As many people celebrated Independence Day weekend with out-of-town trips or backyard barbecues, one Prince George’s County police officer remembered the time he could have died during a shooting in College Park.
Two years ago on July 5, Cpl. Jordan M. Swonger arrived at Lakeland Road about 10:30 p.m. after a woman called worried about her son, who was high on PCP. Her son had a gun, there were children in the house, and “he needs to go to the hospital,” the mother told 911 operators.
Minutes later, Swonger pulled up to the house and saw Andre McKoy pointing a semi-automatic gun at the woman. Swonger saw the “zoned-out look” and the “thousand-yard stare” of the armed man before him and knew it would be a difficult call.
“PCP causes ordinary, law-abiding citizens to engage in extremely violent, psychotic behavior,” said Swonger, who recently celebrated his ninth year on the county police force. “You can tell that they’re not all there upstairs.”
Swonger, the first officer to arrive at the scene, commanded McKoy to put the gun down.
“He turned and pointed the gun at me,” Swonger said. “He started walking toward me.”
Then the shots rang. McKoy fired at Swonger; Swonger fired back.
As McKoy’s mother ran down the street, shots struck McKoy’s hip. But instead of going down, Swonger said, McKoy winced and kept firing, running onto nearby Baltimore Avenue. Swonger followed, taking cover behind a bridge to see what McKoy would do next.
“Right when he got in the middle of Route 1, he spiked the gun like it was a football,” Swonger remembered. “It was the wildest thing I’d ever seen.”
Swonger shot McKoy with a stun gun, but it appeared to have no affect. The officer tried to wrestle McKoy to the ground, but it was tough to get a grip on McKoy, who was sweaty, covered in blood, and unfazed by the injuries, Swonger said. When a second officer, Jimmy Simms, arrived on the scene, the pair still couldn’t subdue McKoy.
“I’m on top of him and Simms is on top of him, and he pushed us both off with one hand while getting tazed,” Swonger said. “It was superhuman strength.”
McKoy walked off. Dozens more officers arrived on the scene, hoping to quickly arrest McKoy, who was near University of Maryland.
“You are so close to the campus,” Simms said. “You are painfully aware that failure to stop the threat could have meant that students and professors could have been victimized that night.”
For a few minutes, Simms said, it seemed it would be impossible to stop McKoy. After officers thought McKoy pulled out had a second gun, police shot him several more times. Despite the bullet wounds, McKoy tried to steal two police cruisers, crashing one into the wall of a nearby fast-food restaurant. By the end of the night, McKoy had been shot multiple times, pepper sprayed and zapped by stun guns before he was finally subdued.
“I’ve seen people on PCP and fought people on PCP,” Simms said. “But this, in my entire career, was the strongest suspect I’ve ever seen on PCP.”
McKoy woke up in the hospital the next day, Swonger said, remembering nothing of the night. Swonger, however, remembers it vividly two years later. He now works for the narcotics enforcement division and said the experience has pushed him to advocate for tougher sentences for PCP dealers and users.
“What stands out in my mind is just how powerful PCP is, and how dangerous it is to us and the community and how much force we have to apply to take these people in custody,” Swonger said.
PCP is known to dull physical pain and increase aggression among users and its use in Prince George’s County “ebbs and flows,” according to officials with the police department’s narcotics division.
Last summer, McKoy pleaded guilty to felony assault and a related handgun charge and is now serving a seven-year prison sentence.
Earlier this year, Swonger won the police department’s Gold Medal of Valor at an annual awards ceremony honoring Prince George’s County public safety personnel. He was recognized for his “courageous actions” while facing McKoy. Simms also received a medal along with four other officers on the scene: Cpl. Eric B. Southan, Cpl. James E. Carpenter, Officer Kenneth G. Tant and Officer Dewayne M. Harris.
Swonger said that though he and others received recognition for their actions, no officer celebrates having to fire a weapon: “Shootings are absolutely terrifying, and they effect you for the rest of your life.”