- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

A bank robber released from prison more than a month ago has been charged with the slaying of Metro Transit Police Officer Marlon Morales.
D.C. police said yesterday a warrant for first-degree premeditated murder has been issued for 33-year-old Walter O. Johnson, who sits in a Philadelphia jail after police there pulled him over for a traffic stop. During the stop, Johnson got into a struggle with the Philadelphia officers, pulling Officer Morales service weapon, a SIG Sauer 9 mm, on one of the cops.
Meanwhile, The Washington Times has learned that Officer Morales was killed in a section of the U Street/African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo station, near the station kiosk, where police radios have had transmission problems, a situation that may have led to a delay in catching a suspect.
"All there is [at that spot] is static. No one can hear you," said a transit officer familiar with the shooting. "There are dead spots like that all over the system. It is like we are the Lone Ranger. They have been pretty lucky over the years, but their luck ran out."
Metro Transit Police Deputy Chief Polly Hanson dismissed the comments, saying there were no indications the slain officer had problems with his radio.
Officer Morales, 32, was fatally shot in the face June 10 about 9 p.m. while he was citing a man for fare evasion after he pushed through a turnstile while attempting to leave the station near the 13th Street exit. The fare evader was called back by the station manager. When Officer Morales arrived, the station manager left to go to a restroom. While he was near or inside the restroom, he heard a shot.
Witnesses said the fare evader then ran back through the station, exiting onto 10th Street.
Police sources said it took almost two minutes for the Metro station manager to call Metro dispatchers and another seven minutes for two Transit Police officers to respond.
Officer Morales backup was at the Fort Totten Station, about three miles away, and the two officers who got to the slain officer were in downtown Washington, sources said.
Police in Philadelphia found Officer Morales gun and one of his ammunition clips in Johnsons possession.
"We have not found the murder weapon," said D.C. Assistant Police Chief Al Broadbent.
Johnson, Chief Broadbent said, was released from Lewisburg Federal Prison in Pennsylvania on May 15 after serving nine years for a 1989 armed bank robbery in Philadelphia. He says he got Officer Morales gun "off the street," according to police.
Philadelphia police said Johnson would go through an extradition hearing and, after arriving in the District, could be tried in D.C. Superior Court. If convicted, Johnson could receive life in prison without parole.
Chief Hanson said she had not received any complaints of radio problems the night Officer Morales was shot. She acknowledged, however, that she did not know if he had attempted to contact dispatchers in the moments after the shooting.
"We dont really know what happened, but no one suggested his radio didnt work," Chief Hanson said.
Chief Hanson said she was at the scene immediately after Officer Morales was shot and she had no problems transmitting.
Officer Morales, a Gulf war veteran who lived in Dale City, Va., was still conscious after he was shot and was able to scribble some notes on his pad, which some officers said may be an indication he could not communicate over his radio with police dispatchers.
Police speculate that since Officer Morales had only been on the force since May 2000, he was not sure where in the tunnels his radio would work.
U.S. Mint Police Lt. Lou Cannon, president of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police, said that most everyone knows Metros radio system has limitations — and that if Officer Morales could have transmitted, an officer from a different agency could have responded quicker and possibly immediately captured the shooter.
"I know Metro has had problems for years," Lt. Cannon said. "Everyone monitors Metro and someone could have gotten there quicker."
He said the Mint Police and other police agencies regularly back up Transit Police officers when they hear problems or are called to assist. He said because of the radio problems other Transit Police officers may not know there is a problem.
"The radio system is horrible. There have been complaints from officers for years. Theyve done several studies and they were working on getting more updated equipment," said another officer. "In one place it is fine and you might walk 10 feet and it is totally dead."
The transit police radio system problems have been documented for more than 13 years. Metro officials did not address them until after the April 20, 2000, fire at Foggy Bottom when 273 passengers had to be evacuated from a smoke-filled tunnel. At the time, D.C. firefighters could not communicate and transit officers could not talk directly with fire officials on the scene.
Documents show that Transit Police Chief Barry J. McDevitt recommended construction of a new radio system as early as September 1998, but the board did not see a new radio system as a priority for funding.
"The [Transit Police] and bus radio systems are obsolete and are experiencing failures. Replacement options have been studied for 11 years. There is a strong need to replace the [Transit Police] system immediately," Chief McDevitt wrote in a Sept. 18, 1998, memorandum to General Manager Richard A. White.
Chief McDevitt said in the memorandum that the $12.3 million radio system could have been installed by March 2000. But his recommendations were not followed and stopgap methods — such as issuing officers cellular telephones — have been used.
A 1998 study of the Transit Police radio system also said there are "critical voids in coverage … so that an officer may not be able to transmit a request for help." The study said that since there is only a single channel, there is a possibility the system could "jam" and prevent officers from radioing for help.
The study says the system was installed in 1978 and updated in 1983 and was designed to handle about 4,000 calls per year. The Transit Police now have about 50,000 transmissions per year.
A funeral service for Officer Morales will be held at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at the St. Louis Catholic Church at 2907 Popkins Lane in Alexandria.
He will be buried in Quantico National Cemetery.

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