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Officer executed, police say; 23-year-old sought

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June 05, 2004

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Officer executed, police say; 23-year-old sought

Officer Down: Mark Sawyers - [Sterling Heights, Michigan]

A Sterling Heights police officer - described by his superiors as a "baby face" father of one - was the victim of what investigators on Saturday called an execution-style slaying.
Officer Mark Anthony Sawyers was shot as he compiled a traffic accident report on a computer in his patrol car Friday in the parking lot of the Target Center on Van Dyke near 15 Mile Road.

Police have identified a suspect in the slaying but could offer no clear motive.

"There is nothing to indicate (the shooter) knew the officer," said police Capt. David Vinson.

The suspect was identified as Timothy William Berner, 23, of Clinton Township, according to police. Berner was driving a red Chevrolet Camaro with the license plate YSR 497, police said.

A SWAT team surrounded Berner's house at the Silver Springs mobile home park on North Avenue in Clinton Township and burst in the door Saturday afternoon, but the suspect was not located.

Sterling Heights Police Chief Barnett Jones said officers worked around the clock to investigate the incident.

"This is one of the darkest days in this community," Jones said at a news conference at Sterling Heights City Hall. "This is a senseless murder of a police officer sworn to protect and serve."

Officials said Sawyers, 30, was in his cruiser in the Target parking lot entering information about a traffic accident into his computer about 8:30 p.m. when a man fired a shotgun at him.

A woman shopping at Target called police after she saw a man leaning into a broken passenger-side window of the patrol car. She told investigators the man seemed to take something from the car before getting back into another car.

Arriving officers found Sawyers slumped over in his seat.

He was taken to St. John Macomb Hospital in Warren and underwent surgery late Friday evening as his relatives were called to the facility. He was declared dead about 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

Vinson would not say whether Sawyers was shot more than once. Police believe the shooter took Sawyers' service handgun from the officer and now has at least two guns.

Law enforcement officials who asked not be identified said it appears Berner had an argument with a girlfriend or other family member and left the house, threatening to commit suicide. A relative who saw a television news report about the shooting reportedly called Sterling Heights police.

Sawyers was hired by the Sterling Heights department seven months ago after serving on the Detroit police force for nearly three years. He grew up in Madison Heights, was married and has a daughter. He also has several siblings.

The shooting jarred residents and officials in Sterling Heights, considered one of the safest cities in the country. The last homicide there was committed in 1997.

The last officer to die in the line of duty in Sterling Heights was Leroy Imus, an officer who died in a car accident in 1971.

Anyone with information on the suspect's location is asked to call Sterling Heights police at (586) 446-2801. Crimestoppers will pay a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Mitch Hotts is a staff writer for The Macomb Daily.

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