For Danny Shanahan, time to pick up pieces

November 28, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

When ex-cop Danny Shanahan finally sobered up enough to understand where he was on that morning in late September -- in a Towson police station, held on suspicion of participating in a sexual assault -- he wanted to die.

This was the same Danny Shanahan who followed his grandfather, uncle and brother on to the Baltimore police force, only to see his career derailed when he killed a black motorcyclist named Booker Lancaster on a hot summer day in 1983.

"It was cut-and-dry," Shanahan says now, still justifying the shooting that touched off racial tensions in Baltimore -- and led to his indictment for manslaughter. "The guy pulled a knife on me; I told him three times to drop it and he didn't. I shot him in the arm, it ricocheted off the bone, it went through his heart. He's dead. I'm glad."

This was the Danny Shanahan who toasted his vindication when he was acquitted of charges stemming from the shooting -- only to be caught accepting $500 stolen in a bank robbery. The Shanahan who did two years in a federal prison and then returned to hometown Parkville to open a successful business. As if to announce his return to society, he adorned the place with "Shanahan's Custom Car Care" in emerald green letters.

Now, 10 years after the shooting, six years after his release from prison, Daniel Joseph Shanahan, 38, is once again trying to piece his life back together. Shaken by the specter of a sexual assault charge and hopeful for a sober future, he remains bitter toward the leadership in a police force he longs to rejoin and toward Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who as city prosecutor tried to put him in prison for the Lancaster shooting.

Mr. Schmoke says he still finds Shanahan's version of the shooting hard to swallow. But he adds: "It was an emotionally charged case, and for Mr. Shanahan's sake he ought to just look to the future and not reopen that."

Meanwhile, Booker Lancaster's widow continues to pursue an 8-year-old wrongful death suit that hasn't brought her a dime.

In a recent interview, Shanahan strongly denies involvement in any sexual assault, but he offers a public confessional of sorts when he reflects on his past.

"I haven't talked this much in 10 years," he says at one point.

In clipped bursts, he tells of cheating on an eye test to get onto the police force, and of occasionally drinking on the job once he got there. He says he lied or didn't offer the whole truth while testifying under oath about the Lancaster shooting. He also provides new details, including an exchange of racial slurs uttered as he and the dying man locked eyes.

He recalls starting his days with a drink and a tranquilizer before going to court to stand trial. He talks of spending much of the past few years hopping from bar to Parkville bar, boozing away his evenings while his family waited at home.

When it comes to the defining moment of his life -- the deadly encounter with Booker Lee Lancaster, 49 -- he is at times philosophical, as when he considers that he killed someone's father. But he is at times brash and given to the tough talk of a man who will always think of himself as a street cop.

When the discussion turns to the night he felt his world collapsing once more, his tone softens.

"So here I am again," he says. He describes how he found himself in the police station, shaking off a drunk that left him unable to recall little of whatever happened after he, a drinking buddy and two women checked into Room 228 of the Towson East Motel. "I took this fall with Lancaster and I took the fall with the bank robbery and I had to go away and come home.

"I'm finally getting on my feet and here's another fall and I didn't know that I could dig out from another one emotionally, psychologically, physically.

"They didn't release me until four hours later because I was suicidal," he adds. "I was still intoxicated. I was coming down and I was embarrassed and I was upset. I don't know what I did. I don't know what was going on. If I could've gotten a gun . . ."

'Lancaster dreams'

On Sept. 29, Danny Shanahan started his day, as he does most days, at his garage. When the work day ended he headed, as he did most days, to a bar. He met an old friend in the lounge at the Bowman, a restaurant on Harford Road, and they met two women.

"I was drinking Coors Light, Grand Marnier, vodka, and Crown Royal and water. I had four of them lined up by me," he says.

He remembers only flashes of the evening: The lens falling out of his eyeglasses while in the bar . . . driving on the Beltway . . . inside the hotel room . . . police officers entering the room to arrest him. He says he did not have sex. The friend confirms this.

After the friend took the women back to the Bowman, police were called and one woman claimed she had been raped, police records show.

For three weeks, Mr. Shanahan and his friend awaited word on whether they would be charged. Mr. Shanahan was confident he didn't do anything illegal but he had, essentially, blacked out.

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