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Surveillance video captures shopping plaza gunfire, helps lead to conviction

Dan Morse

Ever since gunfire erupted last summer outside a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Montgomery County, officials have struggled to interpret video surveillance recordings of exactly what happened.

We recently obtained copies of videos that were played repeatedly during a trial last week that led to the conviction of Deon E. Sherrod, 30, on attempted manslaughter, assault and other charges.

In the videos, patrons of the Briggs Chaney Shopping Plaza, about five miles north of the Beltway in Silver Spring, can be seen going about their business on a clear Sunday afternoon. Sherrod is wearing light clothing. George E. Bleau, 32, is wearing dark clothing.

You can see the two men fighting at the onset. At the 0:12 time mark, Sherrod can be seen taking aim as Bleau runs away. A different angle, at the 0:51 mark, shows customers ducking for cover.

Bleau was hit with three rounds, one lacerating his liver. Despite this, he can be seen getting into his black sedan. His cousin drove him to the hospital.

Sherrod's attorney, Kevin Collins, conceded during the trial that his client shot Bleau but said he did so because Bleau also had a gun, was a threat to kill, and Sherrod had a legal right to defend himself by shooting.

Collins called Sherrod to the witness stand, who testified that Bleau was armed. Collins also showed jurors two still images, captured by the surveillance cameras, that at first glance seem to show Bleau pointing a weapon at Sherrod.

"The question is, did Mr. Bleau have a gun?" Collins asked during his closing argument. "And the answer to that is 'Yes.'"

Collins said of Bleau: "He's the community thug. No dispute about that. Known to carry weapons. Complete dirtball."

But prosecutors had their response ready.

First, there were the video recordings themselves. Played at real speed, they show Sherrod taking aim at Bleau. There is no such clarity in the case of Bleau and an alleged gun, prosecutors said.

Assistant State's Attorney Kathy Knight also attacked the credibility of the still images.
They were fuzzy enough, she said, that what Collins said was a gun in Bleau's hand could have been an extension of Bleau's arm, a shadow, or even part of Bleau's long dreadlocks.

"How do we know that's not his hair?" Knight asked during her closing argument.

She also had the bulk of witness testimony on her side: No one at the shopping center said they saw a gun in Bleau's hand except Sherrod. Bleau himself testified, and said he didn't have a gun.

The limits of the video recordings were clear from the beginning of the case.

Immediately after the July 26 shooting, before they had a chance to study the video, Montgomery County police said that only one of the men fired a weapon.

Two weeks later, after the investigation had progressed, police said they believed both men fired guns. They charged Sherrod with attempted murder and other counts, and charged Bleau with first-degree assault, use of a firearm and other counts.

In obtaining the charges against Bleau, detectives said they had studied the video images. "Bleau's arm can be seen pointing back at the unknown black male, extended, also apparently holding a handgun," they wrote in charging documents. "It appears that George Emanuel Bleau and the unknown black male [later identified as Sherrod] became engaged in a gun battle at very close range."

When prosecutors started looking at the case, though, they weren't so sure. In late August, they dropped charges against Bleau, citing a lack of evidence. He was released from jail still carrying three bullets inside his body.

Peter S. Fayne, Bleau's attorney, has discussed the case in the past, but was in court on a different matter Tuesday morning and wasn't immediately available to talk.

At the trial, the jury rejected the charge of attempted first-degree murder against Sherrod, instead convicting him of attempted manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and firearms counts. An innocent bystander was hit in the calf by one of his bullets.

The verdict reflected the jury's belief that at some point, Sherrod might have felt he was in danger, but it was unreasonable for him to hold this belief throughout the encounter -- particularly when Bleau was running away, according to prosecutors.

Knight said that Sherrod faces up to 105 years in prison, if the judge were to add up prison time in the most favorable light to prosecutors.

Collins, Sherrod's attorney, declined to comment after the verdict.

It has always been a coincidence that the men were so close to the Chuck E. Cheese. They were apparently arguing about a woman. Neither had gone there to eat, according to authorities.

-- Dan Morse

By Dan Morse  |  March 30, 2010; 11:41 AM ET
Categories:  Crime, Seen , Dan Morse , Montgomery  
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The guy in the white shirt(gunmen) is a fool, because the guy he shot at was running away from the fight. At first I thought naybe the guy in white shirt was getting beat up, thus the reason for firing the gun, but he was actually getting the best of the guy in the black shirt, so no reason to shoot. Now, he'll have enough time to sit in jail and wonder was it worth it.

Posted by: PublicEnemy1 | March 30, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Ever since they built all those slums behind the shopping center, that whole area became an instant ghetto. We ought to give it to PG County, since it's nothing more than PG extended now.

Posted by: woody2471 | March 30, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

PG extended? that's funny. So this can't happen in Mont. Co.? you better wake up to reality. The people probably did not live in the area, it just happened there.

Posted by: oknow1 | March 30, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

The internet allows bigots and cowards to voice their idiotic opinions; those same 'tough guys' would clam up face to face and wouldn't spout that coward talk. Anyone with any sense detests the incidents of violence in our communities regardless of race or creed.

Fact is, society has always been violent there just was no 24 hour news to broadcast it all. Plenty of people from all walks of life and races have suffered due to societal violence. We glorified gangsters like Capone and Bonnie and Clyde; imagine CNN covering THOSE shootouts with 40 shot Tommy Guns?

Not so pretty? Would anyone give 2 @*$1@ what color they were?

Some of you idiots need to think with your own brain and not the garbage that your bigot parents and grandparents spoon fed you. Free thinking is NOT illegal but stupidity should be...

Posted by: kahlua87 | March 30, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

That is a bad neighbourhood around castle blvd and briggs chaney road, armed robberies, car thefts and muggings are routines due to large number of welfare people living in apartments behind. County police had a trailer right in the shopping center prviously but it is no longer there. Female police officer was severly beaten last year on castle blvd. Avod this area unless it is absolutely necessary to be there

Posted by: Jim110 | March 30, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

It's irresponsible reporting to describe this as "Chuck E. Cheese gunfire." The very last (!) sentence of the post even says as much. Why not make a connection between the shooting and the business that sits next door to CEC? Oh, right, not as catchy. But I guess a catchy headline, albeit inaccurate, is all that matters.

Posted by: DCResidentEmployee | March 30, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

DCResidentEmployee -- Thanks for writing, and you're correct: The original headline gave the wrong impression that there was gunfire inside the restaurant. We have changed the headline. -Dan Morse

Posted by: DanMorse | March 31, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Morse - Thanks for the reply. I appreciate that you read my post.

Posted by: DCResidentEmployee | March 31, 2010 10:18 PM | Report abuse

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