Disgraced ex-officer clings to life Shooting is latest Shanahan episode

November 05, 1996|By Peter Hermann and Kris Antonelli | Peter Hermann and Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

A decade ago, Daniel J. Shanahan was a household name -- known throughout Baltimore as a disgraced cop first acquitted of slaying a motorcyclist and later convicted of sharing the loot from a Fells Point bank holdup.

The years since his imprisonment and release in 1988 have dulled the memories of his two racially charged trials and of Shanahan's complaints that he was "raped by the department."

Once again, Shanahan is the talk of the city Police Department. Yesterday, he clung to life at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center -- shot in the leg, abdomen and head by Baltimore County officers after a 10-mile chase from Parkville to Highlandtown. Police said he threatened suicide and brandished gun.

The latest events have left members of the Baltimore Police Department befuddled at the many twists in the life of a fallen colleague who followed his grandfather, father and brother onto the force, but who could never recover from his tumultuous past.

"What a tragedy," said Col. Joseph R. Bolesta, a 30-year veteran of the force. When he saw a newspaper report yesterday, Bolesta said: " 'Don't tell me that's the guy who used to work here.' "

Added another veteran police commander: "He's not a former officer we're proud of."

Shanahan's wife, Joanne, and co-workers at Shanahan's Custom Car Care business on Harford Road in Parkville wouldn't talk to reporters yesterday.

But police said the former officer was distraught over personal and business problems.

The latest episode occurred Saturday night when police said he argued with his wife in their Parkville home. A police report says he accused her of "ruining his life." He asked her for a .38-caliber handgun and she refused to tell him where it was hidden, the report says.

Police said Shanahan got into his 1997 Lincoln Continental and drove two blocks to his car care business, where he kept a 9 mm Glock semiautomatic handgun. Meanwhile, his wife called her husband's mother and sister and they met at the business.

Another argument ensued, and city police said Shanahan got into his car, fired a shot in the air and took off. He was quickly spotted by Baltimore County police, who pursued him into Southeast Baltimore, where he crashed into a car parked at Eaton and Gough streets.

Police said Shanahan, who according to the report had been drinking and was agitated, got out of the car and threw a pager on the ground.

Police said he held his gun at waist level, pointing it at two county officers who opened fire.

"It sounded to me like a victim-precipitated suicide," said Capt. Gary D'Addario, a veteran city officer who was acquainted with Shanahan when he was on the force. "He wanted the officers to shoot him. As any policeman knows, if you point a gun at an officer, they are going to pull the trigger on you."

The incident that changed Shanahan's life occurred July 13, 1983. He was driving south on Harford Road when he and the cyclist became embroiled in an argument. Each pulled over to the curb and the dispute turned physical. Shanahan, who is white, shot Booker Lee Lancaster, who was black, twice; to this day, he says the cyclist was threatening him with a hunting knife.

The incident generated considerable racial tension and became political fodder in that summer's mayoral race, which pitted then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer against William H. Murphy Jr., a black attorney who accused police of a cover-up.

Within three months, Shanahan was charged with receiving $500 he knew had been stolen in a holdup at a Fells Point bank. He knew the robbers from working with them at a downtown body shop. Working as a police dispatcher between his trials, he purposely broadcast bad directions, sending police away from the robbers.

In an interview three years ago after facing a sexual assault charge, Shanahan for the first time opened up about his troubled life and how be turned to alcohol after he was accused in the slaying. He told of cheating on an eye test to get on the force, and of occasionally drinking on the job once he got there.

He also admitted to lying or not offering the whole truth while testifying about the shooting that touched off racial tensions in Baltimore.

He offered new details not borne out during the trials: an exchange of racial slurs uttered as he and the dying man locked eyes.

After pleading guilty to accepting stolen money in the bank robberies, Shanahan told a federal judge before being sentenced that he had been railroaded by a city intent on prosecuting him for the shooting.

"I was under a severe amount of pressure between the two trials," he said. "I wasn't thinking clearly. I felt I had been raped by the Police Department, by certain politicians," but he assured the judge "I will come back to be an exemplary part of society."

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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