Dakota Kurek was smoking a cigarette in the backyard of his suburban home in Perry Hall, Md., on Monday afternoon, when he heard a police officer shout the same command twice: “Get out! Get out of the car!”
Kurek ran to a gate and saw Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio standing next to her cruiser with her gun drawn on a black Jeep Wrangler. Suddenly, the Jeep accelerated toward her, and he heard a pop like a gunshot and then the sound of the impact, because his view was obstructed by a parked car.
Kurek bolted to the street and found the terrible aftermath: Caprio had been knocked about 25 feet backward. She had tire marks across her uniform, and her right arm pointed toward the sky as if she still held her weapon. Her keys, smashed sunglasses and gun were scattered amid broken glass. The Jeep was gone.
“It looked like the driver had just slammed on the pedal. He didn’t hesitate. He just went,” Kurek said. “I stayed next to her. I was trying to tell her everything was all right, but got no response.”
Caprio soon died of her injuries. Authorities announced Tuesday they had charged Dawnta A. Harris of Baltimore City, the 16-year-old they said was behind the wheel, as an adult with first-degree murder. Caprio, a nearly four-year veteran, had been called to the scene to investigate a possible burglary.
Questions were raised at a Tuesday afternoon news conference about why Harris, who had been arrested in connection with four vehicle thefts since December, was released from juvenile detention on May 10 and was allowed to stay at home on electronic monitoring. Authorities said he disappeared about a week before Monday’s incident and they weren’t able to locate him. The Jeep used to run over Caprio had been stolen from Baltimore City and had a stolen tag, police said.
“Did the system not work?” asked Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan. “It sounds like it could have worked better in this particular case. Perhaps this 16-year-old shouldn’t have been out.”
Sheridan said Caprio, 29, was “smart, athletic and energetic” — the very type of officer the department looked to hire. Caprio had previously been lauded for helping solve a rash of holiday package thefts. She and her husband were set to begin a week of vacation this weekend to celebrate their third wedding anniversary and both of their upcoming birthdays, the police department said.
“She was the kind of officer that was going to go up in this organization and be a leader,” Sheridan said. A viewing for Caprio will be held Thursday and her funeral on Friday.
A Baltimore County judge ordered Harris held without bond in the adult jail, calling him a “one-man crime wave”and saying she wondered if any juvenile facility was secure enough to hold him, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Sheridan said Harris and three other juveniles who were also arrested were suspected of burglarizing a Perry Hall home on the street where Caprio was killed. He said they had thrown a rock through a window and stolen cash and jewelry.
The same group was also being looked at in connection with a second burglary that occurred earlier in the day about two miles away. A gun was stolen in that incident and has not been recovered.
The three other teens are 15, 16 and 17, officials said, and have not been charged as the investigation continues. Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said he believes he will be able to charge the other three teens with murder. If a slaying occurs during the commission of certain felonies in Maryland, all perpetrators involved in the underlying crime can be charged with felony murder, regardless of whether they actually carried out the killing.
The incident began about 2 p.m. Monday and kicked off a massive lockdown at nearby schools. It started along Linwen Way when police received a call about a suspicious vehicle, police said.
According to court documents, the person who called 911 to report the suspicious vehicle said there was a black Jeep Wrangler “near her home and that three suspicious suspects got out of it and were walking around homes.”
The caller then told police she believed the three people had broken into a nearby house. Caprio was the first officer to respond.
Sheridan said Caprio followed the Jeep from the scene of the possible burglary to a cul-de-sac near where Kurek lives.
Sheridan said the driver opened his door, closed it and then “drove over” Caprio.
Another witness told police he saw Caprio “outside her patrol car, shouting orders” to the Jeep’s driver. The witness said the Jeep then drove “directly at [the officer]” and struck her before fleeing. Sheridan said an autopsy indicated Caprio died of multiple traumas to her head and torso.
Caprio was taken to MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and pronounced dead at about 2:50 p.m., according to charging documents and police officials.
Soon after the 911 call came in, police said, they found the Jeep abandoned nearby with a bullet hole in the windshield that police later determined was caused when Caprio fired. Later, police located Harris about one block from the abandoned Jeep, according to court documents, and witnesses identified him as the driver.
Sheridan said police are investigating how the other teens got away but think they may have taken public transportation or been picked up by a driver. They were later arrested at their homes in West Baltimore.
In an interview at police headquarters, Harris admitted his role in Caprio’s killing, according to court filings. No attorney was listed for Harris in Maryland court documents and his family could not be reached for comment.
At the news conference, Sam J. Abed, the Maryland secretary of Juvenile Services, said Harris had been in custody and detained on an arrest warrant on April 17 but was released to electronic monitoring at his home on May 10.
The official said, “his compliance was poor and we requested the court violate the youth.” That hearing on the request, which was scheduled for May 18, was postponed.
The police department said Caprio “loved her family, her husband, and her dog, Doodle,” and, as a dog lover, carried a leash and treats with her on patrol. She enjoyed biking and kayaking, the department said.
Caprio graduated in 2010 from Towson University and from the county police academy in December 2014.
Caprio’s husband did not return calls for comment. A man who identified himself as the slain officer’s husband spoke Tuesday morning in a radio interview on 105.7 The Fan.
“I’m just still grieving, Tim Caprio told Ed Norris, a former Baltimore city police commissioner. “I don’t know, I just feel like talking about it is definitely better than not.”
Lynh Bui contributed to this report.