An off-duty Arlington County police officer wielding a handgun and threatening to commit suicide was shot and wounded by a Prince William County police officer early yesterday in a shopping mall parking lot, according to law enforcement officials.
Cpl. Payam Zeraat, 37, was holding a handgun inside the cab of his truck at Glendale Plaza in Dale City about 2:40 a.m. when he "made a movement that threatened" the Prince William officers trying to negotiate with him, said 1st Sgt. Kim Chinn, a spokeswoman for Prince William police.
Fearful that Zeraat could become violent, a Prince William officer -- whom police did not identify -- shot and wounded the Arlington officer. Zeraat, who lives in Fairfax County, was flown to a hospital, where he was reported to be in good condition, Chinn said. He has been charged with a misdemeanor count of brandishing a firearm, which carries a maximum fine of $2,500 and a sentence of up to a year in prison.
Attorneys for Zeraat, who won a meritorious action award from his department for his response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon, disputed the Prince William police account, saying Zeraat was not suicidal and did not make any threats against any officers.
Nader Hasan, one of Zeraat's attorneys, said his client was looking for a friend in the Prince William police department and flagged down an officer yesterday morning to locate him. Hasan said that he did not know why Zeraat needed his friend at such a late hour and that he is still investigating how events unfolded.
"The fact that there was a weapon with my client caused an unnecessary dynamic and turned into a shooting," Hasan said. "At no time did he ever put an officer at risk. There was never a police officer being threatened with my client's weapon."
Arlington police officials said they had no information on whether Zeraat had any lingering emotional issues from Sept. 11 that could have triggered yesterday's episode. He has been on the Arlington force for 12 years.
Zeraat's wife of six years, Bernadette, filed for divorce this summer, Hasan said. Next spring, the couple have scheduled custody and equitable distribution hearings. But the attorney said the couple recently has been reconciling.
Yesterday's incident began about 1 a.m. when Prince William police received a dispatch from Fairfax police that Zeraat was likely in Dale City and was "distraught" and "possibly suicidal." A few minutes later, a Prince William officer spotted the vehicle and began talking with Zeraat as other officers arrived, including a trained police negotiator, Chinn said.
Negotiations lasted more than an hour, during which Zeraat "threatened suicide," Chinn said. Then, Zeraat held the gun in his hand and made the threatening movement, she said.
Negotiations were intense because the suspect was himself a police officer familiar with the tactics being employed to detain him.
"The man was armed and he's a trained police officer, so that makes it a little concerning to us," Chinn said. "We're trying to handle a situation where the suspect knows what we're doing."
The Prince William officer who shot Zeraat has been placed on routine administrative leave, Chinn said. Matt Martin, a spokesman for Arlington police, said Zeraat, whose latest assignment was in the patrol division, has been relieved of duty pending an investigation.