PALMER PARK, Md. - A 28-year-old police officer who died in a gun battle outside a Maryland police station was hit by a bullet shot from the gun of a fellow officer who mistook him for the suspect, authorities said Wednesday.
Officer Jacai Colson died after he was hit in an exchange of gunfire outside the Prince George's County District III Station on Sunday afternoon. According to investigators, 22-year-old suspect Michael DeAndre Ford started firing at the building and officers in an unprovoked attack.
At a news conference, Prince George's County Police Chief Hank Stawinski told reporters Wednesday afternoon that the bullet that struck Colson was intended to hit him, and that the unnamed fellow officer mistook Colson for the shooting suspect. At the time of the shooting, Colson was off duty, and was not in uniform.
On Monday, the Prince George's County Police Department revealed that Michael Ford intended to die in a gun battle with police. They said they had obtained cell phone video recorded by his brothers, which showed him dictating his last will and testament minutes before he was driven to the police station.
Chief Stawinski also said Monday that Ford's two brothers, Malik, 21, and Elijah, 18, were sitting in cars near the entrance to the police station in Palmer Park when Michael started shooting at officers, as well as at a passing ambulance and two other passing vehicles.
Jeannette Gray witnessed the gunfire start from her home.
"He kept yelling, 'Come out and confront me. I'm ready for you. I'm ready for you,'" she described to FOX 5.
For nearly ten minutes, she said she watched from her front door as the gunman stood in the middle of the street facing the police station, threatening officers.
"He put his hand in his coat, and I said, 'Oh my God, he's going to shoot or something,'" Gray said. "So I came back in and I was looking out the window and then I heard some gunshots - like 'Pow, pow, pow, pow.' And I said, 'Oh my God, they are shooting at each other.'"
Gray said she heard almost 50 to 100 gunshots.
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Chief Stawinski believes Michael Ford used any target in sight to get the attention of officers.
"This was callously recorded and could have been prevented," said Stawinski.
From surveillance video, investigators determined Michael Ford fired off a magazine and then reloaded his handgun. It was then that Officer Colson pulled up to the station.
"Then Detective Colson was arriving in an unmarked vehicle and found himself in the middle of a gunfight," said Chief Stawinski. "He immediately engages with the shooter as he exits that vehicle. He is dressed in civilian clothes. He is not wearing body armor. He is not prepared for a fire fight that he has just arrived at."
The chief said Colson engaged the suspect, which allowed officers to neutralize the threat. But it was also then when Colson was critically shot by friendly fire.
"[The responding officers] now are in a position of advantage, but they don't know because of where they were when they began exactly what they are facing and it is in this confusion we believe that the errant round struck Detective Colson," said the police chief.
When Michael Ford was shot, officials said his two other brothers took off. Malik Ford was taken into custody at a nearby fast food restaurant a short time later, and Elijah Ford was taken into custody at his home in Landover shortly after his brother.
Michael Ford remains hospitalized with what are considered non-life-threatening injuries.
All three suspects are being charged with second-degree murder, six counts of attempted first-degree murder, nine counts of use of a handgun in the commission of a felony and other additional charges.
Police said there was a total of four officers who discharged their duty weapons while trying to stop the shooter and two additional officers responded, but did not fire their weapons.
The officers involved were PO Bryan Melius, Regional Investigation Division, Cpl Jason Wells, Bureau of Patrol, District III, POFC Taylor Krauss, Bureau of Patrol, District III, Cpl John Wynkoop, Bureau of Patrol, District III, PO Matthew Scott, Bureau of Patrol, District III and POFC Jacai Colson, Narcotic Enforcement Division.Jacai Colson, Narcotic Enforcement Division.Jacai Colson, Narcotic Enforcement Division.Jacai Colson, Narcotic Enforcement Division.
Stawinski said Monday, "I am not prepared to say which of those officers fired that fatal round."
Forensics will officially determine which one of the officers fired the deadly gunshot.
Colson was a four-year veteran of the department and was assigned to the Narcotics Enforcement Division. He was working undercover when the shooting happened. He would have celebrated his 29th birthday this week.