WASHINGTON - Last Sunday's friendly fire shooting of Prince George’s County Police Officer Jacai Colson has devastated the police department. It was a tragic mistake brought on by a chaotic shootout and a split second decision by an officer who fired one shot.
But it is not the first time Prince George's County police have lost one of their own this way.
Twenty-seven years ago, Gary Sommers shot his best friend, Mark Murphy, during a drug raid in Riverdale. The two were teammates in the Special Operations Division and were trying to open the door of an apartment when the assault went dreadfully wrong.
Murphy was killed and it left Sommers with thoughts of suicide.
A photo of Sommers and Murphy running together in support of the Special Olympics hangs in Sommers’ office. It is there along with other pictures where Sommers can see his buddy every day.
“We did everything together,” Sommers said. “We did everything and we went through a lot of doors together.”
But on the fateful day in August of 1988, the door they were trying to go through suddenly swung open.
"We had a suspect there, and very similar to the other night, it’s a quick make a decision and my decision was to fire,” said Sommers. “Mark could see more of the suspect than I could and made a determination to stand up and he came in between my fire when I fired on the suspect, and I actually shot and killed my best friend.”
At that moment, Sommers said he felt like he was on an island, and knowing what was coming, he asked himself if he really wanted to go through it.
"I had to really think out there,” he told us. “I had a wife and three kids that depended on me and that really played heavily in my mind. But honest to God, I didn't want to go through it.”
Sommers was 35 years old at the time and seriously thought of ending his life.
"All I could remember at that moment, the day or so after was I want to talk to somebody who has been in my shoes, who has actually experienced what I experienced,” he said.
Sommers said he talked with a Capitol police officer who accidently shot his sergeant during a training exercise. Also, with the help of a psychologist, his family and the police department, he survived the ordeal.
"Eventually I came to the conclusion that accidents happen and you can be the best at something, and still, with the right set of circumstances, an accident happens,” said Sommers.
Last Monday night, Sommers did for the officer who shot Jacai Colson what another officer did for him 27 years ago.
“I was there mainly to let him know – one – that he is not the only one this has ever happened to, so he didn't feel like I did when it happened,” said Sommers. “And two, I wanted to tell him my story so that he knew that he could trust me.”
Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski revealed this week that the officer who opened fire on Officer Colson viewed him as a threat and shot him intentionally during a chaotic gun battle outside the District III police station.
Currently, Sommers works as a firearms instructor for the Montgomery County Police Department.
His friend Mark Murphy is never far from his mind.
"I wish that we could be sitting on the front porch talking about all the fun raids and the fun times that we had together,” said Sommers. “Absolutely, he was an awesome police officer, and like I said, he was one of my heroes.”
Sommers said the officer he met with Monday night is strong-willed and appeared to be okay. But in the coming days, he said that officer needs to be reassured that what happened was an accident. He should honor Officer Colson, then take care of himself and heal.
If need be, Sommers said he will be there to help.