Police action in death probed

Killing of man, 21, who stole police car questioned by family

`He was probably scared'

January 05, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The father of the 21-year-old Upper Marlboro man shot to death by a Baltimore County police officer questioned yesterday whether the officer needed to use deadly force to capture his son.

Dan A. Goodwyn said that although his son, Damien J. Fox, had an extensive criminal history, he wasn't violent.

"I think there were other options, options that weren't explored," Goodwyn said of the shooting early Thursday morning. "You don't have to take a life. I'd rather see him in jail than dead."

Asked whether he intended to take legal action, Goodwyn said he is still trying to get information about the shooting from police.

"They're human, they fear for their life," Goodwyn, who lived with his son in Upper Marlboro, said of police. "But if you fear for your life in a situation like this, maybe you don't need to be in that job."

A Baltimore County police officer shot and killed Fox after he attacked another officer, stole his cruiser, dragged him several yards and led police on a chase through Lutherville that ended in a residential neighborhood.

Although police are still investigating the shooting, preliminary information indicates that Fox was not carrying a weapon.

Fox refused repeated orders to get out of the stolen patrol car, which contained a shotgun locked in a gun rack above and behind the driver's seat, police said. Fox also tried to use the car to move police cruisers that had boxed him in, police said.

Police Department standards state that an officer may use deadly force if he believes his life or someone else's is in imminent danger.

Police provided no further details about the shooting yesterday. The department's homicide division is investigating and will send its findings to the state's attorney's office.

"There will be a complete investigation," said Cpl. Vickie Warehime, a police spokeswoman.

The incident began at 3 a.m. Thursday when a police officer stopped Fox for speeding on Seminary Avenue. Fox stepped out of the car and knocked down the officer before stealing his cruiser and speeding away, police said.

Two other officers began chasing Fox, who turned off Seminary Avenue onto Jamieson Road, crashed through a fence, knocked over a stop sign and rode over a lawn. He continued south until he plowed into two parked cars and a curb in the 1000 block of Jamieson Road.

Officer Joseph C. Smith Jr., a 21-year veteran, approached the car and ordered Fox to get out, police said. Fox refused to obey repeated orders and Smith's "observations of the suspect's actions" caused him to fire several rounds into the stolen police car, police said. Fox was pronounced dead at the scene.

Relatives and friends said yesterday the actions were uncharacteristic for Fox, who was wanted on an outstanding arrest warrant from a marijuana possession charge at the time of his death.

"He obviously didn't want to go to jail," said Fox's mother, Ramona Fox of Virginia Beach, Va. "But the extreme measures he took, I can't imagine. He was probably scared."

Ramona Fox said she could not make a judgment on the death of her son based on what she knew about the incident.

"Whether it's justified or not, I don't know. I wasn't there," she said. "I guess you could say that a car is a weapon. All I know is that my only son is gone, and I can't bring him back."

Damien Fox's friends yesterday questioned the police action.

"If he's not threatening with deadly force, why would you use deadly force?" said Louis Hall, a family friend from Clinton.

Police have not said how many rounds were fired or how many hit Damien Fox. Goodwyn said police told him that he was shot three times.

Damien Fox's criminal record included a robbery conviction and a two-week-old indictment on eight counts of burglary and attempted burglary.

In August, Damien Fox sped away from a state trooper who had stopped him for speeding on the inner loop of Interstate 695, court records show. The officer caught Damien Fox on southbound Interstate 83 and charged him with possession of marijuana, speeding and attempting to elude a uniformed police officer by failing to stop. He was to be tried on the charges Jan. 15.

Damien Fox was trying to turn his life around, said his father, a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy. He intended to earn a high school equivalency diploma and attend community college, Goodwyn said. Damien Fox recently fathered a son with his girlfriend, who lives in the Baltimore area, and appeared to have overcome drug addiction, Goodwyn said.

Court records show Goodwyn posted $25,000 bail for his son last summer in the marijuana case, using his home as collateral.

Goodwyn last saw Damien Fox on New Year's Day, Goodwyn's birthday.

"He brought me a beautiful card," Goodwyn said. "I told him, `Son, I love you.' "

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