Police kill car-theft suspect

They say he claimed to have gun and threatened to use it

Officer put on paid leave

March 20, 2001|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police officer shot and killed a suspected car thief in Northwest Baltimore yesterday after the man claimed to have a gun and threatened to use it, police said.

The suspect, 35, died at Sinai Hospital of two gunshot wounds to the abdomen, said Kevin J. Enright, a police spokesman. The man carried no identification and had not been identified last night, Enright said.

Officer Stephen A. Coughlan, 32, who has served seven years in two stints on the force, was placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation of the shooting, Enright said.

Enright gave this account of yesterday's shooting:

The incident began just before 1:45 p.m., when plainclothes officers from the Regional Auto Theft Task Force saw a silver 1997 Honda Civic near West Cold Spring Lane and Park Heights Avenue.

The officers checked the license number and learned that the plates belonged to a white 1995 Chevrolet Beretta that had been reported stolen Feb. 10.

When the officers tried to stop the Honda, the driver sped across to Reisterstown Road and turned onto Ridgewood Avenue, a street of rowhouses. Police followed and called for backup.

The speeding car hit a curb, blew two tires and came to a stop in the 4400 block of Towanda Ave. The driver jumped out of the car and darted into an alley behind Evangelical Baptist Church.

Six uniformed and plainclothes officers followed the suspect into the church's parking lot and ordered him to surrender. The man taunted the officers and vowed not to be taken peacefully.

The suspect began backing out of the parking lot and shoved his hands into the pockets of his bulky leather jacket. He told police he had a gun and would use it

With his hands in his pockets, the suspect raised his arms toward the police.

Coughlan, a Northwestern District officer who had taken cover behind a white police truck, fired his service weapon twice, striking the suspect in the abdomen.

"He was backing up with his hands in his pockets. He was leading us to believe that he had something with him and they would have to take him," Enright said.

After the suspect fell, officers recovered a sharp metal object with a handle wrapped in tape, the spokesman said.

The object resembled a handmade tool used by car thieves to unlock car doors. Enright could not say how the object, which he described as a weapon, was recovered.

"We believe it was in his possession," he said

Terrell Oliver, 31, was napping in a house across from the church when the gunfire awakened him. He said he jumped from his bed, looked out the window and saw the suspect sprawled on the pavement and surrounded by police.

"He was talking. He was, like, moaning in pain," Oliver said of the suspect.

The suspect was pronounced dead at 2:25 p.m. at Sinai, police said.

Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, said preliminary police interviews with four civilian witnesses appeared to support the officers' accounts.

After the shooting, police learned that the Honda had been stolen Oct. 26 in an armed carjacking in the 6500 block of Reisterstown Road.

Coughlan was involved in a similar shooting in 1992. He shot and wounded a robbery suspect after a chase in which the suspect turned and appeared to pull a weapon from his pants. A later investigation showed that the suspect did not have a gun.

Coughlan was assigned to administrative duties. The results of a police investigation of the shooting were unknown last night.

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