Officers to be honored for sniper case aid

Award: Baltimore veteran provided description of car, tag number, helping police capture suspects.

October 11, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Early on a crisp October morning last year, veteran Baltimore police Officer James B. Snyder spotted something odd while on his regular beat patrol in Remington: a dark blue Chevrolet Caprice with foggy windows, parked across three spaces in the lot of a Subway sandwich shop.

It was that observation that prompted Snyder to check out the car and its driver and, ultimately, led to a key clue that later helped police capture serial sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo in a multistate manhunt.

Kevin Enright, director of staff for the city Police Department, said yesterday, "This information provided by Snyder was incredibly important in the arrests. The sniper task force had the names, but that information was not what caught these guys. It was a description of the car and the tags that led to the arrests."

Snyder, 51, a Northern District officer who has been on the city force for 28 years, is to be honored today by the National Association of Police Organizations in Washington. He is one of four officers with the Baltimore police who have been selected as Honorable Mention Award winners for the TOP COPS award.

His partner, Michael Vaughn, is also being honored today, along with two police officers in the communications department, Sgt. Doug Womack and Officer Deborah A. Kirk, who worked on finding tapes of the Muhammad patrol stop.

It was Snyder's routine check of the Chevrolet Caprice on Oct. 8 last year that gave investigators the license plate number of the sniper suspects' car, which was registered not in Muhammad's name but in the name of a New Jersey friend of his.

"He just didn't belong there," Snyder said yesterday as he gave reporters the first comprehensive account of meeting Muhammad outside the Subway shop at 28th and Sisson streets. Snyder did everything he could under the law to check out Muhammad, who at that point had not been identified as a suspect. He cooperated and answered Snyder's questions. Later, it become clear that a patrol officer in Baltimore had helped bring about the arrest of the suspects in the sniper shootings that left 10 dead in in the Maryland, Virginia and DC area.

A sniper task force investigating the shootings put out a plea to the public for help in finding the car, and the license plate number was broadcast nationwide on radio and television newscasts. Within hours, a trucker who had heard the plate number on a news program called police to say that he had spotted the car at a rest area near Myersville in Frederick County.

Muhammad and Malvo were found sleeping in the car and were arrested by police, who theorized that the pair might have been planning a shooting in that area when daylight broke.

Snyder said yesterday that he roused and questioned Muhammad about 2:30 a.m. Oct. 8, thinking the car looked suspicious and might have been stolen.

Snyder said yesterday that Muhammad told him he was on his way from Northern Virginia to see his father in New Jersey.

Snyder's wife, Dena, a teacher who saved an album full of articles about Snyder's role in the case, said yesterday, "It looks like his 15 minutes of fame is turning into 45 minutes."

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