Embittered and distraught D.C. police officers fanned out through the city yesterday in a hunt for the man who shot and killed Arthur P. Snyder when he attempted to make a drug arrest on 14th Street Monday night.
More than 100 police officers, many of them working voluntarily on overtime, conducted a series of unsuccessful raids around Washington as they looked for Bruce Wazon Griffith, 27, the man charged with the killing.
Griffith, known along the 14th Street strip as "Red" because of his ruddy complexion, had been carried for months on the District's "10 Most Wanted" list after he failed to appear in D.C. Superior Court for trial on heroin possession charges last June. He had been free on $1,000 bond.
Throughout the city yesterday, at every precinct house and substation, on every beat, policemen wore strips of black tape across their badges in mourning for their slain fellow officer. And leaders of police fraternal organizations, outraged over the first slaying of a policeman here in two years, announced that they were offering rewards totaling $4,000 for the arrest and conviction of his killer. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also offered $1,000.
Fraternal Order of Police president Thomas J. Tague called the shooting "an execution by a person who should have been in jail."
"It is an outrage that a known felon, a dangerous felon, could be loose on the streets," said International Brotherhood of Police Officers vice president Larry Melton.
Yesterday, the area around 14th and U streets NW, where the shooting occurred, was quiet and still. Normally the center of a carnival-like scene of street people, junkies and drug dealers plying their trade, the neighborhood was overrun by scores of officers who searched the streets with K9 dogs. Police cruisers were in alleys and on sidewalks and residents kept their distance.
"Ain't no wonder there ain't nobody out here," said Anthony Smith a resident of U Street. "These people know when the police are mad. Anybody who makes a wrong move today is going to get themselves locked up."
Snyder, 29, a 4 1/2-year veteran of the police department, had been well-known on the 14th Street strip since being assigned a year ago to a special eight-man squad to carry out Mayor Marion Barry's War on Heroin.
A slight, good-natured man off-duty, Snyder was said by fellow officers and persons around the strip to be aggressive in his work and intensely disliked by drug dealers and users. His colleagues often kidded him about his large ears. Around 14th Street, where virtually every habitue -- drug dealer, policeman, hanger-on -- acquires a nickname, he was known as "Mickey Mouse."
"He's a rough and nasty policeman," said one woman who was among the hundreds who poured into the area minutes after the shooting.
In the crowd, there was something of a festive air.
"Sure, we're happy he was shot," said William Stevens."He was cruel . . . he liked to see people run from him, to see people fear him. Live by the sword, die by the sword, I always say."
But to his friends and coworkers, there was a different, gentler man, Charles Williams, his partner of 3 1/2 years, said Snyder was "a religious man whose wife even got him going to church. We were close, went hunting together every year in southern Maryland for small game and deer. He was a gun enthusiast."
Williams said Snyder and his wife, Stella, had no children.
On the streets, Griffith was known as a small-time operator. "He was not very discreet," said a man who knew Griffith. "Here he is wanted by the police and he comes down to 14th Street last Sunday wearing big ski goggles and a scarf so he wouldn't get recognized.That was the first time I'd seen him, but people were saying he had some good quality stuff."
Reached at her home on First Street NW, Griffith's mother, Ada Griffith, said she hadn't seen her son since September. She didn't know if he had a job and was surprised to read in the paper that he was accused of being involved with drugs.
"He was an average boy, always with a gang and getting into trouble. The others would run away and he would take the blame. I guess you could say he was police prone."
Ada Griffith said her son had flunked out of Cardozo High School when he was 17, but, before then he had once been a medal-winning swimming at Dunbar High.
Attorney William F. Gotschall, who represented Griffith in the June narcotics case, said, "I never got the sense that Bruce realized what he had done was against the law and he could be prosecuted for it."
He remembered Griffith as being "very argumentative."
Snyder was staking out the 14th Street drug trade with a pair of binoculars from a second story apartment on the west side of the strip shortly before 7 p.m. Monday.
Standing with partner Constant Pickett, 33, Snyder watched the 14th Street business as usual: junkies and cool-talking hustlers selling $50 dollar teaspoons of heroin, street people muttering and jibing and drinking, prostitutes working the crowd. A curb-side bazaar.
At about 6:30 p.m., Snyder and Pickett focused on a tall, slender man in the crowd of more than 100 who was wearing blue jeans, a gray sweatshirt, tan coat and construction boots. They watched him, for the third time that evening, pass something to another man on the street and receive something in return. One time it might have been a handshake or a message. But three times was probable cause for dealing drugs. They left their perch for the street.
Pickett walked north across the street and turned south toward the man. Snyder headed south, then north. The man was midway betwen U and V streets, in front of Pamela's Grocery & Deli.
Snyder arrived first, the crowd parting for his blue uniform. Suddenly there was a shot; then three more in rapid succession. The first struck Snyder's bulletproof vest and knocked him to the ground; the next three were leveled at Snyder's head by the man in the tan coat standing over him.
As Pickett raced to his partner's aid, the man in the tan coat fired two shots at him, both missing, then dashed off toward a nearby alley. Pickett fired four shots at the fleeing man, then picked up Snyder's fully loaded revolver and continued the chase.
The officer fired two more shots, but the man was gone, running through a vacant lot next to H & B Records, past a sign scrawled on a white wall; "America is S -- cause the White Man's got a God complex."
Snyder lay under the only tree in front of Pamela's Grocery & Deli; a bullet had entered his left temple and severed his spinal chord. Blood oozed on the pavement. A Howard University student administered first aid. He was rushed to the Washington Hospital Center by a Park Police helicopter, where he died eight hours later.