By Colonel Kenneth K. Gattis-Antolik
On November 8, 2016 at approximately 1:10 PM, a 24-year old man committed an armed robbery at a store in Greenbelt, Maryland. A Greenbelt Sergeant witnessed the incident and immediately gave chase as the suspect fled the scene. At which time, Detective Sergeant Dan Unger, who was on-duty in plain clothes, observed the foot chase from across the street and without hesitation pursued the fleeing felon on foot.
A very short time later, the suspect was behind a nearby store staring down both officers and refusing to comply with their commands. Both officers knew that the suspect was armed, dangerous, and had demonstrated that he had no regards for the safety of the public. Det. Unger and the Greenbelt Sgt. rushed and tackled the suspect before he could reach into his jacket for his pistol.
The actions of officers demonstrated an act of bravery by putting themselves in a situation that exposed themselves to great personal risk in the performance of disarming a dangerous felon.
An investigation later revealed that the pistol recovered from the arrestee was fully loaded and had a round in the chamber. During the incident, there were several bystanders present. People were out enjoying their lunches and business as usual during the melee.
Det. Sgt. Unger took a huge risk because he did not have his bullet-resistant vest available at the time of the incident due to the exigency of the situation. The Berwyn Heights Police Department took great pride in presenting Det. Sgt. Unger with the Silver Medal of Valor for his extraordinary act of heroism extending above and beyond the normal call of duty. The Silver Medal of Valor is the second highest award for bravery and heroism, awarded in situations when a public safety official knowingly exposes themselves to great personal risk in the performance of an official act.
Bravery, courage, and gallantry - these qualities enable a person to remain steadfast in the face of danger or adversity. Det. Sgt. Unger displayed extraordinary courage and heroism. No one could ask more of him, and no award ceremony, however distinguished, could ever be reward enough.
Colonel Kenneth K. Gattis-Antolik
Chief of Police
Berwyn Heights Police Department
Lieutenant Dan Unger
By James D. Ignowski
James D. Ignowski dedicated almost 50 years of his life to the law enforcement profession. He selflessly served with the Metropolitan Police Department in DC, Prince George’s County Police in Maryland, and the Berywn Heights Police Department in Maryland. He reached the rank of Lieutenant with Prince George’s County and finished the final chapter of his distinguished career in December 2021 as a Corporal with Berywn Heights.
In April 1973, I was assigned to Scout 21, a marked Patrol Division of the Metropolitan Police Department in the First District of Washington, D.C. My partner and I were given a lookout for a rapist by a Sergeant reading daily roll call in December 1972 or January 1973.
The Modus Operandi, called M.O., was for a black male between 16 – 20 years old who would attack women who were alone inside of a tiny laundromat. The rapist would cut the women with sharp objects including broken glass to gain their compliance during his assault on them. His victims were typically Capitol Hill Staffers residing in the area.
The laundromat was at 5th and C Street Northeast at the Stanton Square, a small park located where Massachusetts Avenue and Maryland Avenue Northeast intersect. Stanton Square was in our beat area. In the following months, we searched continuously for the man in the lookout. We made many arrests, but not for the crimes the lookout was for.
My partner and I had staggered days-off, meaning on the days he was off, I patrolled 21 beat alone. At mid-day, patrolling alone, I switched my routine a bit and left my patrol car on the 200 block of 5th Street. I walked to Stanton Park and went swiftly into the laundromat. There, seated on a washing machine in a dark corner, was a man who fit the lookout perfectly. No washers or dryers were in use. He did not have a clothes basket or anything to indicate he was using the laundromat.
I confronted the man and requested identification. A 2 inch piece of glass from a bottle was on top of the washer next to him. He hopped off the washing machine and swiftly walked past me. I used the opportunity to follow him outside and pick a spot next to a chain link fence where I could conduct a field-stop and fight if I had to. The man walked to the rear of the laundromat, which in itself was an odd thing to do.
I again requested identification and blocked the man’s movement away from me. The man attempted to fight me and I used the fence to overpower and handcuff him. I walked the man to my patrol car and transported him to the First District Sub-station for processing for Disorderly Conduct. I used the disorderly arrest as an opportunity to obtain several mug-shots and fingerprints.
I identified the 18 year old male after he lied about his age. He used his alias name, Quantico. I went to the Headquarters and Records and Identification Section with the mug shots. I used my experience gained as a Police Cadet to create an 8-person photo line-up of persons of similar appearance. I took the photo line-up and interviewed the most recent victim in her town-home on Constitution Avenue. The woman immediately picked Quantico out of the line-up. I took a brief statement concerning the identification.
I briefed my Sergeant that I identified the rapist. The case was immediately assumed by an accomplished MPDC Detective. This Detective closed numerous rape cases that I was not involved in. Quantico gave him confessions in all of them. All of the cases resulted in guilty pleas to various offenses.
I received the Chief’s Award from MPDC Chief of Police Jerry V. Wilson.
Corporal James D. Ignowski
By Corporal/Ret. Homicide Detective Thomas 'Ben' Hollowell.
In describing the events of the bank robbery suspect, I began by stating the unimaginable. In 35 years as a police officer, one never expects to have caught a bank robber. I have caught and arrested murderers and people for other crimes. People I have put away for life. My last murder case was a 16-year-old who stabbed an innocent person to death at the Avenue of Americas. This is representative of young people being involved in serious incidents.
However, it’s rare to have someone with years of time on to be able to say, “I caught a bank robber” after 35 years. I come from a family of law enforcement. My brothers and uncles were part of the NYPD. I guess you can say it is a family business. The things I have been involved in during my time at the Prince George’s County Police Department, Maryland. I can’t say anything about anyone who is able to say that.
I haven’t even told my mom because it would unedge her. She is already pressing me to stop doing the work. My brother’s I have told them about it, but my mom who is 85, would make her nervous. The potential in responding to incidents you never know what is going to happen. I told my son and others who asked how I felt when it happened. I could only tell him and others who asked that I didn’t feel anything, I just did the job. It is like going back to training and simulators and just doing it. You just don’t feel it.
Giving a description of what happened Wednesday, October 26, 2022. I recall police communications coming over the air, “Berwyn Heights 105, Berwyn Heights 102, respond to 5500 Greenbelt Road Truist bank for a robbery. Immediately my ears perked up to the call. We were only minutes away from that location. I was thinking, yeah this person is going to walk up Greenbelt road to College Park or Greenbelt Station parkway where a car was waiting.
We were on the scene within minutes, probably under a minute. Another officer and I went towards the Shell station as the information was coming in. I could see the open garage bay doors. Employees and customers about. I went towards the garage and looked in the side door of the store.
Asking for communications for a description again as I didn’t see anyone with the description given. Bracing open the side door I asked the service manager inside if there was anyone else in the store. He indicated a person is in the bathroom. Ordering customers, kids, women, men, and employees out, the other officer and I approached the rear when the suspect came.
I guess we were lucky maybe catching him off guard. The suspect was compliant and did all that was requested. He was secured and we found the money in his bag and on his person(s). It could have gone either way as there was a gun implied in the call. According to the bank teller, he stated to the suspect are you sure you want to do this. Something was replied by the suspect about being desperate and having a gun. So you never know what the end result of the situation can be.
All these years later just to think catching a bank robber right after committing the act is such a strange event to happen. Just goes to show you how things can go out here on the streets. Earlier that day, I was crossing school kids at the bus stop and now catching a bank robber.
Corporal/Ret. Homicide Detective Thomas 'Ben' Hollowell.
By Sheriff Kim Stewart
The man lay in a puddle of blood in the darkness. Paramedics worked quickly to resuscitate him. After several minutes they detected a faint heartbeat and decided to transport him. I stood there holding his shoes, which I had found some 20 feet away in the street. My Captain came up to me. He was almost giddy. He asked if I realized swing shift patrol had booked 16 people in jail and the night was still young. I said nothing. I did not share his enthusiasm. I never spoke to the Captain again after that night.
I drove to the hospital only to discover the man had died again while en route and could not be brought back. His girlfriend had arrived and she stood crying in the ER’s waiting room. She only spoke Spanish at a time when I had no Spanish words for her. I gave her his shoes and left, having said nothing I can recall now some 40 years later.
I worked the afternoon shift. I had only been in law enforcement about 2 years in what once was called a “bedroom community.” It bordered Los Angeles County, but the line often mattered little to those committing crimes. While our city slept, crime did not.
We were always busy. We had a one new strip mall with a large department store. It was early summer. The calls had been holding in dispatch when I started shift. They were unloaded on us fresh faces all at once. Late day shift calls became ours. No Saturday afternoon was complete without a call of a shoplifter in custody at the department store.
I was briefed by the arresting employee. The offender was a large man. He wore a short sleeve checkered shirt and soiled pants. His dress shoes were worn and had long ago lost their luster. He seemed old to my twenty something eyes. He spoke halting English. He had identification. He had taken the bus to the store from across the county line. He had no money. A toddler’s party dress lay on the desk between us. It was pink with yellow ribbon knitted through the hemline. The man told me it was his girlfriend’s daughter’s birthday and he wanted to give her a present.
I took his information and wrote him a citation. This was the practice for minor misdemeanor crimes. The phone at the office desk rang and it was for me. It was my Sergeant asking if I were going to book the man. I explained there was no need, as he had valid identification and he was clear in our computer system. The Sergeant then told me to bring him to the station and book him. I asked why we would change our procedure for this incident. He told me the Captain wanted to set a record for booking the most people on swing shift. The Captain was ordering me to bring him in.
I cannot look back on this incident, now decades after, and say I should have refused the order. I do know if I had refused and handled this differently, the man would have been able to give a little girl a pink and yellow dress and make the two women in his life very happy. I know I would not have had to hand his girlfriend his shoes instead.
Around 9:00 p.m., I was dispatched to the street in front of the station for a car accident involving a pedestrian. Even before I arrived, I knew the man I had booked for no reason other than a fantasy competition, had been hit by a car. I hoped I was wrong, but upon seeing the little bits of checkered shirt through the emergency personnel surrounding him, my worse fear was confirmed.
The driver and his wife stood next to their car, which had stopped abruptly in the lane where it had struck the man as he crossed in the darkness. He had been running to try to catch the last bus back to Los Angeles after being released from jail on a citation. He probably didn’t realize the car would hit him before he made the last step onto the curb. The man rolled onto the hood and into the windshield. The force knocked him out of his shoes. The male driver was crying inconsolably. All I could think to do was to retrieve the man’s shoes.
I am still brought to tears by this story. Sometimes late at night, when the summer’s breeze picks up and I travel down some street far from that city of my youth, I can still see him laying shoeless and lifeless. The theft of a $9.00 dress and the death of a stranger informed how I chose to police for years to come. So many times, I have asked myself why I didn’t pay for the dress and send him and it to a little girl’s party. I have since tried to resolve problems in more creative and humane ways.
When I entered this profession, it was as if black or white were the only “go-to” options. It did not take long before I realized it was all just gray. Both the man and the Captain operated somewhere in the middle of both extremes. Assessing right from wrong, good from bad, were all judgements I had to make on a case-by-case basis forever after. I hope I got it right more often than not.