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D.C. loses an officer, questions surround cause of death

Thursday - 8/30/2012, 2:46pm  ET

Mark Segraves, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - A District of Columbia police officer has died, raising questions about whether his death was related to a line of duty injury he sustained five years ago and whether his death could lead to murder charges.

Officer Oscar A. Pedrozo died Saturday in Silver Spring, Md. According to the Maryland State Medical Examiner's Office, the autopsy is still pending. But officers who knew Pedrozo say he had undergone multiple medical procedures over the years related to the 2007 stabbing.

Kristopher Baumann, head of the D.C. Police Union, tells WTOP Pedrozo's death "is potentially related to his injury."

Pedrozo was off duty the Friday night in April of 2007 when he tried to break up a bar fight at Solo's Restaurant on 14th Street NW. When officers arrived on the scene, Pedrozo was lying in front of the restaurant bleeding from a stab wound to his abdomen.

A security guard at the restaurant, along with a friend of Pedrozo, chased the suspect who was identified as Jose "Chito" Villarta. It is unclear from court records if Villarta was ever charged with the assault, but a police press release identifies Villarta as a "defendant" in the stabbing.

According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office, even if Villarta had been convicted of the assault, if Pedrozo's death is ruled to be a line of duty death stemming from the stabbing, Villarta could be arrested and charged with murder.

According to Baumann, the fact that Pedrozo was off duty at the time of his stabbing does not mean it wasn't in the line of duty.

"He was taking police action at the time." Baumann says. "Remember D.C. Police officers are always considered to be on duty."

The question of whether Pedrozo died in the line of duty is a big matter for Pedrozo's widow and four children, as well. If it is ruled a line of duty death, Pedrozo's widow and children are entitled to both local and federal benefits, including substantial monetary compensation as well as scholarships for the children's education. Not to mention the honors associated with a line of duty death, including having his name added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in D.C.

According to the organization, Concerns Of Police Survivors, a surviving spouse can receive up to $1,355.00 a week in workers' compensation in addition to other monetary benefits.

In addition to local benefits, Pedrozo's widow would be entitled to up to $323,035.75 from the U.S. Department of Justice Public Safety Officers' benefits programs.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who knew Pedrozo, called his widow immediately upon hearing of his death. Gray plans to attend the officer's viewing Thursday afternoon.

"We are all deeply saddened for a dedicated officer to be taken so prematurely. We certainly salute his service to our community." Gray tells WTOP.

Gray said his office will ensure that a speedy determination as to a line of duty designation will be made once the medical examiner's report is complete.

Pedrozo was a decorated member of the Metropolitan Police Department, joining the force seven years ago after serving in the United States Marine Corps. He was a graduate of McLean High School Class of 1992 and Stratford University.

Shortly after the stabbing, Pedrozo returned to active duty in the Third District where he was stationed.

A spokesperson for D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier declined to comment on the the status of a line of duty determination because of the pending ruling on cause of death.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)