An undercover narcotics officer for Prince George’s County who came upon a gun battle Sunday outside a station was shot by a fellow officer who mistook him for an assailant, according to the department’s chief.
The officer who fired the fatal shot did so deliberately but without malice, Police Chief Henry P. Stawinski III said Wednesday at a news conference announcing the latest findings in the case.
“I believe that another police officer fired at an armed individual who they perceived to be a threat to them,” Stawinski said.
Stawinski did not name the officer who shot officer Jacai Colson, 28, adding that investigators had not yet interviewed him. Colson — who was in street clothes at the time — was one of four officers who fired their weapons as they tried to stop the shooting.
Colson had just arrived at the police station in Landover, Md., when Michael DeAndre Ford, 22, launched a planned and “unprovoked” attack on the building and officers, police said. Ford enlisted his younger brothers — Malik Ford, 21, and Elijah Ford, 18 — to drive him to the scene and callously record the shootout and ambush on their cellphones, police said. Michael Ford shot randomly at cars and an ambulance in addition to targeting officers, police said. While weapons were being discharged, Colson was fatally wounded by friendly fire.
At a bail review hearing Wednesday afternoon, a Prince George’s County District Court judge ordered that the younger Ford brothers continue to be held without bond. The proceedings were briefly halted when one brother fainted.
The hearing was emotional, with several members of the Ford brothers’ family speaking on their behalf.
Michael Thomas called Malik and Elijah Ford good children who “did not pull the trigger.”
“I’ve lost three sons in one shot,” Thomas said at the hearing in which the younger Ford brothers appeared in orange jumpsuits via video.
During the hearing, one family member asked prosecutors what evidence they had that the brothers were involved with the shooting, prompting a public defender to stop her mid-comment. Another family member said that one of the brothers had been recording the scene not because he was “seeking YouTube celebrity” but because he “was in awe” of the unfolding situation.
Michael Ford has been charged with 25 counts related to the shootout, including second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, assault and handgun charges. Malik and Elijah Ford are charged with attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and related offenses.
At Wednesday’s bail review hearing, prosecutors said the younger brothers watched as Michael Ford fired and reloaded, discharging more than 20 rounds during the shootout with police. Police have said that Michael Ford intended to die in the gunfight and that he recorded his last will and testament before heading to the police station. He was shot but survived. Michael Ford remains hospitalized, and it is unclear when he will make his first court appearance.
Stawinski said Monday that Michael Ford’s attack was “about nothing. It was unprovoked.” He added that he was troubled, too, that the younger Fords did not intercede as the shooting unfolded.
At his Monday news conference, Stawinski had said it was likely that Colson was shot by another officer and used the phrase “errant round” to describe what might have occurred.
On Wednesday, Stawinski said that he had used the term “errant” because it was not clear Monday whether Colson had been mistaken for an assailant during the chaotic scene and that he did not want to draw a conclusion on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
“This is a tragic set of circumstances precipitated by individuals who were in a position to prevent it from happening in the first place,” Stawinski said.
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks said Wednesday that it is too early in the investigation to know why the officer who shot Colson perceived him as a threat.
“We’re not able to say what the officer perceived and why he perceived it,” Alsobrooks said.
The case comes amid national concerns that police officers are being targeted by members of the public they are defending and concerns over racial bias in deadly police shootings.
Stawinski said he was “uncomfortable with the notion that” bias would be “introduced to the conversation.”
He later clarified his response to the question about whether there was any suggestion of racial bias in the exchange of gunfire.
“In those split seconds when lives are in danger and officers are engaging a deadly threat, there simply isn’t time to bring any biases into it,” Stawinski said. “Hindsight is a luxury that no officer has in the midst of an ambush.”
Alsobrooks said her office thoroughly reviews every police-involved shooting in the county, and she said the public’s questions are fair.
“There is an independent review that occurs in every single situation, and this one will be no different from that,” Alsobrooks said. “We will apply the law to the facts as we do in every single situation.”