Police applauding refusal of parole Police happy with no-parole decision on Johnson. Others call it a travesty.

July 30, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

Police are applauding the Maryland Parole Commission's decision to refuse parole for Terrence G. Johnson, whose slaying of two Prince George's County police officers enflamed racial tensions there in the late 1970s.

Johnson's supporters, meanwhile, are calling the decision a travesty.

The commission's ruling, which has been under consideration for almost six months and was intently awaited by both sides, means that Johnson, 28, will likely have to serve the remainder of his 25-year prison sentence. With time off for good behavior, he would be eligible to be released in 1999.

"They didn't want to send a message back out . . . that, yeah, you can shoot a police officer and get away with it," said Cpl. Warren Holmes, secretary of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, which represents Prince George's County police.

"This way, you know no matter what sentence you get, be it 25 years or life, you're going to be in there a little while. It may make you think a little while before you pull the trigger."

The seven-member commission voted unanimously against parole Wednesday, said Paul J. Davis, chairman of the panel.

Johnson, who was 15 at the time of the killings, has been a mainly trouble-free prisoner who has finished high school, graduated from Morgan State and received vocational training in prison, Davis said.

Those achievements, however, did not outweigh "the impact of the crime in the general community and the sense of the community at large of the seriousness of the crime," Davis said.

"Our fears, of course, were that in times of violence being on the uprise, such as we're experiencing now, a negative message could be sent to the community if we allowed Mr. Johnson to be paroled," Davis said.

Charles J. Ware, Johnson's attorney, called the decision "unfair" and "shocking."

"This sends a signal to the black community that the parole commission has a bias against blacks," Ware said. "It sends ...l...lTC signal that the parole process is a very political process and is not just based on fairness." (Johnson is black; the two slain officers were white.)

"He's been a model inmate," Ware said of Johnson. "We've always maintained that he has been rehabilitated. He's grown up in prison."

Johnson was convicted of manslaughter and a handgun violation in the June 1978 shooting of Officer Albert M. Claggett 4th. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting of Officer James B. Swart. Johnson shot both officers in the Hyattsville police station.

Johnson has maintained that Claggett was beating him up when he grabbed Claggett's revolver and shot him.

"He was trying to break my neck," Johnson testified at his 1979 trial. "I thought he was going to kill me."

After shooting Claggett, Johnson burst out of a small basement fingerprinting room firing shots, one of which killed Swart.

A judge sentenced Johnson to 10 years for manslaughter and 15 years for the handgun violation.

Johnson said in an interview last year that he was ready to be released.

"I'm looking forward to that," Johnson said. "In fact, I've been in prison for 12 years now, and you know it's been like a preparation for me. I've tried to do everything I possibly can academically and vocationally to at least be prepared when I get out."

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