Officer shot in exchange of gunfire in Howard County; police identify suspect

A Howard County police officer was reported in serious condition Wednesday after he was shot in an exchange of gunfire in North Laurel, and officers from across the region used police dogs and a helicopter in a massive search for the shooter.

About 10:30 p.m., Howard police said they had identified a suspect, although he was still at large. Howard police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said that an arrest warrant had been issued for Stephon Prather, 29, of no fixed address. He is wanted for the attempted murder of a police officer and multiple counts of assault against officers.

Police identified Prather from a surveillance video, Llewellyn said.

The wounded officer, Steven Houk, 30, a two-year member of the Howard police force, was airlifted to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore after the shooting Wednesday afternoon. At an evening news conference, Llewellyn said that she did not have specific information about Houk’s injuries but that he was talking and alert.

“We think that is really promising,” she said.

Llewellyn said that an employee of a business on Route 1, which runs roughly parallel to Interstate 95, called police about 4 p.m. to report a man with a gun in the North Laurel-Savage area.

As three officers approached the area of the 9500 block of Route 1 — known in that stretch as Washington Boulevard — the man “immediately opened fire,” Llewellyn said. She said that one officer was struck and that at least one officer returned fire. It was not known whether Houk fired his weapon or whether the officers and the gunman had exchanged words.

It also was not known whether the man was wounded, Llewellyn said.

The gunman darted into the woods near the highway. Police urged residents in the area to exercise caution.

The shooter was described as a black man, about 30 years old, 6 feet 2 and 280 pounds. He was wearing gray pants and a black jacket, police said.

Helicopters circled as officers from Howard, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, the city of Laurel and Maryland State Police searched the area. Llewellyn called it “all hands on deck.” She asked residents of the area “to just have some patience.”

“We advise people all the time that their doors and windows should be locked,” she said.

Stephon Prather (Courtesy of Howard County Police Department)
Clarence Williams is the night police reporter for The Washington Post and has spent the better part of 13 years standing next to crime scene tape, riding in police cars or waking officials in the middle of night to gather information about breaking news in and around Washington.
Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County. He arrived at the paper in 2005, after reporting stops at the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of The Yoga Store Murder.

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