Family seeks answers in fugitive's death

Questions arise regarding use of deadly force by police

February 27, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

The only recent photo Rosemary Griffin has of her son, Jejuan D. Griffin, is a mug shot taken before Howard County police shot and killed the fugitive at a U.S. 1 motel on a Friday night in January. Griffin, 50, acknowledges that her 20-year-old son had numerous run-ins with law enforcement dating to his early high school years.

Still, she can't understand why police needed to use deadly force after they say he tried to run over them.

"Couldn't they have shot his tires, or his leg or something?" asked Griffin, of Laurel.

Griffin's relatives are searching for answers and have hired an attorney to help them respond to new facts in an investigation that is far from complete.

Jejuan was a wanted felon when he was caught Christmas Eve after a dangerous high-speed chase involving state police. On Dec. 30, correctional officers took him to Howard County General Hospital for treatment for an illness. He escaped through a bathroom door on New Year's Eve morning.

Howard County police have shared little information about the circumstances of his death.

Meanwhile, the Griffins' attorney, Kenneth Trombly of Washington, said legal action would depend on statements from witnesses and the results of a yet-to-be-released autopsy report, which should reveal how many shots police fired, at what distance they fired and from which direction.

The only information police gave his older sister, Angela, on Jan. 21 -- the night he died -- was that her brother had had an altercation with police and didn't survive.

In a brief news release the next day, police said that Jejuan "was shot after he tried to run over several officers with a vehicle" at the Copper Stallion Motel in Elkridge.

County police, however, failed to mention that Jejuan wasn't the only occupant of the car -- a fact police later confirmed after a woman, who identified herself as Jejuan's cousin, posted the information on The Sun's online message board.

Police said Jejuan was operating the vehicle, but would not comment on where the other occupant was seated. Police also would not reveal the occupant's name, what he was doing at the scene, or what, if any, relationship he had with Jejuan.

"We're hopeful that we'll have this case wrapped up soon so we can provide specific details," said Pfc. David Proulx of the Howard County police. "We don't want to rush anything. We want to make sure we conduct a thorough investigation."

The shooting is the only one in recent Howard County history to involve numerous officers at the scene. In September 2001, Pfc. Timothy Wiley shot Harold Schwartz, a North Laurel man, who had reportedly tried to break into his parents' home. Schwartz would not show both hands at the same time, and the officer believed a razor blade he may have been using to cut his own neck was a firearm.

Two years earlier, Sgt. A. J. Bellido de Luna shot a man wielding a knife outside an Ellicott City bar.

A grand jury, in the 2001 case, and a state's attorney, in the 1999 case, found the shootings to be justified.

On the night of Jejuan's attempted capture, witnesses described the parking lot of the Copper Stallion Motel as filled with sirens and blinding flashes from emergency lights atop more than a dozen vehicles.

A SWAT team had surrounded the U-shaped, one-story motel about 10 p.m. Once Jejuan discovered the trap, he tried to flee by jumping into a vehicle and driving onto a lawn in the center of the complex, witnesses said.

Troubles with the law

At the time of Jejuan's death, he had been convicted of two crimes -- marijuana possession in 2003 and second-degree assault for a high-speed car chase with state police in January 2004. In at least three cases since January 2002, charges against him were either dismissed or not pursued by prosecutors.

But in the months before his death, his criminal behavior escalated. He engaged officers in at least three Maryland counties in dangerous chases exceeding speeds of 100 mph, according to court records.

Four cases were pending in Prince George's and Howard counties on charges of violating probation in the 2003 marijuana case, selling crack cocaine, possessing crack cocaine and marijuana, and two high-speed chases -- one in April, the other on Christmas Eve, court records showed.

That chase with state police led to Jejuan's final arrest.

Initially flagged for illegally tinted windows, state police determined that the burgundy Crown Victoria Jejuan was driving had stolen tags. Jejuan stopped the high-speed pursuit when a trooper placed her car in his path.

However, once the trooper got out of her patrol car, Jejuan rammed the Crown Victoria into it, backed up, rammed the patrol car parked behind him and drove off at speeds approaching 105 mph.

Claims of illness

After he crashed into a culvert and ran from the car, troopers captured him, according to court records. While at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup, Jejuan, who his mother said suffered from mental and physical illnesses, complained of having heart problems and was taken to the hospital Dec. 30, according to court records.

He was placed in a room with a bathroom that connected to another room. He asked to go to the bathroom, where he was left alone, slipped out of leg irons and fled through the neighboring room.

He later told his girlfriend, Nicole Roy, 19, that he hid in bushes near the Columbia hospital to escape search teams.

"He fled because he knew this time he was going to be locked up," she said.

Roy, who is scheduled to give birth to Jejuan's baby March 9, said that he had planned to flee to Pennsylvania once their child, Jejuan Jr., was born.

Until then, Jejuan, an 11th-grade dropout, planned to hop from motel to motel.

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