Undercover officer nearly goes under for good

August 02, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

It was a setup, but this time undercover Detective Donald J. Guevara turned out to be the quarry. A hyped-up 17-year-old was waving a .357-caliber Magnum in his face from a foot away.

The teen-age gunman and three companions were out to rob the Howard County narcotics detective of $6,700 in "buy" money, then abduct and perhaps kill him, police say.

Detective Guevara told of Wednesday night's brush with death -- and his dramatic rescue -- in an interview yesterday.

A drug dealer had arranged to meet the 29-year-old detective at a driving range parking lot south of Columbia after closing hours Wednesday night.

The supplier had sold him a small amount of cocaine in June. Now he was promising to up the ante to a quarter-pound. The purported cocaine later turned out to be an empty bag.

Soon after he arrived at the Rocky Gorge golf range on U.S. 29, Detective Guevara said, he realized the dealer was going to "rip me off."

He was talking with the dealer in his car when he noticed three men drive up in a 1991 Honda Accord. They lurked in the shrubbery nearby.

The deal was about to take place. The dealer said he would drop the bag of cocaine on the ground, and he got out of the detective's car. Suddenly, a gunman rushed the car, forcing his way into the passenger seat and training his weapon on Detective Guevara.

The undercover officer was gripped by fear. "It was like my whole insides were freezing up, and I had a knot in my stomach," he said.

It was too dark for him to make out whether the gun's cylinder held any bullets. Later, the handgun was found to have been fully loaded.

Detective Guevara tried to stay calm. He was "wearing a wire," he said, and knew that backup tactical and narcotics officers were listening from a van parked nearby.

"My first reaction when the gunman forced his way into the passenger seat of my car was not to overreact to the situation so I could keep myself alive," he said. "I figured that if I grab the gun or reach for the small .380 [caliber] handgun I have secreted on me, I would probably get shot. I knew in the back of my mind that our tactical people would take care of me, and they did."

Sure enough, at his moment of greatest danger the van roared up like the cavalry coming to save the day. Out leaped 10 tactical officers in black-and-green camouflage, yelling, "Freeze."

Instead of firing, the gunman, faced an onslaught of automatic weapons, "threw his gun in the air and ran like a deer."

"Run for your life," the gunman screamed. "We got to get the hell out of here."

Moments before, the youth had been waving a gun in the detective's face. Now he was running for his life. Detective Guevara found it "kind of ironic."

"I was lucky he did not shoot me and try to shoot his way out. With a different person, that might have happened," he said.

The tactical unit and backup narcotics officers rounded up the four assailants shortly after 10:30 p.m. Then Detective Guevara started trembling, thinking "what if?"

"I had some shakes for five or 10 minutes," he said. "I let them work their way through. My hands were trembling, and if had to write then, I would not have been able to do so. I wanted to be with other people, and I did not want to be alone, but driving back to headquarters I had a feeling of elation."

"I remember thinking, 'Thank God I am alive. I could be dead right now.' "

The other officers recovered duct tape outside his car.

"They had intended to bind me with the tape, abduct me, and probably would have killed me" as a "druggie" who was expendable, the detective said.

"Ripping someone off happens all the time in the drug world. It is part of doing business, but going to the extent of kidnapping usually means the victim . . . ends up dead," he said.

He went back and wrote the arrest reports. "There was so much paperwork to do that I got home at 8:30 a.m. [yesterday] and came back in at 2 p.m. One good thing is that I was so exhausted . . . I hit the bed and was out," he said.

Detective Guevara has worked undercover for nearly two years. He said the brush with death won't deter him. He likes being his own boss, making split-second decisions.

"Besides that, I am anti-drugs. I feel drugs are the root of a lot of societal problems and the drug dealers are nothing more than a bunch of vultures," he said.

Four suspects in the incident were being held yesterday on bail ranging from $100,000 to $250,000.

Wayne Darnell Johnson, 22, of Oxon Hill was charged with distribution of cocaine, attempted kidnapping, attempted robbery and a handgun violation.

Tyrone Carter, 18, of Washington, Darryl Lamont Dawkins, 17, of Hillcrest Heights and Jason Anthony Petty, 17, of Forestville were each charged with attempted kidnapping, attempted robbery and a handgun violation. Police said the Dawkins youth allegedly held the gun on Detective Guevara.

The two juveniles were charged as adults and will be tried in Circuit Court, police said.

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