March 14, 2016 / 1:22 PM / 3 years ago

Friendly fire hit slain Maryland policeman; three brothers in custody

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Maryland plainclothes detective was killed by a fellow officer in gunfire that erupted when a man with a history of mental illness began shooting outside a police station as his two brothers videotaped the action, authorities said on Monday.

Jacai Colson, 28, a four-year veteran of the Prince George County police force, pictured in this police handout, was killed when a gunman opened fire at their District 3 police station, in Landover, Maryland, March 13, 2016. REUTERS/Prince George County police department/Handout via Reuters

All three brothers were in custody on Monday and were facing murder charges and other counts in the fatal shooting of Prince George’s County Police Officer First Class Jacai Colson, 28, who was off duty when he was hit at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Police said the accused gunman, 22-year-old Michael Ford of Landover, Maryland, appeared ready to die. He recorded his last will and testament on a cell phone just minutes before his two brothers, 21-year-old Malik Ford and 18-year-old Elijah Ford, drove him to police headquarters.

Michael Ford suffered non-threatening gunshot wounds in the incident, police said.

Chief Hank Stawinski said at a Monday afternoon press conference that Ford, who has a history of mental illness, appears to have begun firing at random, aiming at the police building, parked cars and an ambulance.

Colson fired back almost immediately and ended up drawing fire, giving other officers a chance to get into position, Stawinski said. Preliminary evidence showed he was hit by another officer’s bullet.

“He demonstrated extreme heroism,” the chief said.

At least one of the brothers stood nearby and recorded the gunfight on his phone, police said.

The motive remained unclear, and a visibly angry Stawinski said it was difficult to understand the rationale behind the Fords’ actions.

Four officers, including Colson, discharged their weapons during the gunfight, but Stawinski said he was not yet prepared to identify which officer fired the fatal round.

Malik and Elijah Ford fled the scene shortly after the shooting began but were soon taken into custody.

Colson was a four-year veteran and had been a narcotics detective in Prince George’s County, which borders the District of Columbia.

The shooting came just weeks after two Harford County sheriff’s deputies were shot by a gunman at a restaurant near Baltimore on Feb. 10.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan ordered flags lowered to half-staff in honor of Colson.

“The first lady and I send our sincere prayers to the family and loved ones of Officer Colson, who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to his fellow citizens and community,” Hogan said in a statement late on Sunday.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch condemned the attack on Monday as a “heinous act of violence and a cowardly crime.”

Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Cynthia Osterman

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