Gun shop employee won't face charges

Harford man, 88, slain in shootout provoked killing, prosecutor says

July 11, 2002|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Harford County's top prosecutor decided yesterday that charges will not be brought against a gun shop employee who shot and killed an armed 88-year-old customer in an exchange of gunfire last month.

State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly said the fatal shooting of Milton Caplan on June 20 outside the Fallston Gun & Pawn Shop, in the 2800 block of Belair Road, was a "suicidal and deliberate" act set up by the victim.

Caplan, who lived in Bel Air with family members, "chose the gun shop knowing that the clerks were armed or could arm themselves," Cassilly said. "He then provoked an incident that called for the use [of] deadly force."

Cassilly said he found the gun shop clerks' action "entirely reasonable and within the law."

Noting the initial controversy over the fatal shooting of a senior citizen, Cassilly said, "When a guy brings a gun up and blows up a TV set right in front of you, do you stand there and wait to see if he will fire again? To me, there was no reason for Mr. Caplan to go into that gun store. He made no purchase, he clearly wanted to provoke what happened."

Officials declined to identify the two gun shop clerks, and the manager would not comment on Cassilly's decision. Neither would Caplan's son-in-law, Edward J. Carey III of the 800 block of Hayden Way, where Caplan resided.

An investigation by Maryland State Police showed that Caplan was exhibiting "behavior out of the ordinary" before the confrontation at the gun shop, said Detective Sgt. Doug Zeller of the Bel Air barracks.

The investigation showed that family members had been concerned about Caplan's behavior and had taken away his .38-caliber revolver. But the weapon was returned to him two days before the shooting, police found.

Authorities gave this account of the incident: Shortly after 5 p.m., Caplan entered the gun shop and approached two clerks who were wearing holsters with "high-powered" handguns. Caplan asked them about ammunition for his pistol, and one of the clerks inquired if he wanted target or hunting rounds.

At that point, police said, Caplan became confused and disoriented. He drew his revolver from a jacket pocket and pointed it at one of the clerks.

Despite shouts to put his weapon down, Cassilly said, Caplan kept repeating, "No, there's something I've got to do." He backed toward the door, keeping the weapon pointed toward one of the clerks while the other shop employee called 911.

Caplan reached the front door and when another customer started to enter the store, Caplan fired his weapon and struck a television set on a counter in front of one of the clerks and the TV exploded in a "shower of glass," Cassilly said.

One of the clerks then fired two shots at Caplan. The clerk who had fired the shots went to the door because, he told police, he was not certain whether he hit Caplan or whether customers were outside.

The clerk found Caplan standing next to his car. When Caplan pointed his weapon at the clerk, the employee fired two more shots. It isn't clear which of the four shots struck Caplan, Cassilly said.

Zeller said yesterday that he found both clerks "very emotional, distraught" after the incident.

Born in West Baltimore, Caplan won $1 million in the Maryland State Lottery in 1973. Officials said yesterday that he might have had his .38-caliber revolver for protection after striking it rich.

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