Howard SWAT team invades wrong house in search

Tenant gets an apology

theft suspect still at large

July 28, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

Howard County's SWAT team mistakenly raided and ignited a smoke bomb inside the rented condominium of a 22-year-old Columbia woman and her two young children about 5 a.m. yesterday.

Police were searching for John Albert Matthews, 22, who they say stole a Baltimore Opera Company employee's car parked outside Wilde Lake High School in June, and as recently as mid-July had given patrol officers the condo's address in the 10500 block of Cross Fox Lane as his residence.

In January, Matthews was charged with carrying a concealed weapon. Prosecutors have shelved that case, but, given the new incident, the case could be restarted.

The condominium's owner, Susan Colandrea of Baltimore, said yesterday the Matthews family - John's father, Charles, was the leaseholder - moved out in February or March.

Sherry Llewellyn, a spokeswoman for Howard County police, said detectives had tried to reach Colandrea at a Colorado phone number three times in the past week to verify Matthews' residency. The phone number proved incorrect; Colandrea moved from Aspen, Colo., to Maryland in May 2001, she said.

Tyesha Cabeza, a nurse technician at Howard County General Hospital, said she was asleep in bed with her 3-month-old daughter, Taniyah, and 5-year-old son, Phillip, when SWAT team members charged into her bedroom.

"I said, `Please don't shoot. Please don't shoot. I've got kids,'" she said.

In a warrant for Matthews' arrest, signed Tuesday by District Judge Pamila J. Brown, police said the victim's wallet and checkbook, $130 in cash and the opera's set construction tools were inside the Ford Probe when it was stolen. Matthews, police said, then used the victim's credit card to buy a BlackBerry, four cellular phones and calling plans for some of those phones at a store at The Mall in Columbia.

The last date of Matthews' known whereabouts included in the warrant was April, when he was fired from the T/A Truck Stop at U.S. 1 and Route 175 and left the Cross Fox Lane condo as his forwarding address.

Llewellyn said that officers on routine patrol also stopped Matthews at least three times since then for suspicious activity. No tickets were issued or arrests made. Llewellyn said Matthews provided a driver's license with the Cross Fox Lane address.

Cabeza said the detective leading the investigation apologized to her for the mistake.

Colandrea said workers plan to repair the damaged smoke alarm, door and carpet today. Reimbursement arrangements have not been completed.

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