Details on fatal Halloween party in Columbia remain elusive

Now a federal case, police documents indicate chaotic shooting scene

May 05, 2010|By Luke Broadwater, Patuxent Publishing

Witnesses to a fatal shooting at a Halloween party last year at a $1.6 million Columbia mansion described a chaotic scene in which at least four fights broke out, partygoers passed guns through windows to avoid security and a bottle was cracked over a young man's head.

These new details are contained in hundreds of pages of police investigative documents reviewed by the Howard County Times this week. Prosecutors provided the documents to defense attorneys in the case two weeks ago.

The documents, based on interviews with more than 100 witnesses, also help explain why prosecutors say they were forced to drop murder and attempted-murder charges against two young men initially accused in the crime.

Though 164 people were interviewed by police, no one at the party immediately named as the gunman Devon Dixon, 23, of Elkridge, the man police initially charged in the killing of Aaron Brice, 19, of Silver Spring and attempted murder of Nathaniel Quick, 22, of Columbia. The only person who identified Dixon as the gunman was a confidential informant, the documents show.

The witnesses gave varying accounts of the shooting. One described a man with a gun who was light-skinned, 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. According to court documents and his lawyer, Dixon has dark skin, is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 165 pounds.

Another witness said the gunman fled in a white car. According to the police version of events, Dixon fled the scene in co-defendant Dean Schroyer's blue car. Moreover, parts of the confidential informant's statement can be proven false. For instance, the informant identified three people he knew as being at the party that night: Schroyer, Dixon and a third man, police said.

However, the third man was incarcerated at the Howard County Detention Center from July 8, 2009, until March 15, 2010, according to a letter from Jack Kavanaugh, director of the Howard County Detention Center, that was included in the file.

Ivan Bates, Dixon's attorney, said he believes the documents show that police rushed to judgment against his client without verifying important parts of the informant's story.

"How credible is this [confidential informant]?" Bates asked. "If he got that wrong," he said of the incarcerated man being at the party, "what else did he get wrong?"

Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said the matter is now a court case and declined to comment, referring questions to prosecutors.

Wayne Kirwan, a spokesman for the county state's attorney's office, declined to comment.

Last month, federal prosecutors took over the case after state murder charges against Dixon were dropped because of lack of evidence. A federal grand jury indicted Dixon and Schroyer on drug and gun charges, based on items recovered during the execution of a search warrant of Schroyer's trailer after the party.

Bates said he plans to contest that search, because its probable cause was entirely based on the word of the confidential informant.

According to witness statements, the party was organized by the college-age daughter of homeowner Joanne Powell and the daughter's friends, who spread word of the event through Facebook and by word of mouth at Howard Community College. The party's organizers planned to hire a professional security firm but at the last minute had to rely on friends for security. The party was listed as "Bring your own beer," and security workers checked identification of those bringing in alcohol and patted down guests for weapons, witnesses said.

But it didn't take long for the party to turn violent, documents show. At least four fights broke out, guests passed guns through the window into the party and security kept reminding those fighting to take it outside, according to the witnesses statements. During one fight, a white male, who some witnesses said resembled Schroyer, was hit over the head with a bottle of liquor, a police report said.

Shortly after 1 a.m., witnesses reported hearing shots inside the house and someone saying "gun."

Powell was unavailable to speak to police about the party on several occasions after the shooting, and she eventually handed officers a letter from her attorney indicating that she did not want to speak with police, an officer wrote in his report. Powell's home phone has been disconnected, and she could not be reached for comment.

When police arrived at the scene, they found Brice dead on the front lawn and several others injured and bleeding from fights. One officer went to the basement, where he found Quick bleeding on the floor with a young woman providing comfort.

"I don't know anything other than I was shot," Quick told the officer, according to the documents.

When Quick, who is now paralyzed from the waist down, was interviewed by police in his hospital room at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, he could not pick a suspect out of a lineup.

"None of them look familiar," he said.

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