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Off-duty Md. sheriff runs down suspected shoplifter

Since St. Mary's County Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron was elected in 2006, he has staked his reputation to data-driven policing. He often cites his implementation of weekly CompStat meetings, where top commanders review crime statistics, as one of his greatest accomplishments.

But when push comes to shove, Cameron is no numbers guy; he's a cop.

And when he sees a teenager running away from a store with a box in hand and two store employees giving chase, he knows what he has to do.

St. Mary’s County Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron. (St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office).

Such was the case at about 4:30 p.m. Sunday, when Cameron was off duty and picking up soft drinks for his office at the BJ’s Wholesale Club in California, Md. Just as he had finished loading his pickup truck with diet green tea, protein drinks and diet Dr. Pepper, Cameron said, he spotted a young man bolting out of the store, box in hand and two store employees close behind.

“This guy was really running fast, and ‘I thought, nobody runs that fast for no reason," said Cameron.

What's more, Cameron said, the man was throwing things out of the box in an apparent attempt to get the store employees to stop and pick them up. What he didn’t count on was Cameron himself giving chase in his pickup truck.

Cameron said he pulled behind the man in his truck, keeping a close eye on his hands, and said, “I’m a police officer. You need to stop… I’m sure this is a misunderstanding but you need to stop.”

“I’m thinking the air is so cold, he can’t keep this up,” Cameron said in an interview Tuesday. “Sure enough, he finally doubled over.”

Cameron said he pulled his badge and told the man to get on the ground. Breathless and facing a 6’ 2", 250 lb. cop, he did.

When the two employees finally caught up, Cameron was holding the man down. He said he asked one of them to call 911, then waited for his deputies to arrive.

The man, identified as 19-year-old Ryan James Watson of St. Leonard, had emptied a cheese box and stuffed it full of video games, Cameron said. When officers arrested him, they also found a hypodermic needle, Cameron said.

Watson has been charged with charged with theft, possession of a controlled dangerous substance (heroin) and possession of controlled dangerous substance paraphernalia, police said.

Cameron is no stranger to getting his hands dirty. Last year, he and Maryland State Police Leonardtown Barrack Commander Lt. Michael Thompson hit the streets as part of a warrant serving operation. (In a few hours with a Washington Post reporter and photographer, though, they did not make any arrests.)

Cameron said he has pulled people over for traffic tickets since his election, but he can’t recall a situation like the one Sunday.

"The chief or the sheriff isn’t out there mixing it up usually,” he said. “For me it was no conscious thought. I knew what I was seeing and I reacted… probably a little slower, but I reacted.”

And then, like any officer, he had to deal with paperwork. Because he had no handcuffs, Cameron said, he had to hold Watson down while he waited for backup.

And at one point, he said, he had to push Watson down as he tried to get up -- which meant he had to fill out a two-page supplement to the police report.

-- Matt Zapotosky

By Matt Zapotosky  |  January 13, 2010; 6:01 AM ET
Categories:  Matt Zapotosky , St. Mary's  | Tags: BJ's Wholesale Club, Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron, St. Mary's, chase  
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Let me wring my hands, weep, and gnash my teeth over this misguided man who never had a chance, and was brutalized by the system that has failed him so miserably. He probably did not have a color TV when he was growing up.

Now that I am done with the above, I am sure you will be surprised to find out that this man is no stranger to the criminal justice system, and has a serious and extensive criminal history.

No, the system has not failed Mr. Watson, he has failed the system and it is time for him to do some time. Enough time to keep the community safe from the likes of him, a sometimes violent predator and parasite.

Good bye Mr. Watson, you have earned your punishment.

Posted by: | January 13, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Whew. Thank goodness. When I first read the headline I thought the Sheriff ran over the shoplifter which seemed a little severe. But this is great! Thank you to Sheriff Cameron for being alert, capable and willing to take action.

Posted by: JDI800 | January 13, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

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