Officer mistook situation

September 24, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

The police officer who shot three fellow officers inside a suspected drug house Thursday afternoon mistook one of his colleagues for a suspect holding a gun on a woman, police said yesterday.

All the 24-year-old undercover officer could see when he burst through a heavily barricaded front door of the East Baltimore rowhouse was an outstretched arm holding a gun, according to investigators.

Police said he shouted a warning to the man to drop the weapon and then fired two rounds from his Glock 9 mm pistol.

One bullet struck Officer Graham Sylvester, who was holding the woman at gunpoint. The second bullet ricocheted off a door frame, passed through the left hand of another officer who was outside and grazed a third officer beside him.

Bewildered police commanders still were trying to piece the story together yesterday as homicide detectives interviewed the unidentified officer who fired his weapon.

Officials defended their training techniques, especially of district-level drug enforcement squads that in the past several months have begun conducting extensive investigations and raiding houses with increased frequency.

Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said yesterday: "With every one there is a risk. As we ratchet up our drug enforcement efforts, the risk increases."

Yesterday, Officer Sylvester, 39, a seven-year veteran, was listed in fair condition at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Officer Aaron Perkins, 29, a four-year veteran, was in good condition at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Officer James Hamilton, 27, a three-year veteran, was released from Hopkins.

Capt. Howard F. Parrott, commander of the homicide unit, said no criminal charges will be filed against the officer. He is on

routine desk duty pending am internal investigation.

Police raided the narrow rowhouse house at 1604 N. Port St. -- suspected of being a distribution center for heroin -- about 3 p.m.

Five officers at the front door found it fortified with a 2-by-4 beam and a metal bar, known as a "New York Stop." Several occupants then ran toward the back, where other officers detained two on a back porch.

In the confusion, Officer Sylvester ended up inside, pointing his gun at the woman suspect, identified as Bernadette Webster, while standing behind a refrigerator. Captain Parrot said officers had been told not to enter the house from the rear to avoid confusing the entry team. Whether that order was violated is part of the internal review, officials said.

Investigators said that once the 24-year-old officer got through the front door, he saw the woman and the arm holding the gun about eight feet away in the dark house. "He observed something that in his mind created a potential danger and he reacted that way," Captain Parrott said.

Charged with drug distribution charges were Anthony Johnson, 28; Ricky Evans, 36; Yvette Hollie, 23; and Ms. Webster.

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