Police: Slain officer 'heroically' diverted gunfire as shooter's brothers recorded

Commander: Slain officer was like family
Commander: Slain officer was like family

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Story highlights

  • Suspected shooter faces murder charge, while brothers charged with attempted murder, conspiracy
  • Detective Jacai Colson was in plain clothes with no bulletproof vest when he took on the gunman
  • Autopsy reveals that Colson was killed by a fellow officer's bullet during the shootout, police say

(CNN)Perhaps the only thing as sickening as a fellow police officer being killed by friendly fire is knowing that the brothers of the man who initiated the shootout that led to his death sat nearby to record it, a Maryland police chief said.

"They knew in advance. They had every opportunity to call 911. They had every opportunity to seek medical help. They did nothing," Prince George's County Police Chief Henry Stawinski said Monday.
    Instead, the chief said, Elijah and Malik Ford watched and filmed as their brother Michael Ford, 22, used a .40-caliber handgun to open fire on officers outside a police station, as well as at an ambulance and random people's cars.
    And as Prince George's officers responded to the assault outside their home base, one of them killed Police Officer First Class Jacai Colson, who had just arrived to meet another officer. Colson jumped out of his unmarked car, and he and three other officers returned fire.
    "An autopsy today revealed that POFC Colson was inadvertently shot by a fellow responding officer during the gun battle," police said in a news release.
    The chaos was preplanned, Stawinski said. Before the melee, the three brothers talked and did not expect Michael, 22, to survive.
    But the alleged gunman didn't die. Instead, Colson "heroically" diverted the gunfire toward himself -- and died in the shootout.

    Host of charges

    Elijah, 18, and Malik Ford, 21, have been officially charged but have not been in court, said John Erzen, spokesman for the Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office.
    From left to right, Michael, Elijah and Malik Ford.
    They are each presently charged with 11 counts of first-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault and conspiracy to commit murder, he said. A court commissioner Tuesday also considered firearms and second-degree murder charges, but did not find probable cause for either, Erzen said, explaining that the decision could be amended in the future.
    Michael Ford, who is hospitalized, faces a charge of second-degree murder, six counts of attempted first-degree murder, nine counts of use of a handgun in the commission of a felony and additional charges, Prince George's County police Cpl. Harry Bond said.
    "As the investigation progresses, additional charges will be brought against the three brothers regarding the victims in the" ambulance and passing vehicles, the police statement said.
    Elijah and Malik Ford are scheduled to appear for a bond review in Prince George's County District Court on Wednesday afternoon, Erzen said.

    'Extreme heroism'

    Colson, a 28-year-old undercover narcotics detective, had no idea what he was driving into when he arrived at the station Sunday afternoon.
    Detective Jacai Colson
    "Detective Colson was arriving in an unmarked vehicle and found himself in the middle of a gunfight," Stawinski said. "Heroically, Detective Colson reacted to a set of circumstances that, frankly, I don't think he was entirely prepared for."
    Michael Ford had already discussed with his brothers a plan to "engage police in a shootout," according to charging documents filed in district court. His brothers drove him in a red Honda Accord to an intersection near the police precinct, dropped him off so he could approach the precinct on foot, drove to a nearby side street and began recording the incident, the documents allege.
    According to the chief, Michael Ford opened fire on the first officer he saw. Other officers rushed to the scene, but quickly found themselves at a disadvantage during the shootout "because they were cognizant of the fact there were homes behind Michael as he was firing at them," Stawinski said.
    Soon after the shooting began, Michael Ford took cover behind a police van and police officers asked the brothers where he had gone, the complaint says. Malik Ford shouted back that he did not know, despite Michael Ford being visible, thus allowing Michael Ford to continue his attack, police say.
    Police say that as Michael Ford fired on officers, his brothers filmed it.
    The gunfight was already under way when Colson, wearing plain clothes and no bulletproof vest, decided to take on the gunman.
    "Seeing the danger presented by Michael, the shooter, (Detective Colson) took action -- and in doing so, demonstrated extreme heroism because it was his actions that allowed officers to take a position where they could intervene and neutralize the threat," Stawinski said. "Detective Colson drew fire to himself, and in doing so was mortally wounded."
    The entire incident was captured on cell phone and surveillance footage, police said.

    Killed by friendly fire

    But Colson wasn't killed by the assailant's bullet, police said.
    "We believe the fired round that led to Detective Colson's death was fired by one of his fellow Prince George's County police officers reacting to this," Stawinski said.
    It may seem unfathomable why two brothers would watch and film their brother's rampage and potential death.
    "We have cell phone video which captured the gunman dictating his last will and testament. That video was recorded just minutes before his two brothers drove him to our District III station," police said in a news release.
    And it's equally difficult to understand what prompted the violence in the first place. Michael Ford had no outstanding warrants, Stawinski said.
    "It doesn't make any sense," he said.
    The police chief said Michael Ford had a history of mental illness, but "it's more troubling to me that anyone could stand by so callously and watch this unfold."
    Michael Ford was wounded in the shootout but is expected to survive.
    "Following the ambush, Malik and Elijah Ford fled the scene. The driver, Malik, turned himself in to police at a nearby fast food restaurant shortly after the shooting spree. Elijah was taken into custody at his home in Landover shortly after his brother," the police statement said.

    Officer 'lit up everybody's life'

    Colson, a four-year veteran of the Prince George's County Police Department, would have celebrated his 29th birthday this week.
    He was a "brother, friend, police officer, and a hero -- not only to the Prince George's County Police Department, but to every citizen in Prince George's County," Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89 President John Teletchea said.
    Teletchea said the Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, native was a personal friend, one with an infectious smile and tremendous personality.
    "Jacai could light up a room. He lit up everybody's life he touched," Teletchea said Monday.
    "He made a decision several years ago to make a difference in the world when he joined the Prince George's County Police Department. He made a difference every day he was here, and he made the difference and saved lives yesterday."
    Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he was distraught by Colson's death. He ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of the slain officer.
    Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch also mourned the detective's death, and called shooting at the station a "heinous act of violence and a cowardly crime."
    She said Colson's death "is a reminder of the threats that public safety officers face every day, and the dangers that they bravely confront in every jurisdiction across the country."