About 11 p.m. Wednesday night, when Stephen W. Gregory still held one hostage captive in the Blair Park branch of the Citizens Bank and Trust Co., he briefly appeared at the bank's slightly-open door, leaned out, and closed it.
At that moment from behind a Montgomery County patrol car 40 yards away on East-West Highway, two members of the county police.SWAT unit trained their rifle sniperscopes at him and found themselves confronted with "a super-easy shot" at Gregory.
The didn't shoot.
Ninety minutes later, after Gregory had released the remaining hostage, he walked into the bank's vestibule and fired twice at police officers crouched safely behind patrol cars about 50 feet from the front of the bank.
Again, a SWAT officer had a clear shot at the slim suspect. Again, the SWAT officer didn't shoot.
Nor did the four SWAT members who rushed through the bank's front door at about 1 p.m. shoot when Gregory after laying down both rifles, attempted at the last moment to pick up one gun.
Yesterday, Gregory, unharmed as were all the hostages, was arraigned in a bond hearings at District Court in Rockville. His pale, stllen, face, shaded by a day's growth of dark whiskers, rarely changed expression as he stood before Judge Martin Becker.
The judge ordered Gregory to undergo a psychiatric "evaluation" at the Clifton T. Perkins State Hospital in Jessup to determine whether Gregory is "sufficiently stable" to assist his lawyers in defending him an "sufficiently competent" to stand trial.
That the eight-man SWAT unit didn't fire a shot at Gregory during the six-hour siege of the Silver Spring bank Wednesday night, despite several opportunities, contrasts sharply with the television-cultivated image of SWAT units as trigger-happy gun-slingers who squeeze off thousands of rounds at the drop of a hat.
"That TV show is the worst thing in the world for us," said Cpl. William Issacson, who had Gregory in his rifle sight when he came to the front of the bank. "Our job is to handle a situation with the least amount of violence, to do the job without firing a shot, if possible."
"The only time we fire is when the lives of hostages, citizens, or ourselves are in jeopardy," said SWAT commander Lt. A.B. Wilson, explaining why his men held their fire.
Wilson said that the officers didn't want to shoot at Gregory while he held hostages because they couldn't be sure where the hostages were. After Gregory released the last hostage, they still held their fire, Wilson said, Because Gregory "wasn't a direct threat to us."
Shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday a SWAT officer and a plainclothes detective - by greater coincidence stationed in th Blair Plaza Parking lot as part of an anti-crime force in the area - saw people streaming out of the bank, according to Lt. Allen E. Wilson, who directed the seven-hour operation.
They radioed in a notice of "suspicious activities" as the fleeing bank customers and employees themselves rushed to the phones in an adjacent drug store to phone in the incident to police, Wilson said.
By 7:10 all eight members of the SWAT group had taken up positions around the bank. Other police cordoned off the area, shunted nearby employees to the back of their stores, and rerouted traffic, police said.
Police have not said how they learned Gregory's name, but once they had, they called his parents, and a girlfried, all of whom arrived at about 10 p.m., according to Caserll. From his parents, Bill and Dolores Gregory, police learned the name of a former co-worker of Gregory at Eastern Credit Association in Beltsville. Police called the man, who now lives in Sarasota, Fla., and patched him onto the telephone lines with Gregory, Caswell reported. The man told Gregory he would not be harmed if he cooperated with police, Caswell said.
Eventually, he did, putting his two rifles outside the bank's glass doors shortly before 1 a.m. and then waiting inside as flak-jacketed police armed with shotguns charged in to arrest him.
"Time was on our side. We were prepared to wait him out for days and days," Wilson continued. "He didn't have any hostages. He was in no position to hurt innocent citizens. We were well protected. We had no reason to shoot him."
However, Wilson said that if Gregory had begun killing hostages or come out of the bank shooting, Gregory would have been shot immediately. Wilson also said that police would not have let Gregory leave the shopping center with any hostages.
The SWAT officers, who said they could have shot Gregory through the bank's glass windows and doors "at any time" with powerful .308 caliber Remington rifles, clearly where pleased yesterday at their successful mission.
"It was a 100 per cent success," Wilson said. "No one was hurt, and we took him without firing a shot,"
Wednesday night's operation was the second such mission faced by the three-year-old SWAT unit. Last Aug. 7 SWAT officers stormed a Gathersburg home at captured without firing a shot a man who had threatened to shoot anyone who approached his home.
Wilson and several SWAT officers continually referred to their not firing a shot Wednesday night as a matter of "control."
"If you have enough probable case to shoot, you shoot to kill," said Cpl. Richard Fried. "If there's any other way to control the situation, you don't."