Employees are on the job across the city and easy to spot. They wear reflective yellow jackets and navy caps and holstered handguns. They stand on downtown street corners, sometimes leaning on a light pole or sipping a coffee.
Operating out of a city police station, this outfit, run by the police for the police, sells off-duty but armed Toronto officers as security and traffic control to municipal and provincial departments, construction firms, utility operators, community groups and funeral homes.
“Company” managers call their product “paid duty,” their customers “clients.” They are selling public property for private gain. And doing a brisk business.
Charging nearly double what an officer earns doing real police work, the company clears $24.8 million a year. If it were a publicly traded company, it would rank among the 150 most profitable in Ontario.
Taxpayers funded its startup. You paid to hire the workers and for their expensive equipment and prime office space. Think of yourselves as shareholders.
But forget about seeing any dividends.
A Toronto Star investigation has found paid duty is an unnecessary tax on the public, companies and community groups. Eliminating or modifying its use would save millions. Critics also say it cheapens police work, reducing frontline officers to overpaid flagmen.
“Who decided we actually need the officers on these particular assignments?” said city Councillor Pam McConnell, who serves as vice-chair of the Police Services Board. “When I talk to (other municipalities) around Ontario, nobody’s ever heard of putting police officers to look down holes, to make sure construction sites are patrolled. I find the whole notion … undermines their credibility.”
Paid duty officers also get this extra money for guarding prisoners in provincial custody. And McConnell was surprised to learn from the Star that officers hire themselves out as security guards for the provincial government when disability support cheques are disbursed.
Police Supt. Earl Witty says having so many paid duty officers around the city increases the force’s visibility and helps deter crime. Though Witty added the force is open to exploring a new system that could save taxpayer money.
“By having those paid duty officers out there, we have more public safety because we have more police presence,” he said, adding that it was a paid duty officer who first tried to apprehend the Union Station hostage-taker in 2004. “Are there ways of saving money? Potentially. … Is it good to re-examine things? Sure. We’re always trying to be fiscally responsible, and if somebody’s got an idea … then let’s take a look at it.”
Officers work paid duty on their days off from policing. Constables receive $65 an hour and a minimum three hours per gig. Several officers told the Star that a city “bylaw” requires their presence at many paid duty jobs. But a city solicitor said there is no bylaw dealing exclusively with the issue.
Instead, a miscellany of provincial and city rules, unevenly applied and poorly understood, loosely governs this booming private police business.
No other major Canadian city spends nearly as much on paid duty. In 2007, Toronto officers pocketed 10 times more than their counterparts in Montreal, and the year after that 16 times what Ottawa officers earned.
On a recent afternoon, an officer stood on paid duty directly outside police headquarters on College St. while a construction crew refurbished the city-owned building’s front steps. A worker said he had to hire the officer for a minimum of seven hours. At $65 an hour, plus related fees, that’s a paid duty bill of more than $500 sent to the taxpayer. Another of the crew teased the officer for wearing a balaclava with the temperature above zero. “It’s always cold when you’re doing nothing,” the worker said.
A retired police sergeant was more blunt in his assessment of what he calls a “cash cow” for Toronto cops: “There are times when you need that police expertise. But standing over a hole in the road? Like, can we get you a couch and a free cup of coffee, too? There has to be a better system.”
The Star spoke to several officers working paid duty around the city. Many declined to comment. All refused to give their names.
When asked if $65 an hour was a waste of taxpayer money, a paid duty cop standing near a city work crew on Bay St. shrugged and spread his arms wide, saying “No comment” through a mouthful of breakfast sandwich.
Several officers said they do not decide when and where paid duty is needed, that city rules require it as a condition of construction and event permits.
Another, interviewed while nursing a Tim Hortons double-double on Adelaide St., said use of paid duty is sometimes wasteful and thinks lawmakers should fix the problem. “If there was a change, I would agree,” he said.
Most paid duty requests originate from private entities, such as event organizers wanting crowd control, movie production companies required by the city to have police oversight of special effects, and funeral planners. The police force also maintains a fleet of 25 taxpayer-purchased cruisers – once used for real police work – for the sole purpose of renting them to bereaved families wanting funeral escorts.
But many paid duty requests come from entities spending taxpayer dollars. While it is difficult to determine exactly how much these off-duty officers have drained from the public purse, the Star has found taxpayers have been billed an estimated $9 million for paid duty on city infrastructure projects and special events since 2007.
The Star has also learned two provincial ministries spend taxpayer money on paid duty officers. The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services hires officers to escort dangerous or high-profile inmates. A spokesperson said the ministry spent $2.7 million on paid duty in Ontario last year but could not say how much went to Toronto officers.
And the Ministry of Community and Social Services hires officers as security guards inside a downtown Yonge St. office where many needy Torontonians get their disability cheques. An officer who said he recently worked paid duty in the social services building explained that it was due to concern that recipients may get upset and unruly over the amount of their cheques. The ministry says it spends a total of $1,200 to hire two paid duty officers once a month for security and crowd control.
Though the amount is not known, another public impact can be seen in the paid duty cost passed on to ratepayers by essential utilities – such as city-owned Toronto Hydro – that are often required by the city to hire paid duty officers to guard and sometimes direct traffic around work sites.
Citing privacy concerns, the police force would not say how many paid duty requests originated from public entities in 2008.
City officials have expressed concern for years and ordered review after review but they have done nothing to fix a growing problem. McConnell said she is concerned the public interest is being abused and plans to raise the issue at the next Police Services Board meeting on Dec. 17.
The paid duty wage is almost double what a constable with four years experience earns on duty – $37.40 an hour – patrolling a dangerous area or answering a 911 call.
In addition, Toronto Police tacks on an extra 15 per cent “administration fee” that the force says is a “cost recovery” scheme to help pay for the office and staff handling requests as well as the use of taxpayer-purchased police equipment on paid duty. “It’s at no cost to the city, to the taxpayer,” said Witty.
But when the city or a provincial ministry or public-owned entity like Toronto Hydro is doing the hiring, it does cost the taxpayer.
In 2008, the force netted $3.7 million in administration fees, which goes into general police revenue.
Police leaders say there can be no other system, that a provincial traffic safety law and other rules allow only officers to do this work.
Sgt. Don Ryan, the man in charge of paid duty assignments, said there’s a reason for this: “A civilian cannot do what we do.”
In Calgary and Ottawa, where paid duty costs are significantly lower, civilians and inanimate objects do the job of Toronto officers. On a recent afternoon, a utility company work crew set up in the middle of a busy four-lane road, right outside a Calgary police station. The crew used pylons and yellow safety lights but no officer. “(Our system) appears to work,” said police force spokesman Kevin Brookwell. “It has been working for some time.”
Backed by what police say is a legal authority, and an uncontested hold on the market – Toronto officers get 42,000 requests for paid duty annually – the officers have raised their hourly rates every year. The wage has jumped 25 per cent since 2004. The powerful officers’ union (the Toronto Police Association) – not the mayor or a city public works official or even the police force – sets the wage rate, and has done so unopposed since 1957.
“I think the system is fine,” said Mike McCormack, the newly elected head of the union, adding it keeps on-duty officers focused on emergencies while leaving the other work for off-duty cops.
The Star was given no reason why officials could not write a new law or rule allowing other, cheaper traffic authorities to do the job.
“It’s not to say others couldn’t do that work or be trained to. It’s not rocket science,” said city lawyer Karl Druckman. “I think there’s probably a way of dealing with it, to provide other people with authority to do certain things on roadways. It all could be changed.”
The Star found the rules governing the use of paid duty unevenly enforced and in some cases blatantly ignored.
While a paid duty officer in reflective yellow jacket stood watching over idle construction equipment on Adelaide St., just a couple hundred metres west at another job site – the building of the Trump Tower – a young flagman for Grascan Construction Ltd. jogged out into traffic and stopped all three eastbound lanes so a dump truck could drive into the site. The episode backed up traffic into the Bay and Adelaide intersection.
Roberto Stopnicki, a top traffic management official for the city, said such a scenario would require a police officer. “Only a policeman has this authority,” he said.
But the flagman told the Star an officer is not required. At a major development on Queens Quay, just east of Yonge, where multiple companies are working on a new office building, construction company flagmen stopped traffic in all directions on a recent morning to allow large trucks in and out of the job site. A foreman declined to comment on the absence of a paid duty officer, saying he did not want to get on the police force’s “bad side.”
An officer working a paid duty assignment on Yonge St., just north of College St., agreed that paid duty is required by the city inconsistently. While he spoke to a reporter for 30 minutes about why he is needed to help safely redirect foot traffic around the area barricaded by an Enbridge subcontractor, he paid little attention to jaywalking pedestrians. He would not give his name.
Upwright Sign Service paid $65 an hour for an officer to stand near a lift hoisting a worker level with a Royal Bank storefront sign at King and Jarvis Sts. A city official said an officer is typically needed whenever a sign company lifts something above the sidewalk.
Upwright vice-president Kip Panayiotou said of paid duty officers: “They charge an arm and a leg. I don’t feel they’re necessary.” Panayiotou estimated he pays $10,000 to $15,000 to paid duty officers in a year and that he must pass that cost on to his customers. “It can make a client shy away (from hiring us) because all of a sudden there’s an additional cost.” He is also frustrated at what he says are arbitrary paid duty rules: On Yonge St. he is required to have two paid duty officers, one at King and Jarvis, and none in Scarborough. Panayiotou would rather give his money to a crossing guard, saying, “They could do the job.”
McConnell of the Police Services Board said she does not know why crossing guards, who are regulated by the police force and get paid as much as $13.75 an hour, cannot do paid duty work.
“The people who are experienced in getting children across the street should be equally experienced at looking at a crane or telling people they can cross or stopping people from crossing because the dump truck is coming.”
In Vancouver, where construction and road maintenance proliferates in the run-up to the Olympics, work crews are allowed to use their own “flagmen” to direct traffic with “Slow” and “Stop” signs. Vancouver officers on paid duty work collect a lot less than Toronto cops. In 2007, the last year for which data is available, they got only $1.3 million.
Vancouver police Const. Lindsey Houghton said that in the case of a large city construction project with significant traffic impact, the city uses “special traffic constables” who have authority to arrest and lay charges and who carry batons and pepper spray but no guns. The special constables get paid $33 an hour, about half the Toronto rate.
Some Toronto event organizers wonder why the city requires paid duty police officers as a condition of special event permits. Yvonne Bambrick, a coordinator of Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market, said in past years paid duty officers were required to stand near barricades blocking vehicle traffic.
“They really didn’t do much. You had a different one every time. They didn’t know about the event. They just stood there. They couldn’t answer any questions,” she said, adding that on-duty officers should have staffed the event. “It would have been interesting to have one of the local beat patrol hanging out and getting to know the community better.”
Joe Eustaquio feels he is getting gouged by the police.
The organizer of the Portugal Day Parade said he is required to hire paid duty police officers to watch over his post-parade festival in Trinity Bellwoods Park.
Paid duty rules say that for every four constables hired, a higher-ranked officer is needed to supervise. But Eustaquio says in recent years he has been forced to hire one supervising sergeant for every two officers. A sergeant is not cheap, earning $73.50 an hour, for a minimum of three hours, on paid duty.
“I will have eight guys policing the park and four supervisors doing nothing. The costs are ridiculous,” Eustaquio said, adding that the burden is one reason he has scaled the celebration from two days to one.
Supt. Witty said that while it is “highly unlikely” a customer would be asked to hire one supervisor for every two constables on paid duty, such a decision would be made by the police precinct in which the event is held.
The size of Toronto’s paid duty industry seems unparalleled in Canada. According to data collected by the Toronto Police Services Board, Toronto officers netted $24 million in 2007. In a distant second was Peel Region officers with a profit of $4.4 million, then Montreal officers with a comparatively meagre $2.3 million. While 2007 data was not available for Ottawa, a senior officer told the Star his officers took in only $1.5 million in 2008 and are on track for around the same amount this year.
This system has been left virtually unchanged for half a century, though in 2002 the police force set up the Central Paid Duty Office to better manage the tens of thousands of work orders coming in each year and more equitably distribute the profits to the force’s precincts. Chief Bill Blair is credited with setting up the office when he was working under then-chief Julian Fantino.
The operation seems to be running smoothly for officers as dependence on paid duty continues unabated.
At a time of recession that has hobbled many companies, Cops, Inc. has seen its profits soar about 50 per cent since the beginning of 2004. Demand is so high, Ryan needs nine clerks to handle all the work orders coming in to the third floor of 53 Division on Eglinton Ave. W.
“It’s a very costly habit in a time when there’s few enough resources to have regular workers on regular shifts,” McConnell said, “let alone these officers who are not only on overtime, but over-overtime.”
The six-person jury last week found that Miami security firm Hall Investigation Service wrongfully denied wages and fired Strachan for serving as a juror in a murder trial in April 2007.
“The irony is amazing,” said her lawyer, Michael Feiler. “I think the jury in our case understood jury service is a fundamental part of what makes our system work. They wanted to send a message that you can’t punish people for doing their duty.”
By county law, employers cannot fire workers who serve on juries, and must pay at least the first three days of their time off.
Strachan, 57, was a longtime Hall security supervisor. In April 2007, she was stationed at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza office building.
She told company owner Arthur Hall, a former police officer, about the jury summons and he became angry, saying she should skip court for work, according to her lawsuit filed by lawyers Feiler and Martin Leach.
Strachan served three days on the jury that convicted drifter Ruben Maldonado, 43, of murder for fatally beating a homeless man with a tree branch in Homestead.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beatrice A. Butchko gave Strachan a letter vouching for her service, plus a copy of the county law protecting citizens who serve on juries.
Still, the suit said, Hall refused to pay her the roughly $400 in wages she should have earned those three days. He later accused Strachan of fraud, threatening to report her to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, the suit alleged.
Reached by phone Monday, Hall declined to comment. His lawyer did not return a phone call.
The jurors in Strachan’s case awarded her $30,000 for lost wages and emotional distress, and $120,000 in punitive damages. Strachan now knows the building well: She has a new job as a contract security guard at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, 73 W. Flagler St., where her trial took place.
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Beginning Wednesday, the networking Web site is taking the rare step of requiring its more than 350 million users to review and update their privacy settings.
The new controls are designed to simplify the cumbersome privacy controls that have confounded many users. Facebook hopes the changes make people comfortable sharing even more information.
Facebook said the changes are based on user feedback — though it remains to be seen whether the shift will mean fewer surprises for people who have unintentionally shared party photos with their bosses.
As part of the changes, Facebook users will be able to select a privacy setting for each piece of content, such as photos or updates, that they share on the site — as they share it. The choices are “friends” only, “friends of friends” or “everyone,” which means not just Facebook users but everyone on the Internet. (The exception: Minors won’t be able to share their content with everyone. For people under 18, the “everyone” setting will send information to “friends of friends.”)
There is also an option to customize groups of friends — such as “college buddies” — for certain kinds of updates.
Jules Polonetsky, co-chairman and director at the Future of Privacy Forum think tank in Washington, praised how the process resembles the way people decide what to share in their day-to-day lives. He said putting the controls “when you need it, right there, is far better than putting it in a ‘privacy’ or ‘help’ location” somewhere on the site.
Facebook said that until now only 15 percent to 20 percent of its users have customized their privacy settings.
Now Facebook will be asking users to review and alter their settings through a tool that explains the changes. People will be able to keep their old settings or take recommendations from Facebook that are largely based on how they have configured their information.
As promised, Facebook is also getting rid of its geographic networks, because many of them — take “New York” or “Australia” — have gotten too big. There had been 5.7 million people in the London network, for example.
If users were previously part of such a geographic network, this location will now be listed in their profiles under “current city.”
Other networks, for schools and workplaces, are staying.
The changes have no effect on advertising on the site, said Elliot Schrage, vice president of global communications and public policy at Facebook.
But he added that by giving users such granular control over the content they share, Facebook is encouraging more sharing and a greater connection to the site.
“If users feel more confident with our service, they will use our service more,” he said. “And the more they use our services the more benefits we derive.”
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Deputy Sheriff Charles Douglas (Charlie) Brown Jr.
Martin County Sheriff’s Office
End of Watch: Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Tour of Duty: 15 years
Badge Number: 809
Cause of Death: Gunfire
Date of Incident: Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Weapon Used: Gun; Unknown type
Suspect Info: Shot and killed
Deputy Charlie Brown was shot and killed during a confrontation with a suspect in Williamston on West Main Street at 9:15 am.
Deputy Brown, along with other deputies and officers from the Williamston Police Department, had responded to reports of a man walking down the street firing a long-gun. The responding units located the man in front of a residence and confronted him. As they ordered him to drop the weapon he opened fire, striking Deputy Brown.
The other officers on the scene returned fire, killing the suspect. Deputy Brown was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his wounds a short time later.
Deputy Brown had served in the law enforcement with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office and Williamston Police Department for 15 years. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.
Agency Contact Information
Martin County Sheriff’s Office
305 E Main Street
Williamston, NC 27892
Phone: (252) 789-4500
Please contact the Martin County Sheriff’s Office for funeral arrangements or for survivor benefit fund information.
A North Carolina sheriff’s deputy responding to a 911 call has been shot to death by an armed suspect.
The suspect was also killed Tuesday when he refused to obey instructions from law officers.
Police say 38-year-old deputy Charlie Brown was responding to a call about an armed suspect in Williamston, about 100 miles east of Raleigh.
When officers arrived, officials say 36-year-old Jerry Lee Pace Jr. was armed and resisting instructions. They say Pace fired his gun and law enforcement officers fired back, killing Pace.
Brown was a 15-year veteran of law enforcement. He is survived by his wife, Cindy, and two daughters.
The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the incident.
A former Sandy Springs police sergeant wants his job back after he said he was fired for comments he posted on his Facebook page.
O.J. Concepcion said he was fired for posting an anti-backstabbing cartoon and said it wound up in the wrong officer’s mailbox.
“My Facebook is set on private and the public cannot read it,” Concepcion said.
When Channel 2 Action News reporter Mark Winne asked how many friends can view his Facebook profile, Concepcion said he has about 300 friends.
Concepcion acknowledged one Facebook posting on his status as:
“Orlando J Concepcion is working with the FBI this week… I smell a million dollar drug seizure coming our way soon.”
When he was asked if he believed he endangered anyone, Concepcion said, “I’m not, I just love what I do. I was so excited just being a part of the FBI task force.”
Concepcion acknowledged another Facebook posting another day suggested authorities would be raiding an area between two specific streets.
When he was asked again if he believed he was endangering anyone, he again said no.
“I want his job back, I want his name cleared, and I don’t want officers to go through this,” said Mike Puglise, Concepcion’s lawyer.
Concepcion said he is being singled out and he will be filing a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Sandy Springs Police Sergeant Said He Was Fired For His Facebook Postings.
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Paul Alexander, 46, is being held in Santa Clara County jail on two counts of burglary.
Police said Alexander was one of the paramedics with American Medical Response Paramedic, who responded to a home injury call on Nov. 23 at Warren Avenue.
The unidentified 76-year-old victim was transported by AMR to the hospital, police said. The next day, Alexander, in paramedic uniform, returned to the victim’s home.
He asked to inventory the victim’s prescribed medication, police said, telling the victim that the list was lost the day before.
Police said Alexander briefly went to the bathroom in the home and then left. The following days, he returned three more times to the home, police said.
On the last day, the victim’s wife went to retrieve a pain pill from the bathroom medicine cabinet and found the pill bottle empty.
The victim told police that Alexander apologized to him on Nov. 29 for taking the pills.
Anyone with information regarding this theft may call Morgan Hill Police Department Det. Ken Howard at 408-779-2101, or the anonymous line at 408-947-7867
The jury returned the verdict in Hartford Superior Court around 1 p.m. today. It began deliberating the case Friday afternoon. Lawlor faced a maximum of 40 years in prison.
Jashon Bryant, 18, was killed on May 7, 2005, when Lawlor shot him and 26-year-old Brandon Henry during a drug investigation. Lawlor testified that he thought Bryant had a gun.
Wailing with grief, Bryant’s family and friends rushed out of the courtroom after the verdict was read.
“A policeman has license to kill black people in our neighborhood and get away with it,” said Keith Thomas, Bryant’s father. “It was my son who got bullets put into him. [Lawlor] should be going to prison.”
Judicial marshals stood by inside the courthouse as the verdict was read, and the mood was tense and confrontational. All other court business had been stopped.
Outside the courthouse, Thomas continued to criticize the police, as well as an all-white jury of four women and two men.
“Where do we go from here?” he asked. “We still live in the slavery days. Do what you want to the niggers out here on the street, because you’re going to get away with it,” he said.
Bryant’s mother Cynthia nearly collapsed outside the courthouse as she sobbed with relatives about the verdict.
“It wasn’t no justice,” she said. “That man killed my son, and he got applauded for it.”
Speaking outside the courthouse, Lawlor said he was prepared for the jury to come back with either verdict, but he said he was not willing to apologize.
“To apologize would be to admit some fault,” Lawlor said. He said it was the toughest decision he’d ever had to make.
“I did what I had to do that night to ensure the safety of the public,” he said.
“This case was certainly a tragedy for Bobby Lawlor and certainly a tragedy for the family of Jashon Bryant,” said Michael A. Georgetti, Lawlor’s attorney. “My heart goes out to everyone.
“However,” he continued, “this case should not have been tried in the first place. The legislature should take a close look at the investigatory grand jury system and the abuses that take place within it.” When asked what Lawlor would do next, Georgetti said he did not believe he would go back into law enforcement. “At this point my client is going to get on with the rest of his life.”
Two dozen state police troopers and judicial marshals escorted Lawlor down Russ Street to his attorney’s office as members of Bryant’s family yelled at Lawlor. At one point, the crowd stopped at the intersection of Russ and Oak streets, blocking traffic as Bryant’s father Keith Thomas and Bryant’s sister Shirin Bryant confronted Lawlor in the middle of the street.
Shirin Bryant talked with Lawlor about how, throughout the trial, they exchanged hellos, and Lawlor agreed. But when asked why Lawlor would not apologize to her, Lawlor said, “I don’t want to talk in front of 50 people.”
Hartford police then called for backup to clear the traffic, and Lawlor proceeded into Georgetti’s office.
Lawlor was working a police sting involving drugs and guns with an agent from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when, he said, he saw Bryant holding a gun as Bryant got into Henry’s car, authorities said. The officers approached the car, and when the vehicle began moving, Lawlor fired his weapon. The bullets struck Bryant and Henry, who sped away from the scene.
Bryant died instantly from two gunshot wounds to the head. Henry, who was shot in the chest, ran away wounded and hid under a porch until police dogs found him. Henry told officers who found him he couldn’t believe he “got shot over drugs,” according to testimony. Police found cocaine in the vehicle, but they never found a weapon, and a grand jury recommended that charges be brought against Lawlor.
Lawlor did not take the stand, but his grand jury testimony was read into evidence.
Just after midnight, officer Regina Ziegler stopped at the Circle K and Shell Gas station at 1451 E Fowler Ave. to gas up her marked police car when she saw a man leave the store and approach another car parked outside, according to an incident report.
Ziegler said the man appeared heavily intoxicated and was wearing a Walker Security Services uniform.
Ziegler started to walk toward him to question him when another gas station customer told her the man, later identified as Steven Anthony Jackson, had just threatened people with a handgun, according to the report.
As Jackson started to get into his car, Ziegler saw what looked like a gun tucked into his pants, police said. After requesting backup, Ziegler moved toward Jackson, asking him to get out of his car.
He reluctantly complied, but began making suspicious movements around his waistband, police said. Ziegler pulled out her weapon and quickly disarmed Jackson, police said.
But Ziegler continued to struggle and overpowered Jackson until a backup officer arrived and helped handcuff him, authorities said.
Jackson, of 1274 E 113th Ave., Apt. 109, was arrested on charges of aggravated assault with a firearm and obstructing an officer without violence.
Police said Jackson did not have a concealed weapons permit. Officers also found a large folding knife concealed in his pants.
“The teacher hit the floor when she saw a gun come up,” said Sgt. Kim Chinn, spokeswoman for Prince William County Police.
The suspected gunman, Jason Michael Hamilton, 20, of Manassas, was arrested soon after the shots were fired and charged with attempted murder and discharging a firearm in a school zone. He was being held without bond. It wasn’t immediately known if he had an attorney.
Police haven’t yet discussed a motive, but they said Hamilton fired the two shots, then stopped without explanation and left the classroom.
“I assume he’s upset,” Chinn said. “He walked into a classroom and shot at a teacher.”
Hamilton cooperated with officers when they found him in the hallway, Chinn said. He didn’t have the rifle with him but told police where it was. Chinn said Hamilton owned the rifle.
The report of an “active shooting” on the campus came in at 2:40 p.m. It quickly prompted fears of another mass shooting like the massacre at Virginia Tech that killed 32 people in 2007.
School officials locked down the campus and SWAT units swept the buildings room by room before letting people leave.
“We heard a loud noise, it sounded like a desk fell over and we heard another loud pop, we knew it was a gunshot,” said Miriam St. Clair, a 58-year-old biology professor from McLean.
St. Clair said she looked out the window and saw students running outside. The professor then told her students to get inside the classroom and they closed the door, which did not have a lock. They barricaded themselves inside by piling 20 desks against the door, crouching behind other desks when they were done.
One of the students called 911 and the operator told them there had been an incident and to stay where they were. About 2 1/2 hours later, a SWAT team came in and told them it was safe.
“We were very frightened,” she said.
More than two hours after the shooting, student Christian Dorn told WRC-TV by telephone that she was still barricaded inside a classroom. She recalled hearing two loud shots in the building and screams to call 911.
“I just thought about Virginia Tech and Columbine and just was praying this was not another one of those situations,” she told the television station. “We’re just confused right now. We’re ready to leave.”
By Tuesday night, several police cars and officers were still standing at the entrance to the college, which is in a suburban area across the street from a high school.
The Woodbridge campus is one of six in the Northern Virginia Community College system, which is the largest educational institution in the state. The system enrolls more than 60,000 students, according to its Web site.