Westminster barracks honors top trooper

Criminal investigator helped crack Shipley murder-for-hire case

January 19, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A criminal investigator instrumental in cracking a murder-for-hire case was recognized as this year's Trooper of the Year at the Westminster state police barracks in a ceremony last week.

Tfc. Scott E. Zimmerman, 31, a Westminster native who entered the state police academy after graduating from high school, looked stunned as he received the award from the barracks' commanding officer, Capt. Scott Yinger.

"He is the first choice when looking for someone to conduct a difficult interview. His presence always casts a calming influence in tense situations," Yinger said to a group of about 40 troopers and their families gathered in a barracks conference room. "His bravery, self-motivation and work ethic should serve as a model for others."

Zimmerman shifted uncomfortably near the podium as Yinger listed some of his accomplishments last year, which included apprehending suspects accused of attempted homicide, investigating two suicides, and breaking a string of robberies.

"It always feels good when you solve robberies, when you can give peace of mind to a store owner that the person who robbed them is not going to come back," Zimmerman said Friday. "I feel good. I'm part of a unit that works well together."

Zimmerman also is credited with getting Butchie Junior Stemple to confess to the shooting of Scott Shipley in November 2002 at the Westminster trucking company where Shipley worked, Yinger said.

Stemple pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and cooperated with prosecutors in the trial of Shipley's wife, Melissa Lynn Baumgardner Shipley, for first-degree murder. She was found guilty, and was sentenced this month to life in prison.

Zimmerman has honed his interrogation skills over the years. In an interview last spring he said: "You need to be patient and relax. You can't intimidate someone who's gone through the system. You've got to talk to people, feel them out, and make them want to tell you."

He said that working the highways as a patrol officer for almost a decade helped him prepare for his current position as criminal investigator, a job he started in 2001. He has been assigned to the Westminster barracks since 1995. Zimmerman, the only criminal investigator to be nominated for the award, was chosen from a field of nine troopers. Trooper Kenneth L. Cain Jr., Tfc. Eric J. Gregson, Tfc. Christopher G. Heid, Tfc. David M. Keller, Tfc. David W. Kitzinger, Tfc. Robert J. Mondor, Tpr. Daniel C. Pickett and Tfc. Timothy S. Zendgraft received letters of recognition for being nominated for the award.

Detective Sgt. Andrew Winner, who heads the barracks' criminal investigative unit, said he was proud of Zimmerman's work.

Yinger said Zimmerman made 24 arrests last year. He was also the primary investigator on 58 cases, of which he closed 40.

His most recent case was assisting the Westminster Police Department in investigating the county's first confirmed homicide of 2003, the death of Richard Paul Atkins on Dec. 27.

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