Slaying suspect eludes raid

Police evacuate a Durham hotel after a tip from witnesses

Staff WriterDecember 29, 2005 

Durham police negotiator Cpl. F.L. Francis, with bullhorn, tries to talk to a suspect at Homestead Studio Suites.

STAFF PHOTO BY HARRY LYNCH

Police locked down a hotel in southern Durham Wednesday on a tip that a slaying suspect was hiding inside. After a failed negotiation, officers raided a suite but came out without the suspect, Roderick Jerome Wooten.

Wooten, whose last known address is 1302 Hearthside St., is wanted in connection with the shooting death of Jason Harrington. Harrington, 23, was shot Dec. 9 near the intersection of Scout Drive and Enterprise Street just south of downtown.

Investigators thought they might have a lead on Wooten's whereabouts Wednesday morning.

At 11:28 a.m., someone called Durham police asking them to investigate drugs in a room at Homestead Studio Suites on N.C. 55, Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said. When police arrived, witnesses who recognized Wooten from photos in the news said he was staying in Suite 155, Michael said.

At 1 p.m., more than a dozen officers from the Durham police Selective Enforcement Team gathered in a parking lot in the 2200 block of Meridian Parkway to plan the capture. They strapped on helmets, body armor and drab camouflage suits. About 3 p.m., the team grabbed the sides of a black armored police truck and clung to it as it moved slowly through traffic on N.C. 55 like a heavily armed parade float.

Police had evacuated workers and guests at the Homestead Studio Suites as the tactical team arrived, Michael said.

As the number of police officers swarming the hotel increased, a half dozen onlookers meandered to the scene.

David Richardson, a pharmaceutical consultant in a neighboring building, was returning from lunch and was drawn to the action. He called a friend, and soon five workers from the same building stood in the parking lot as the standoff evolved into what looked like an action-movie sequence.

First, police tried contacting Wooten by calling the phone several times. When no one answered, Officer F.L. Francis, a hostage negotiator, took to the bullhorn.

"Roderick Jerome Wooten, if you're inside the room, let us know by moving the curtains," Francis said. She leaned up against the black armored truck. Four officers stood near her, their pistols trained on Room 155.

"Come out with your hands up," she continued. "Do it now."

After almost an hour of unanswered demands, Francis and the armored truck retreated. At 4:15 p.m., a resounding boom shattered the quiet of the evacuated hotel. Tactical officers used an explosive as a distraction while they unlocked the door and charged in. Wooten was not inside.

Investigators found a small amount of marijuana inside, police said. Officials believe Wooten had been hiding there for several days, Michael said.

Wooten is known to frequent the McDougald Terrace public housing complex and House Avenue, Michael said.

Richardson may have been dragged away from his job, but he got an exciting story out of what started as a regular day at work.

"I've never seen anything like this," he said.

Anyone with information on Wooten's whereabouts is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 683-1200.

Staff writer Samiha Khanna can be reached at 956-2468 or skhanna@newsobserver.com.

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