A Prince George's County police corporal who shot an unarmed man in the back during a raid in Capitol Heights nearly three years ago was found not guilty of using excessive force by a police trial board yesterday, ending county action on one of the most controversial police shooting cases of recent years.
After four days of testimony, the board, made up of a police major, a captain and a corporal, acquitted Cpl. Charles K. Ramseur of administrative charges in connection with the Dec. 11, 2002, shooting of Desmond E. Ray.
Ramseur's shot severed Ray's spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed. A second shot ripped into a nearby home, narrowly missing a 73-year-old woman.
Ramseur, who has been on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the internal police investigation, will be reinstated to full duty by Chief Melvin C. High, said the corporal's attorney, Steven E. Sunday. If he had been convicted, the possible punishments would have ranged from reprimand to termination.
Ramseur smiled and briefly embraced Sunday after the verdict was read. Sunday said Ramseur was pleased but had no comment.
Since 1992, Ramseur, 43, has shot and wounded four people while on duty, according to police and court records. The last two men he shot were unarmed and were not convicted of any crimes in connection with their encounters with Ramseur.
Police officials said they found no wrongdoing in each of the three shootings that preceded Ray's.
In December 2003, a Prince George's grand jury turned down a request by State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey to indict Ramseur on charges of reckless endangerment and first- and second-degree assault in the Ray case.
But in April 2004, a panel of Prince George's police commanders contradicted the findings of the internal investigation and the grand jury decision, ruling that Ramseur had no justification for firing at Ray.
That Executive Review Panel, made up of the assistant chief, two deputy chiefs, a major and a civilian police manager, recommended that the police department file administrative charges against Ramseur.
The panel was created to provide oversight into allegations of police misconduct after a 10-year period in which county police shot and killed the most people, per officer, of the 50 largest U.S. police forces.
Leaders of the police union and lawyers involved in previous misconduct cases said they could not recall another instance in which a county police review concluded that a shooting by an officer in the line of duty was inappropriate.
After the grand jury decision, Ivey said he asked the Justice Department to investigate the shooting. A spokesman for Ivey said yesterday that Justice officials have not said whether they would investigate.
Ray filed a federal civil lawsuit against Ramseur and Prince George's police. That lawsuit was settled this year, according to court records. As a condition of the settlement, county attorneys insisted that the amount being paid to Ray and his attorney be kept confidential. A Freedom of Information Act request by The Washington Post to learn the amount of the settlement is under review by the county.
Ramseur was part of a heavily armed SWAT team that in 2002 jumped out of a van in front of a Capitol Heights house where a suspected drug dealer, not Ray, was believed to be operating.
Ramseur did not testify during this week's four-day trial board proceeding. But in a deposition he gave in connection with Ray's civil lawsuit, Ramseur said Ray jumped out of a car parked in the driveway of the targeted house and began to walk toward the home.
With his left arm, Ray tossed something to the side, then reached for his waistband and looked back at the officers, Ramseur testified. Though he never saw a gun, Ramseur testified, he believed that Ray was reaching for a weapon, so he fired.
On Wednesday, Ray testified that he put his hands above his shoulders before he was shot.
Sitting in a wheelchair 15 feet from Ramseur, Ray said he harbored no ill will toward the officer.
"He was doing his job that night. He just should have taken more precautions," he said.