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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: College Park, Maryland 11•06•2006

A desperate call from a home invasion victim sent three officers into a pitched backyard battle.

August 19, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

Somebody in the Woodline

As rounds flew back and forth before him like some ballistic tennis match, Soden got back to his feet and into the fight. Lining up his sights on the suspect nearest him, he fired.

One suspect fell but immediately got back to his feet even as yet another suspect exited the house. All three suspects split up, running in the general direction of the backyard and into darkness.

Davis spotted one of them as the man darted to the left and rear of he and Watkins for a thicket. Realizing that the man had offset his cover and concealment, Davis did a one-eighty and went prone.

"There's somebody in the woodline!" he yelled to Watkins.

But Watkins' attentions were frustratingly divided on multiple fronts. He was worried about his friend Soden, he was trying to update and coordinate responding units, and he was trying to deal with what appeared to be a group of victims now exiting the house. Watkins' only response to Davis was to curse his friend and tell him to shut up.

No Further Movement

Things were becoming a first-class mess as Lt. Eric Fatsinger arrived.

As suddenly as it'd started, the firefight had stopped. Soden told the lieutenant that he thought he might've been hit, and the two men looked for wounds. But the absence of any bullet holes and the presence of an upended lawn chair suggested that Soden hadn't so much been shot as he'd wrenched his back when he fell over backward.

Meanwhile, Davis maintained his vigil of the brush. He didn't know what was going on, but speculated that the suspect was lying low so as to pick up he and Watkins in his sights once they stood up or otherwise moved. But even with the arrival of other officers on scene, there was no further movement in the brush.

Still, no one was going to be taking anything for granted just then and as Davis kept a vigil on the spot at the woodline, Watkins and Soden detained the group at gunpoint and proned them out on the ground. Once they'd verified that these were the victims, the officers turned their collective attentions to the woodline.

Lt. Fatsinger decided to expand the inner perimeter and requested a K-9 check of the brush.

As aero did a FLIR sweep of the area from overhead, the K-9 alerted to something down the street: a suspect hiding beneath a car.

A 19-year-old suspect had been hobbled by a bullet to the hip. Reports say that at one point he had also apparently attempted to get into a motel down the street with a large quantity of drugs.

In due time, officers also found the body of Miles Johnson at the hedgerow line. Struck by a bullet that severed his femoral artery, the 27-year-old had bled out as he lay in the bushes, a loaded .357 caliber handgun and a large amount of illegal drugs and money discarded nearby.

A third suspect-the man Soden had actually initially exchanged rounds with-got away. A review of Davis' patrol car video camera revealed a suspect running past his unit and disappearing, never to be seen again.

Medals for Valor

Looking back on the incident, Soden notes that so much of what he'd read and heard about gunfights came into play that morning.

"Auditory exclusion, the slowing of time, distance distortion, time speeding up-it was all there." And it occurred over 10 seconds of sustained gunfire among six individuals. When the confrontation was over, approximately 50 rounds had been discharged.

In such sustained and close range combat, it was the officers' training that made the difference.

"They came out shooting, all three of them," Soden says. "They showed no hesitation, no respect for the law, and no respect for human life. We didn't have time to do anything other than what we were trained to do. We had spent countless hours in the academy preparing to be officers, countless hours in in-service training, countless hours preparing to act in stressful life or death situations, controlling our emotions. We were all on auto pilot."

Davis did not experience the same degree of physiological responses as Soden during the shooting. But that's not to say that the night's events didn't leave an impact on him.

For months afterward, he had difficulty sleeping. Night after night, his mind concerned itself with the implications of the outstanding suspect. Would he come back for vengeance?

Intellectually, Davis knew it wasn't likely. But his emotional concern for his loved ones would find him getting up four or five times a night to investigate any sound.

A psychiatrist prescribed some sleeping pills, which Davis refrained from taking. He didn't want to become dependent on some artificial stimulus for sleep. And in time, his sleep patterns improved on their own. Still, it was not an easy period, and there were times he was worried that it would be his wife beating him to death for the nocturnal forays that disturbed her sleep, too.

Already good friends, the three men have grown even tighter since the incident. In a way, they even believe that the lack of available manpower on scene was a blessing in disguise as it minimized the prospect for crossfire and friendly fire casualties.

Soden, Davis, and Watkins were each awarded their department's Medal of Valor for their actions in College Park that night.

They continue to serve the community of Prince George's County today.

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Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

vinny @ 8/18/2014 1:54 PM

It makes me sick to my stomach how they idolize the officers in this story. They forget that a person lost there life. A son brother, friend. I knew miles Johnson personally. He was a great man & even better friend. In the police report I got a hold of there was no mention of any of the suspects firing on the officers. They do what they have to to cover they're ass. Like tell u "stop resisting" so they can use excessive force with no backslash. I don't hate cops. I just love life. Also it wasn't like he was robbing a bank he was robbing drug dealers. The dealers he robbed where never charged with any crimes witch to me is a joke. I hate this article. Not all but some cops are power hungry pigs that assume all to much & know all to little. RIP MEEKO

Mary @ 11/25/2014 6:28 AM

This article is disheartening. Knowing the victum Miles personally I find the account of actions hard to believe. Miles was no saint but he was no where near ruthless, and although he had many reasons to have no respect for the police(with all the unjust punishments and discrimination he had endured) he was not hateful and he was respectful. I do not believe for one moment that he used that gun "found" or "planted" near him. In my opinon he was most likely the third "suspect" to leave the house and fleed in fear of the gunfire he was hearing. I believe he was shot unjustly.

Jmike @ 6/18/2015 12:47 PM

Yepper , he was just a good boy trying to turn his life around . He just needed that dirty old money and those nasty drugs to support himself while going through seminary to join the clergy .
Bottom line is that when you play stupid games you win stupid prizes .

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