[Hpn] more homeless horrors from Prince George's Sound
Tue, 03 Jul 2001 14:26:10 -0700
Aimless Afternoon Turns Adverse
Homeless Man Wounded by Off-Duty Officer at Mall
By Craig Whitlock and David S. Fallis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Three days after Christmas 1991, Major Maurice Anderson, a 46 year-old
homeless man, decided to spend the afternoon in the mall food court at
Prince George's Plaza in Hyattsville. He had downed a fifth of Wild Irish
Rose wine and "was feeling pretty good" as he sat at a table and listened to
some music on his radio headset, according to court records.
Anderson didn't know that two Prince George's County police officers were
watching him intently. A shopper had told them that Anderson had a bulge
under his jacket that looked suspiciously like a gun.
For more than 20 minutes, the off-duty officers, who were working as mall
security guards, spied on Anderson as they hid behind pillars, giant ferns
and other shoppers, records show. They followed him when he stood up to
stretch his legs and as he gazed in store windows.
The officers, David Russell and Daniel Pearson, did not question Anderson or
confront him inside the mall, choosing instead to observe him from afar. But
as soon as Anderson exited into the chilly winter air, Russell jumped out
from behind a wall and yelled at him to drop to his knees, according to
Surprised and fuzzy-headed from the wine, Anderson paused for a moment and
kneeled on the cement walkway, according to court records and witnesses.
When the officers kept yelling at him, he reached for the radio on his belt
to turn down the volume so he could hear what they were shouting.
Before he could reach the button, Ofc. Russell opened fire, wounding
Anderson in the thigh and elbow.
"Why'd you shoot me?" Anderson stammered, half-drunk, before collapsing.
Only after they put on the handcuffs did the officers discover that Anderson
was carrying nothing more lethal than a radio and a bottle of shoe polish.
He was detained and hospitalized but was not charged with any crimes.
"I had been drinking some wine that afternoon, and was feeling pretty good,
so I couldn't really understand what they were saying with the radio on,"
Anderson said in an interview. "I didn't know they were following me. If I
had known, I would have asked them what was going on."
Russell said a mall patron had warned him that Anderson was carrying a gun,
but he couldn't name the shopper or provide details about the gun report.
"I do not know who the subject was that initially told me the suspect was
armed," Russell said in a written statement given to police investigators.
Russell said he discovered his mistake after he pulled the trigger and then
found that Anderson was unarmed.
"I searched the subject's waistband and found a light blue or gray eyeglass
holder stuck inside his left waistband with a bottle of KIWI liquid shoe
polish stuck in it at an angle that could be in the shape of a handgun,"
Russell wrote in his statement.
Both officers later testified they did not notice that Anderson was wearing
headphones underneath his baseball cap.
But one witness, a medical technician named Larry Williams, said it was
apparent that Anderson was listening to music and aimlessly wandering around
"I was just shocked that it happened," Williams testified of the shooting.
"I really paid attention to the headphones when he was outside and the gun
was on him. I said [to myself], 'I wonder if he can hear what [the officer]
One of the officers said Anderson had approached him about a half-hour
before the shooting and tried to strike up a conversation but that he
brushed off the inebriated man.
That officer, Pearson, testified that he did not notice Anderson's
headphones and did not consider the homeless man to be dangerous. The
anonymous shopper who told police that Anderson might be carrying a gun did
not give the tip to Officer Russell until a few minutes later, Pearson said.
"To this day, I don't know where Dave [Russell] got his information or who
the citizen was," Pearson said in a phone interview from Fort Collins,
Colo., where he now works as a police officer.
"We were working on the assumption that he was armed . . . but we hadn't
gotten close enough to determine if he had a gun," Pearson added. "I almost
shot the guy a couple of times, but he didn't quite cross that line for me.
Before I started to shoot him, Dave did."
It was not the first time Russell had fired his gun as a Prince George's
In 1991, several months before he wounded Anderson, Russell was involved in
another shooting at Prince George's Plaza. Russell fired shots at an armed
robber who escaped in his car; it is unclear if he was hit.
On June 25, 1989, Russell and another officer shot and killed a drunk man at
a College Park bar after the man allegedly tried to grab their weapons.
Russell said he suffered from "a lot of bad dreams and nightmares . . . a
lot of depression" after that shooting. On Oct. 3, 1991, he filed for
workers' compensation, citing post-traumatic stress disorder.
Less than three months later, with that application pending, he shot and
wounded Anderson at the mall.
Two months after that, Russell filed for workers' compensation benefits
again, this time for stress incurred from the Anderson shooting. He was
Russell could not be reached for comment. He is no longer on the force.
In 1992, Anderson found an attorney and sued Russell and Prince George's
County in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, alleging civil-rights violations
and use of excessive force. Four years later, a jury found that Russell had
used excessive force and awarded Anderson $45,000 in damages.
"They messed up; they just screwed up," Anderson said of the police. "If
you're a cop and you can't see these things on my head, then you shouldn't
be allowed to have a gun."
A federal judge later set aside the verdict. This spring -- a decade after
Anderson was shot -- the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld
the decision to deny Anderson money.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
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