Retired chief: Fury at media part of Beltway Sniper code

Neal Augenstein,

WASHINGTON – Ten years after the Beltway Sniper rampage, former Montgomery County police chief Charles Moose says it would be difficult to employ his 2002 media strategy in today’s digital environment.

With the shooters on the loose, Moose and other law enforcement officials held daily briefings outside police headquarters in Rockville, Md. On many days there were more than one news conference, usually broadcast live nationally.

Moose and his colleagues assumed the audience included the shooter or shooters, eventually identified as John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo.

“We were always apprehensive the perpetrators were listening,” Moose told WTOP in an interview last month.

With measured responses during the hunt to avoid disclosing investigative details, Moose grew furious two days after 13-year-old Iran Brown was wounded outside a Bowie middle school.

Channel 9 and the Washington Post reported investigators found a tarot card near the Oct. 7, 2002 shooting site.

Scrawled on the tarot card: “Call Me God.”

Though not reported at the time, the card also contained the words: “Do not release to the press.”

At his morning briefing Moose’s anger was directed toward the media, rather than the person who leaked the information.

Listen to Moose’s Oct. 9, 2002 statement in the audio at right.

“I have not received any message that the citizens of Montgomery County want Channel 9 or the Washington Post, or any other media outlet to solve this case. If they do, then let me know. We will go and do other police work, and we will turn this case over to the media, and you can solve it.”

Moose later acknowledged some of his anger was choreographed because the snipers had asked the card’s existence not be released to the media.

Today, with the case solved, Moose is able to smile.

“When I look at the amount of media that’s with us now, ten years later, I would hate to try to keep a secret, about anything,” says Moose.

“We didn’t spend any resources trying to figure out how the media got that information,” Moose says. “That would have been a waste of time.”

In the hours after investigators had finally determined Muhammad and Malvo were the suspects, he held a late evening news conference on Oct. 23 to announce an arrest warrant had been issued for Muhammad, on federal weapons charges.

At the podium, Moose didn’t disclose the suspects were believed to be driving a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, with New Jersey license plate NDA-21Z.

But the specifics of the vehicle were leaked, and reported.

A few hours later, an alert motorist spotted the Caprice at a rest stop off I-70 in Frederick County.

Muhammad and Malvo were arrested while sleeping in the car.

Moose was asked why he chose not to publicly release the details that helped lead to the arrest.

“If we put out certain information they may get rid of the car, they may get rid of the license plate. It would allow them some sort of time frame to effectuate an escape,” Moose says today.

Now retired, Moose says despite the tension of reporters digging for information police were trying to keep secret, “what gets overlooked is, there were a lot of positive interactions between police and the media.”

“The media was a big help, allowing us to attempt to communicate” with the snipers, Moose acknowledges.

“There’s room for both parties.”

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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