Prince George's man charged with murder in death of officer in Laurel

June 23, 2005|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

A Bladensburg man was charged with first-degree murder and other offenses yesterday in the fatal shooting of a Prince George's County police officer in Laurel on Tuesday.

Robert M. Billett, 43, could face the death penalty if he is convicted in the death of Cpl. Steven F. Gaughan, authorities said.

Gaughan died at Prince George's Hospital Center late Tuesday afternoon, hours after a shootout outside a Laurel apartment complex. Billett, who was wounded, was in stable condition yesterday, police said.

Police gave this account:

About 11 a.m. Tuesday, Gaughan and other officers investigating stolen ATVs tried to stop a green Chevrolet Tahoe after seeing one occupant act in a suspicious way.

A chase ensued, and one SUV occupant flung a bag of white powder out of the window, police said in charging documents. Police said they have not recovered the object.

The SUV stopped at Route 197 and Snowden Road. Two occupants got out of the vehicle and ran. Three police officers - one in uniform and the other two wearing shirts with POLICE blazoned across them - chased the men.

Billett drew a handgun and fired several times, police said.

"Our officers, fearing for their safety, did the same - they returned fire," said Kimberly R. Brown, a spokeswoman for the Prince George's County police.

Gaughan was shot in the shoulder and abdomen. Contrary to initial reports, police said yesterday, he was not wearing a bulletproof vest.

Billett was shot in the leg, arm and thigh, police said. Both men were flown to Prince George's Hospital Center, and Gaughan died after surgery.

According to court documents, the other two pursuing officers - Michael Eubanks and Shawn Pheobus of the Beltsville station - also fired their guns.

Prince George's County police are investigating why Gaughan wasn't wearing protective armor, as required by department policy for police work, spokeswoman Barbara Hamm said.

During the shootout, the second SUV occupant - police have not released his identity - fled into a nearby apartment building, police said, where he saw an acquaintance, and the two barricaded themselves in the building.

Police said one of the two men called 911 to surrender. Both men have been interviewed by police and neither has been charged.

A funeral for Gaughan will be held at noon Saturday at Riverdale Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro. Gaughan is survived by his wife and two children.

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