- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2007

The D.C. fire department has begun termination proceedings against a firefighter who shot at a tow truck outside his Bowie townhouse in November, fire officials say.

Berlin D. Hiligh, 30, entered a negotiated plea to misdemeanor reckless endangerment charges in March and was sentenced May 24 to five years in prison in connection with the shooting. All but six months of the sentence were suspended.

The prison sentence and the termination proceedings came after D.C. fire officials allowed Hiligh to return to his job about a month ago. Normally stationed at Engine 4, firefighters say the seven-year veteran even worked overtime details at sensitive locations like the White House, where a fire company routinely stands by during takeoff and landing of Marine One, the presidential helicopter.

Alan Etter, a fire department spokesman, confirmed that Hiligh returned to work, but he could not confirm where he had served any overtime details.

“Procedures were followed based on the information we were given,” Mr. Etter said. “Based on the changing dynamic, our course has changed.”

The shooting occurred at about 1:45 a.m. Nov. 22 after Hiligh was awakened in his Bowie townhouse on Elm Crest Lane by the flashing lights of a tow truck that was taking his Chevrolet Suburban. The vehicle, which had expired tags, was sitting in a private parking spot. Hiligh was convicted of firing at least four shots at the truck.

One shot reportedly hit a home in which a small child was asleep.

The incident came less than a month after and about 10 miles away from where hip-hop music producer Raymond Brown was fatally shot after he confronted two men who used a tow truck to steal his car in Mitchellville.

Hiligh’s lawyer, J. Wyndal Gordon, said his client was initially charged with 13 counts, including attempted murder and first-degree assault. Mr. Gordon negotiated the charges down to one misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment. In his plea, Hiligh did not admit guilt but acknowledged there was sufficient evidence for a conviction.

Mr. Etter said Hiligh was suspended immediately after the incident but allowed to return to work when the felony charges were dropped. Fire department regulations say that only firefighters accused of felonies must be placed on enforced leave until their legal matters are resolved.

That meant Hiligh, who had no criminal record before the shootings, was free to return to work — until he was jailed after his sentencing. Mr. Etter said that had Hiligh been convicted and released on probation, he would still be employed.

Mr. Gordon said he was not aware that termination proceedings had begun. He said he had expected the firefighter would be sentenced to probation and that he is filing a motion for reconsideration of sentence.

“Never in a million years would we have expected any jail time,” he said.

Mr. Gordon said prosecutors told him they would only seek “some incarceration.” But Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, said prosecutors got the sentence they sought from the judge.

“We asked for the maximum, which in this case was five years,” he said.

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