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Cops talk man out of barricaded apartment

January 14, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Police blocked off parts of two city streets for nearly three hours Tuesday morning after a man barricaded himself in his Spruce Street apartment.

After negotiators using a bullhorn talked to the man, he surrendered in less than five minutes.

The 41-year-old man, of 757 Spruce St., was taken into custody at about 11:30 a.m., Washington County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Mark Knight said. The man, who was not charged with any crime, was taken to Washington County Hospital for an "emergency evaluation" so doctors could determine whether he was a danger to himself or others, said Lt. Randy Wilkinson of the sheriff's department.

At 7:20 a.m., the Washington County Sheriff's Department received a "domestic situation" call from the man's estranged wife, who said he had left her Tommytown Road home north of Sharpsburg and possibly fired a gun outside, Knight said.

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Hagerstown Police Department officers were asked to keep an eye out for the man's truck, which Hagerstown authorities located outside the Spruce Street apartment, Wilkinson said.

Authorities learned the man had a rifle, Knight said.

A command post, centered around two city police cruisers and a trailer, was set up in the 600 block of Maryland Avenue. Police officers, wearing bullet-proof vests and talking in clusters, stood and dispersed. Some officers, wearing black or camouflage gear, carried cloth cases the size of rifles toward Spruce Street.

Wilkinson said it was the police's obligation to the community to block off the streets and to evacuate several people living around the man's homes.

Hagerstown City Police Lt. Margaret Kline said about eight city police officers and about six deputies were at the scene.

She said police treated the situation "as if he does still have a weapon."

Knight said two negotiators from the combined police forces' Special Response Team, Hagerstown Detective Shane Blankenship and county Deputy Kenny Barnhart, used a bullhorn to communicate with the man from an armored vehicle because he had no phone in his apartment.

Hagerstown Police Department Lt. Rick Johnson, also a member of the five-person negotiation team, said team members not negotiating typically do background checks on the person involved to get as much information as possible before talks begin.

He said officers tested the bullhorn beforehand to ensure that it could be heard a safe distance from the house.

After 25 years of police work, Johnson said Tuesday's negotiation was "by all means one of the shorter ones."

He said the team gets called out to negotiate "more frequently than you'd think," typically for suicide attempts, but he said the demand for the team ebbs and flows.

"As far as negotiations, our tool of choice is our mouth," he said. "When we're unable to communicate it makes the job that much harder."

Staff Writer Brian Shappell contributed to this story.

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