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Police hit streets, hunt cop shooter

September 18, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

As many as 40 police officers blanketed a section of Hagerstown Tuesday, looking for two men who were being chased by a Hagerstown City Police officer when the officer was wounded before dawn.

Both men remained at large late Tuesday.

Sgt. George Knight, 46, a member of the police department's Uniform Patrol, suffered a "grazing wound," to his forehead after a man dressed in dark clothing and a New York baseball hat pulled a gun and fired at him, Lt. Margaret Kline said.

Knight was treated at Washington County Hospital and released, she said.

"It was the ultimate close call," said Hagerstown City Police Chief Arthur Smith.

Knight was patrolling the HotSpot high crime area in a patrol car at 4:12 a.m. when he noticed two men standing at the corner of Boward and Charles streets, Smith said.

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Because of the early hour and the area's history of crime, Knight stopped the patrol car and began to approach the men, who took off down Boward Street, Smith said.

Knight identified himself and called to the men to stop but they continued to run, Smith said.

Halfway down the alley one of the men hid behind a crumbling wall and then fired a handgun at Knight.

"All he saw was an arm reach out (from behind the wall) and then a muzzle flash" as the weapon fired, Smith said Knight told him.

Knight, who was hit by one bullet, returned fire from his .40-caliber Glock but it was unclear whether he hit either of the two men, Smith said. The two men were gone by the time backup officers arrived, Smith said.

Police officers are trained to deal with shooting situations such as this one, Smith said. "You have to react immediately to the situation in front of you. You aim to incapacitate."

Police would not say how many shots were fired.

"At first he (Knight) didn't know he was hit," Smith said.

The wound didn't require stitches and Knight, 46, as sent home from the hospital shortly after being treated.

Police said both men being chased by Knight were black. The shooter was wearing dark clothes and a New York baseball hat and the other man was wearing red shorts, a white T-shirt and dark hat, according to police.

Police said a reward was being offered for information about the man who shot Knight.

"We're hoping somebody heard the shots and saw something," Smith said.

Hours after the shooting, as many as 40 officers from the city, the Washington County Sheriff's Department and Maryland State Police were searching the streets in the area of the shooting with dogs. They focused the search on the HotSpot high-crime area.

They combed the area for bullet casings, knocked on doors to question possible witnesses and flew over the scene in a helicopter, scanning the rooftops with infrared radar for the two men or a discarded weapon, police said.

A state police bloodhound seemed to pick up a scent and took police to streets near the Washington County Hospital before losing the scent, Kline said.

Police used crime scene tape to block off Boward Street for several hours as police and forensic experts Jeffrey Kercheval and Susan Blankenship used rakes and a screen to sift through brush for evidence.

Two shell casings that appeared to have come from Knight's weapon were found, Smith said.

Plastic markers with the numbers 1, 2 and 3 were placed near the entrance and the middle of the alley to indicate where Knight and the two men were standing during the incident.

It appeared that the shooter and Knight were about 25 feet apart in the alley running parallel to the 400 block of North Potomac Street when the officer was shot.

Overgrown trees hang over the roadway on Boward Street and police said the street was dark at the time of the shooting.

The last city police officer to be shot was Officer Donald Kline, who died after being shot on Dec. 13, 1975.

Kline was off duty when he walked into a local grocery store during a holdup.

"It's dirty, dangerous work," Smith said.

HotSpots residents George and Cynthia McCann stood on Charles Street Monday afternoon and watched police come and go from the crime scene.

"They'll catch him," said Cynthia McCann of the shooter.

The couple said they were at their home near Boward Avenue when they heard the shots.

"I lived here for 14 years and this is only the second time I've heard shooting by my home," said George McCann.

Despite Monday's incident, the number of shootings resulting in deaths or injuries have gone down in the HotSpots area over the past three years, Smith said.

Monday's shooting was the fourth in which someone was injured this year.

Last year there was one fatal shooting in the city and four people were wounded. A year earlier, one person died and 10 people were wounded in shootings, Smith said.

The crime statistics show "police are out there getting in these guys faces. We're not letting them have the streets," Smith said.

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