A small-time drug dealer hunted since Monday after the first murder of a D.C. policeman in two years was shot and killed by police yesterday afternoon as he leaped from a taxi on a quiet residential street near Howard University.
Two patrolmen, out searching for 29-year-old Bruce Wazon Griffith on their day off, spotted him shortly before 3 p.m. as he got into a taxi at First and S streets NW.
As the cab headed north on First Street, the two patrolmen, wearing street clothes, followed it in their private car, radioing at the same time for help.
They had only gone a couple of blocks when a police car swept up behind the taxi, signaling it to pull over with its roof-lights.
At this point, the driver slowed his taxi nearly to a halt, jumped from the still-moving cab with his hands in the air and ran for cover. The cab drifted into two parked cars, and Griffith immediately began firing through the rear window at the three approaching officers.
The patrolmen -- two white and one black -- took cover behind parked cars and returned the fire, police said.
Residents who live in the neighborhood said Griffith then jumped from the taxi, rolled across the hood of a car onto the sidewalk and scrambled to his feet.
Police said Griffith continued firing, although witnesses said he now appeared to be trying to flee. He was struck in the chest, side and abdomen by as many as five police bullets and fell to the sidewalk fatally wounded.
The three policemen and the cab driver were not injured.
An ambulance crew arrived at the scene minutes after the 3:15 p.m. shooting, administered first aid, then rushed Griffith to the Washington Hospital Center. Despite fevered efforts by doctors there to keep him alive, Griffith died about 50 minutes later.
Moments after the shooting, hundreds of residents gathered on First Street NW, between W and Adams streets, as several dozen police roped off the area and a helicopter hovered overhead. Bits of shattered glass covered the asphalt near the W Street intersection. Fiberglass torn from the body of one of the cars struck by the taxi was scattered nearby.
The taxi, sitting 50 feet north, had six bullet holes in the rear window. And under a tree near the sidewalk were Griffith's blue nylon boots, his blue knit scarf and hat and a pair of sunglasses.
Later last night, Mayor Marion Barry told reporters that the police should be "commended for their vigorous efforts" in tracking down Griffith. "From all indications I've heard," Barry said, "the only thing they could do was shoot him. . . . He said he would not be taken alive without a struggle; do you think he was kidding?"
Griffith's shooting ended a massive manhunt that began after 3rd District police officer Arthur P. Snyder was gunned down Monday night when he tried to arrest Griffith for selling drugs in the 14th and U Streets NW area. Hundreds of junkies, drug dealers and street people had gathered at that scene expressing jubilation over the death of Snyder, who they disliked and feared because of his aggressive pursuit of lawbreakers.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, more than 100 embittered police officers, many of them volunteering their off-duty hours and working around the clock, intensified their search. They fanned out with dogs in a large area of the center city bounded by North Capitol Street, 16th Street NW, Irving Street and K Street, searching for Griffith.
Acting on anonymous tips, leaning on informants and offering $5,000 in reward money, police wearing flak jackets and carrying shotguns surrounded more than 100 residences and abandoned buildings at different times. But Griffith managed to elude police, sometimes by as few as 10 minutes.
As three days passed with Griffith still on the run, he became something of a legend in the alleys, door stoops and pool halls around the 14th Street strip, Street people marveled at his ability to elude police. Stories abounded that he had changed his appearance by shaving his beard and wearing padding to appear fat and had been seen around town variously in a red Cadillac and silver Mercedes.
"That Reds (Griffith's nickname), he ain't no dummy. He pretty smart, man," said Slim Kennedy as he shot a rack of balls at a pool hall on 14th Street only hours before Griffith's death. "He got the police running around like a bunch of chickens . . He's probably in South America by now."
But Griffith apparently never left the area around the Northwest streets where he grew up and attended Cardozo High School. He was seen several times by police and residents, one of whom, Mark Divvers, a television repairman, saw him in a liquor store on First Street NE Wednesday night.
"I walked up to him and recognized him. I was shocked," Divvers said. "As I looked up it was as though this 30 mile-an-hour wind came over me. I had this feeling that evil was present . . ."
Police said that callers also told them that Griffith had been seen several times in the vicinity of 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE. It was such tips, 5th District deputy police chief Carl V. Profater said, that eventually lead to Griffith's apprehension and shooting.
On Wednesday, two of the officers who shot Griffith, Robert L. Lanham, 30, and Adrian James, 25, were given permission to wear civilian clothes and begin an intensive search for Griffith. About 5 p.m., they spotted Griffith in the Edgewood Terrace apartment complex in Northeast Washington. They gave chase but lost him.
Yesterday morning, Lanham and James continued their search.
Cruising around First and S streets NW, they spotted Griffith getting into a black and orange Capitol Cab, and quietly followed.
Minutes later, officer John Bonaccorsy, 24, joined the chase in a cruiser.
"It looked like a gangland killing, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre," said Frank Barr, 30, who was visiting relatives on First Street in the quiet LeDroit Park neighborhood when the shooting occurred.
"They just started shooting and shooting," said Shirley Lightfoot, who has lived on the street for 21 years.
Police officials estimated later that the three officers had fired about 15 shots at Griffith. Griffith, they said, fired four or five shots through the cab window at the policemen, then reloaded his .38 caliber revolver and continued firing as he tried to flee.
The cab driver, Charles E. Allen, III, 34, a D.C. school system janitor who works part time for Capitol Cab, told police later that he was taking a woman passenger to Providence Hospital when Griffith flagged him down at First and Bryant Streets NW and asked to go to First and S Sstreets NW.
Though it was out of his way, Griffith agreed to ride along to the hospital with the woman.After dropping the woman off, Allen headed toward First and S, about two blocks from Griffith's home at 1510 First St.
Several times as he drove along First Street, Allen told police, Griffith told him to stop, then got out and walked around. Each time he got back into the taxi and told Allen to drive farther down the street.
It was when Griffith got out at First and S Streets, then got back into the cab, that Lanham and James spotted him.
Visibly shaken by the experience, Allen told a reporter later: "I'm amazed that I'm alive."
Griffith was taken to the Washington Hospital Center where a team of doctors, including some who had attended to Snyder on Monday night, worked to keep him alive. At 4:05 p.m., about 50 minutes after the shooting, the doctors pronounced him dead.
A hospital spokesman said Griffith had been shot in the chest, abdomen and side, but they could not determine how many times.
Shortly after Griffith arrived at the hospital center, his mother, who works in the hospital laundry, father, two sisters and two of his brothers gathered in a waiting room.
Pacing the floor, Griffith's mother, Ada, said she had suffered sleepless nights and worried days since Officer Snyder was shot because police had been "harassing" her in their determined search for her son.
Helicopters had hovered over her house, policemen had staked out the front and back, coming back again and again to question her and her family about Bruce's whereabouts.
"To think it had to come to this," the woman said.
The family described Griffith yesterday as a person who was "physically and mentally destroyed" by the criminal justice system that should have helped rehabilitate him.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Griffith's 31-year-old brother, Bernard, a New Orleans school teacher, said that Bruce had "been in and out of trouble all his life."
"When he was a kid, one of his buddies broke into some coin-operated laundry machines, but Bruce insisted on sticking around instead of running cause he said he wasn't involved. He's just got a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
According to police and court records, Griffith was sentenced in July 1974 to serve 18 years in prison after he was convicted on a bank robbery charge.
Four years later, he was transferred from the federal correction institution at Lewisburg, Pa., to a halfway house in Washington. He was released on parole in October 1978.
On July 4, 1979 Griffith was charged with possession of heroin, but was freed on personal bond because failure of a police department computer prevented the judge from learning of his previous record.
When he failed to appear for trial July 9 on the heroin charge, a warrant was issued for his arrest. He had been a fugitive ever since.
"He was marked from the beginning as soon as they put the label on him -- 'cop killer' -- there was just no chance for him, even if he was innocent," Bernard Griffith said.
Snyder, 29, and a 4 1/2-year veteran of the police department, had been well known on the 14th Street strip since being detailed there a year ago as part of a special, eight-man squad assigned to carry out the policies of Mayor Marion Barry's War on Heroin.
A slight, good-natured man off duty, Snyder was often kidded by his fellow officers 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."
Snyder lived in Silver Spring with his wife. Funeral services for the slain officer will be held 11 a.m. today at Faith Pentecostal Holiness Church 12619 Holdridge Rd., Silver Spring. Burial will be at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, 13705 Georgia Ave.