A June 23 Metro article contained inaccurate information about the criminal record of Robert M. Billett, who is charged with killing a Prince George's County police officer. Billett has been charged with felonies including assault and drug sales, but he has no convictions in the United States. He was convicted in Jamaica in 1991 for unlawful wounding. (Published 6/24/2005)
Prince George's County police charged a 43-year-old convicted felon yesterday with killing Cpl. Steven Gaughan, as new details emerged about the fatal shootout at a Laurel area apartment complex.
Gaughan, 41, was the seventh county officer shot at this year and the first killed by bullets in the line of duty in at least 10 years, police said.
Robert M. Billett of Bladensburg was being held without bond yesterday on charges including first-degree murder. Police said Billett, a Jamaica native, used a .40-caliber handgun to shoot Gaughan as the officer chased him on foot Tuesday morning.
Detectives said they recovered the weapon and identified it as the one that killed Gaughan -- a husband, father of two and 15-year veteran of the force.
Gaughan came from a police family, with a father and three uncles who are Boston officers, his department colleagues said.
Billett, who has a history of drug and assault convictions, also is charged with shooting at two other officers during what began with a routine traffic stop at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
The other officers, Michael Eubanks and Shawn Phoebus, returned fire, hitting Billett in the arm, leg and side, according to police accounts and charging documents filed in Prince George's District Court. Billett, who is expected to be arraigned this afternoon, was in stable condition last night at Prince George's Hospital Center.
"We know Mr. Billett fired upon three of our officers with the intent to kill them," said Maj. Vincent Gay, commander of the Criminal Investigations Division.
Police changed their description of some aspects of the incident yesterday as they learned more about what happened. They initially said that Gaughan was wearing a bulletproof vest but said yesterday that he did not have the vest on, as required.
They also had said that Gaughan was wearing his uniform but said yesterday that he was in street clothes.
In an afternoon news conference yesterday, Police Chief Melvin C. High said he couldn't be certain that a vest would have saved Gaughan's life. According to several officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Gaughan was shot one time through the armpit area, and the bullet lodged in his abdomen, striking at least one major organ.
High said yesterday that whether Gaughan was wearing his vest was not the critical issue.
"The issue is that people simply cannot go out on the street and shoot police," High said. "It is unacceptable that people are running around and shooting police. That's the problem."
Percy Alston, president of the Prince George's police union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, said officers were more focused on helping Gaughan's family than trying to determine why he wasn't wearing a vest.
"We don't know all the factors why he wasn't wearing the vest," Alston said. "He might have had it in the car and didn't have time to put it on because of the way things unfolded."
Gaughan's wife, Donna Gaughan, is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Prince George's Community College and previously worked as a Prince George's County police officer. The couple had recently adopted two children from Russia.
Many police officers still seemed stunned yesterday by Gaughan's death.
Capt. Kevin Davis, executive officer for the chief of patrol services bureau, called Gaughan a "5 percenter."
"That means he was part of the 5 percent of police officers responsible for 80 percent of the good police work that goes on," Davis said. "What's special about Steve is he was a better human being than he was a police officer, which is saying a whole lot."
According to police accounts and charging documents, Gaughan was killed while working on a special assignment team looking for stolen all-terrain vehicles, a growing problem in the county.
Eubanks spotted a green Chevy Tahoe with two people inside and tried to stop it for a traffic violation, according to the charging document. As the vehicle slowed, Gaughan and another officer were nearby and saw the passenger, later identified as Billett, throw a bag out the window containing "a white powdery substance," the document said.
The passenger got out of the Tahoe when it reached the parking lot of the Village at Montpelier apartment complex in the 11000 block of South Laurel Drive. He then ran, and Gaughan followed.
Eubanks saw Billett fire his gun at the officers, including Gaughan, according to the document. Eubanks and Phoebus shot back. "The suspect was struck and fell to the ground a short distance from where the shots were fired," the document states.
That was when the other officers realized Gaughan had been shot.
Detectives later found the gun used to kill Gaughan near where Billett fell, police said.
The driver of the Tahoe, identified as Rohan Patterson, 23, ran into a nearby apartment, where he called 911 and said he wanted to turn himself in. Patterson was questioned and released. He has not been charged with a crime, police said. He could not be reached last night.
Patterson's attorney, Gary Gerstenfield, said his client is cooperating with police. "Rohan is extremely saddened by the incident," Gerstenfield said. "He is shocked that this event occurred."
At Billett's Bladensburg apartment yesterday, the door swung open. Neighbors said police kicked it in a day earlier looking for evidence and carried several bags of items out of the house.
They described Billett as a friendly man with a Jamaican accent who was frequently outside the complex talking on the phone. Neighbor Chris Bankole said she used to see him playing with neighborhood children and was surprised to learn that he is being charged with murder.
"He seemed to be a really nice guy," she said. "Oh, Jesus, I can't believe this."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt and staff writers Hamil R. Harris and Jonathan Abel contributed to this report.