A Prince George’s County police officer was killed Sunday in a fierce shootout with a man outside a district station in Landover, in what the police chief said was an unprovoked attack.
Police Chief Henry P. Stawinski III said a man walked up to the District III station and opened fire outside the front doors about 4:30 p.m. Officers rushed out to stop the attack. Officer Jacai Colson, 28, a four-year department veteran, was killed in the gunfight, the chief said. Police said the suspect was wounded and taken to a hospital, where he was listed in stable condition.
Police said they didn’t know of a motive, but the suspect and a man police officials described as his brother were both in custody.
“One of your defenders lost his life in defense of this community today. This was an unprovoked attack,” Stawinski said at a somber news conference Sunday night.
A relative and law enforcement officials identified the two people in custody as Malik Ford and Michael Ford, both of Temple Hills.
The slain officer’s father, James Colson III, was rushing from Philadelphia to the Washington region Sunday night. His son, he said, “was courageous and an excellent role model” for young men.
Colson graduated from Chichester High School in Boothwyn, Pa., where he was born, and went on to play football at Randolph-Macon College, according to a team roster. Pedro Arruza, the football team’s coach, recalled Colson for his strength of character.
“He was a great kid,” Arruza said of Colson, who played one season for the team at defensive back and wide receiver. “A really respectful kid and just a high-character young man. He treated everyone with respect. . . . To be honest, he wasn’t a great player, but he was a really great person.”
His high school coach, Joe LaRose, said Jacai Colson’s grandfather was also a police officer.
The shooting terrified many in the Palmer Park and Landover areas. Police urged residents to shelter in place to ensure their safety. The warning was lifted shortly after 7:30 p.m.
One witness said she grabbed her sleeping 14-month-old son from his playpen when she heard what she thought was probably firecrackers. She looked out a window and saw a man dressed in black firing a handgun at the police station.
“He fired one shot, and then he started pacing back and forth, then fired another shot,” said Lascelles Grant, a nurse. “Who would shoot a police station on Sunday evening? This is insane.”
Then, police began pouring out of the station.
“Just looking outside, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, look at all these police officers running out, putting their lives really in danger,’ ” Grant said. As shooting continued, the Jamaican immigrant ran to her bathroom to take cover, and said she thought, “Lord, please don’t let no shot come inside here and hurt my baby and me.”
Erica Thomas, 39, of Washington, said the two people in custody are her nephews. She said relatives had informed her that Michael was injured in the shooting and she tearfully waited at the hospital Sunday night.
“I just want to know where they’re at,” she said.
She said she did not know of a possible motive for an attack. “What we wanna know is why did all of this happen? What caused this? That’s what we wanna know.”
Thomas received word from family members Sunday afternoon that her nephew may have been shot by officers after he opened fire. “I apologize if that’s the case, but all lives matter. Where is my nephew?”
Their grandmother, Deidre Ramos, 60, of Hyattsville, said Malik and Michael Ford were arrested in connection with the shooting but she said police had the wrong suspects. “They weren’t involved,” she said. Asked if police arrested the wrong people, she said, “Yes.”
Colson, who would have turned 29 this week, was described as a “cop’s cop” and as having an “infectious smile.”
Stawinski said the incident “wasn’t about anything.”
“He opened fire on the first police officer he saw,” Stawinski said.
Colson was an undercover narcotics officer who worked in high-risk situations, Stawinski said. “When things began to turn, he immediately stepped into action,” Stawinski said of Colson’s response Sunday.
“He was always there for his fellow brothers and sisters,” said Prince George’s Fraternal Order of Police President John Teletchea.
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks called the incident “another horrific act of evil.” “We have another mother tonight without her son,” Alsobrooks said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered flags to fly at half-staff. “The First Lady and I send our sincere prayers to the family and loved ones of Officer Colson, who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to his fellow citizens and community,” Hogan said in a statement. “It is my hope that his proud legacy of commitment and passion for law enforcement and serving others will provide some comfort in the difficult days that lie ahead.”
Police cars and barricades continued to block the area around the police headquarters — also connected to the district station — late into the evening.
Four miles away, in Cheverly, police cruisers lined the entrance to Prince George’s Hospital Center. Officers shared hugs and shed tears. They huddled in a circle, holding hands and reciting prayers for their fallen comrade.
Sunday’s killing came 12 days after the funeral for Prince William County officer Ashley Guindon, who was shot and killed there on her first day on duty. Guindon was killed when she and two fellow officers were sent to a home in the Woodbridge area of the county to answer a call about a domestic dispute.
Ronald Williams Hamilton, 32, an Army staff sergeant, allegedly opened fire on Guindon and the two other officers Feb. 27 as they approached the front door to his and wife’s home.
During his two decades as a high school football coach, LaRose saw hundreds of kids come through, but he said few were like Jacai Colson.
“He was that kid that every once in a while you hope you have,” LaRose said. “That kid who is a leader. There’s an old saying that when you’re a leader and you turn around, everyone is following you. He had that way of being a leader.”
Growing up around police inculcated him, LaRose said, with a sense of discipline. Colson was so mature, LaRose said, that he decided to start him at quarterback when he was still a sophomore. Most students, he said, would have wilted under the pressure of playing with older students.
But not Colson.
“He walked into the huddle of older kids and led them to a successful season,” LaRose said. He said he wasn’t surprised when he learned he had become a police officer. He said he “felt safer” knowing Colson had decided to serve.
“We lost a great one today,” he said.
Arelis R. Hernández, Hamil R. Harris, Martin Weil, Julie Tate, Jennifer Jenkins, Ovetta Wiggins and Peter Hermann contributed to this report.