Dispatch at issue in police shooting

Initial radio call said man killed by officer was armed with gun

Report `quickly clarified'

September 18, 2001|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

As an investigation into the first fatal shooting by Howard County police in more than two years moves forward, a disagreement has emerged over whether there was specific reason to believe that the man killed by police last week was armed with a gun.

Pfc. Timothy Wiley, who shot Harold Clifton Schwartz, 43, Sept. 10, told his lawyer that he believed that Schwartz was the person that a police radio dispatcher had said was armed with a handgun. Schwartz did not have a gun at the time of the shooting, police said.

"His entire interaction with Schwartz was based on the presumption that he was the person with a handgun referred to in police dispatches," said Wiley's lawyer, Tim McCrone. "The dispatch was never corrected in a way that Wiley would have believed any differently."

But the initial "10-32" police radio dispatch, which means "subject with a gun," was "quickly clarified" to indicate that the person calling in a complaint had a handgun, not Schwartz, said county police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.

"It was very clear before the exchange between Wiley and Schwartz that any mention of a gun over the radio was in reference to the caller," Llewellyn said. "However, that left open the possibility that Schwartz may have been armed with some type of weapon."

Before the shooting, police had received two calls reporting that Schwartz, a North Laurel resident, was trying to break into his parents' home in the Kings Contrivance village of Columbia, police said.

Schwartz was shot while lying next to a tree, his back to Wiley, in a wooded area near his parents' home, according to McCrone. The officer said Schwartz never showed both hands at the same time and shouted refusals when asked repeatedly to show his hands, the lawyer said.

According to McCrone, Wiley told investigators, "He was moving his hands in a manner that suggested to me that he was manipulating a gun that I believed he was in possession of."

Wiley "observed a shiny metal object near Schwartz's shoulder that he believed to be a gun pointed right at him," McCrone said. A razor blade that police believe Schwartz used to cut his neck was found at the site.

"We did discover that the suspect had significant lacerations on his neck that were consistent with the razor blade we found on the scene," Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn pointed out that the incident happened in a matter of minutes, and expressed confidence that criminal and internal investigations into the shooting would resolve any confusion about the dispatches.

Sheldon Greenberg, director of the Police Executive Leadership Program at the Johns Hopkins University and a former Howard County police officer, said the information Wiley had about Schwartz being armed was "of critical importance."

"The public's perception of use of force is grossly distorted," he said. "In movies, there is a nice, clean bad guy and a nice, clean officer, and it's obvious why the officer must shoot the bad guy. In real life, that is the rarest of circumstances."

Officers have about 2 1/2 seconds to process all of the information they have about a person, what he or she might be armed with and the implications of possibly killing that person, Greenberg said.

"No one can ever experience the stress, experience the action or experience the look on the face of the person who was shot," he said.

Wiley was off last week on a vacation leave that police said had been scheduled months before the shooting.

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