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Officer Killed In Shootout; Backup Officer Wounds Three

July 9, 1988

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ A Tallahassee police officer was killed and three heavily armed Maryland prison escapees were wounded in a gun battle that erupted Friday when the officer stopped to check a suspicious vehicle, a spokesman said.

The slain officer was Ernest Ponce De Leon, 40, said police spokesman Phil Kiracofe. A former reserve officer and probation official, Ponce De Leon became a full-time member of the department in December 1986.

He died Friday morning from two gunshots to the chest, said Tallahassee Memorial Regional Medical Center spokesman Ron Brafford.

Four injured people, all occupants of the car Ponce De Leon had investigated, were arrested after the shooting behind a laundry several miles southwest of downtown.

Police said Clarence J. Jones, 33, had gone to the trunk to retrieve identification but instead pulled a pistol from the vehicle and opened fire.

The three escapees were wounded by gunfire returned by backup Officer Greg Armstrong, a member of the department for less than a year. A fourth occupant of the car, a Jacksonville woman, also was wounded, apparently by gunfire from one of the other suspects, said Kiracofe.

Armstrong ″did very well. He emptied his weapon at least once and had to reload under an awful lot of pressure. He fired a lot of rounds″ with a .357- caliber Magnum service revolver, said Kiracofe.

The escapees were identified late Friday as Jones, who was serving 25 years for robbery with a deadly weapon and attempted robbery; Henry Goins, 26, who was serving 12 years for rape, kidnapping and robbery with a deadly weapon; and Irvin Griffin, 28, who was serving 45 years for assault with intent to murder.

Jones was treated for a gunshot to the face and then released for police questioning, said Kiracofe.

Goins was in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head, said Brafford. Kiracofe said he might survive but would have brain damage.

Griffin was listed in stable condition with a gunshot to the thigh at Tallahassee Memorial.

Beverly Lee Harris, 39, a longtime acquaintance of Griffin, was in stable condition at Tallahassee Community Hospital, said Ronald Rudderman, assistant hospital administrator. She was expected to be released to police for questioning.

All four face possible first-degree murder charges and if convicted under Florida’s felony-murder law they could be sentenced to die in the state’s electric chair.

The location of the fourth Maryland escapee, Douglas Edgerton, 21, who was serving a 20-year sentence for second-degree murder, was unknown.

The four escaped June 25 by overpowering a guard in a recreation yard at Maryland House of Correction. Their escape was the largest from the 1,600- inmate medium-security institution since 1979 when 30 men got away.

Update hourly