foot-11 and weighs 250 pounds, played on the offensive line for the Forestville High School football team several years ago, Smathers said. He is in the custody of the D.C. Corrections Department pending his transfer to Prince George's authorities and has been prohibited from seeing anyone other than his attorney.
Ramseur, 40, who joined the police force in 1989, is on administrative leave with pay pending an internal investigation. The state's attorney's office also is investigating the shooting. Ramseur has shot four people since he became an officer; in each of the previous three shootings, internal police investigations found no wrongdoing.
Ray's account of the events leading to the shooting contradicts in key respects the official version put out by Prince George's police, Smathers said.
The police version did not say that an errant shot fired by the same officer narrowly missed a 73-year-old woman sitting inside her home. Ray had been on his way to visit the home when the incident occurred, his attorney said.
Sarah L. Rorie was sitting in her kitchen watching television with her great-grandchildren, according to Smathers, the woman and other residents of the home.
Moments before the round slammed into the side of her freezer, Rorie said, she had been in the bullet's path, talking on a phone that rests atop a television next to the refrigerator.
At the time of the shooting, police were trying to serve a narcotics search warrant that Smathers and Rorie's family members say was based on erroneous information, alleging drug dealing by someone who has not lived in the Rorie home for seven years.
On the night of Dec. 11, Ray, of Forestville, was walking to Rorie's home in the 1600 block of Nova Avenue in Capitol Heights to visit his sister, who lives there with her husband, Smathers said. The husband is Rorie's grandson.
County police have said that members of the heavily armed emergency services team, a SWAT-like unit that dresses in black uniforms and is part of the Narcotics Enforcement Division, approached the Nova Avenue home to serve the search warrant.
According to police charging papers, a Pontiac Grand Am was parked in the driveway of the house, and officers saw three men in the car. When Ray "suddenly" popped out of the car, Ramseur perceived a threat and fired, hitting Ray once in the back. Police charging documents allege that Ray dropped a plastic bag containing 15 pieces of suspected crack cocaine. No drugs were found inside the home.
The charging papers allege that a loaded 9mm handgun, eight rocks of crack cocaine and a small amount of marijuana were found in the Pontiac. Ray and the two men who allegedly were in the Pontiac have each been charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, cocaine possession, marijuana possession and a handgun violation.
The two other men charged are Robert Antonio Clark, 19, of Capitol Heights and Roderick S. Royster, 31, of the District.
Police have not said what Ramseur saw that he believed to be threatening, how many shots the officer fired or what type of weapon he used. Rorie and others in the house at the time said the emergency services officers were wielding what appeared to be semiautomatic rifles.
Capt. Andy Ellis, a police spokesman, said he could not provide details about the events leading to the shooting because they are part of the internal investigation.
Smathers said Ray told him that he was not in the car, and therefore did not jump out of it.
This is Ray's account, according to Smathers: About 8 p.m., Ray was walking toward the home to visit his sister. A car had been backed into the driveway and two men were sitting in it. Ray knew the man sitting in the front passenger seat, and stopped to talk with him. Ray saw a dark-colored van that was down the block race toward the house. The van stopped in front of the driveway, blocking the Pontiac, and men in dark clothes with guns jumped out.
Not knowing who the men were, Ray began walking toward the home when he heard someone yell, 'He's got a gun!' Shots rang out, and Ray fell into the snowy front yard.
Smathers said witnesses have told him that they heard four to five shots fired in rapid succession.
The errant shot that entered the house slammed through a screened window, piercing the side of the refrigerator's freezer compartment at an angle, Rorie and Smathers said. That round came out the back of the freezer and pierced the kitchen wall, Rorie and Smathers said. Rorie covers the bullet holes in the freezer with heavy tape to try to seal in the cold.
Two other shots chipped the brick wall near the kitchen window, Smathers said.
Smathers said Ray told him he did not have drugs, as police allege.
"I don't understand what kind of threat there could have been when Ray's back was facing the officers," Smathers said.
Moments after the shooting, police broke in through Rorie's front door and began searching her home, though they did not show her a search warrant, Rorie said. About an hour later, Patricia Scott, Rorie's daughter, came home.
About an hour after that, said Scott, 51, an officer provided her with a copy of a search warrant. The warrant said that an unnamed confidential informant had told narcotics investigators that a brother of Scott's was selling drugs from the home.
But that brother has not lived in the home for seven years, Scott and Rorie said.