Khalil Vanterpool talks matter-of-factly about the night he killed Sean Dixon.
Vanterpool, then 24, was walking alone in the 6800 block of Sixth Street NW in D.C. when Dixon, 22, emerged from a dark-colored luxury sedan and confronted him about the theft of illegal guns from a car trunk several months before. The men had seen each other at a nightclub earlier that evening.
Vanterpool said he had a “bad feeling” about Dixon’s intentions.
“He asked me about the stolen guns and what did we do with them,” Vanterpool recalled in an interview with The Washington Post. “That’s when I pulled the trigger.”
Vanterpool said he pulled a .357 magnum from his waistband, shot Dixon twice in the stomach and ran.
D.C. police records show that they identified Vanterpool as the suspect in the case. But they never arrested him. In fact, he said, they never even questioned him.
“I never spoke to any detectives,” Vanterpool said.
Still, they counted Dixon’s killing as a successfully closed case. Police decided that Vanterpool acted in self-defense, and they closed the file in April 2002 without an arrest, according to records.
“He meant to do me harm,” said Vanterpool, adding that Dixon pulled a gun on him. “That’s why it was self-defense.”
A Washington Post examination of nearly 2,300 homicides in the District between 2000 and 2011 found that police closed at least 189 cases without an arrest — 15 percent of the 1,288 total closures. Cases solved without an arrest are known as “administrative,” or “304.1s ,” after the section in the police general orders that refers to the procedure. They are counted the same as an arrest in closure statistics, which are the main measuring stick for homicide detectives and police chiefs.
Without an arrest or trial, though, families of victims can be left wondering what happened. Of 11 families of victims in administrative closure cases interviewed by The Post, only two said they had been told by police that the case had been closed. Even concerted efforts to find out details can be difficult. The Post found that case files turned over under public records requests often lacked information about the closing, sometimes because of departmental policy on confidential documents or secrecy rules governing federal grand juries.
Gregory Hodge Sr., whose son — his only child — was shot to death in 2002, said he was unaware that the case had been closed in 2003 without an arrest.
“I’ve heard absolutely nothing since it happened 10 years ago,” said Hodge, a 55-year-old former military police officer. “Nobody has called me, written me a letter or anything.”
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who became chief in 2007, said officers “are required to notify the next of kin of a case closure.” But she said no documentation indicating notification was found in Gregory Hodge Jr.’s case or three others pointed out by The Post that occurred between 2001 and 2003.
“We are now making attempts to locate and notify the next of kin,” she said.
In one of the four cases, the victim’s brother — a police officer — was notified during a meeting with a detective, she said. In another, the next of kin died in 2007, and Lanier said she does not know whether the deceased woman had been told that police closed the case. In the five remaining cases in which family members said they were not notified, Lanier disputed that there was no notification and offered to provide documentation to that effect after necessary redactions were made. But after five weeks, her department still had not provided the documentation or the names of the family members who were contacted.
Lanier also pointed out that many of the cases predated her tenure. “Reporting information that is for the most part seven to 10 years old is not only misleading but of no significance to the way cases are handled today,” she said.
Under department orders, police are allowed to close cases administratively under specific circumstances, when elements beyond police control prevent them from arresting or formally charging a suspect, including when a suspect has been killed or commits suicide; the victim refuses to cooperate; two people kill each other; a dying suspect confesses; or a suspect is in a country where extradition is not allowed.
The Post found that:
●In 32 homicides, authorities decided that the suspect acted in self-defense, including in the Dixon slaying. Five of the closed cases were listed in police records as drug-related or retaliation shootings. Twenty-one of the slayings were shootings that occurred on the street. D.C. law prohibits individuals from carrying handguns on the street, but officials charged only three homicide suspects for illegal gun possession in the self-defense cases. Prosecutors say such cases can be difficult to prove, because guns are sometimes not recovered at the scene and witnesses are not credible.
●In 84 killings between 2000 and 2011, cases were closed administratively after the suspects in the cases had died. At least a dozen homicide cases were closed only days after a suspect’s death, even though the cases were months or years old.
●Twenty homicides were closed administratively and counted as successful clearances after the U.S. attorney’s office declined to prosecute the cases, because of a lack of evidence, issues with witnesses or concern that the likelihood of a conviction was remote. Police say the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting rules allow them to count cases as closed, even where prosecution is declined, if certain criteria are met.
● ● ● ●In at least nine homicides closed without an arrest, the suspects already had served time for other slayings or had been previously charged with murder or manslaughter, court and police records show. In at least six other cases closed without an arrest, the suspects went on to be charged with murder or manslaughter in unrelated cases.
In the District, a supplemental report known as a “252” is supposed to lay out the grounds for a case closure. It is required, along with a form providing the justification, before a case can be cleared administratively. But dozens of case files examined by The Post under a public records request lacked the 252 or were missing the form justifying the closure, making it difficult for the public to evaluate the decisions.
In response to a subsequent Post request, Lanier said police were able to find 252s in all but one case, which was closed with a similar form under an accepted practice in 2000.
“In every case you listed we located the documentation for the specific reason for the closure,” she said. But those reports were among the documents that the department did not provide.
D.C. police orders also require specific reasons when cases are closed administratively because of lack of prosecution, and not just a “general statement that the case lacks prosecutorial merit.” The Post found nine cases with no written reason for closure. Lanier said four of the reports could not be released, because of grand-jury secrecy rules.
Michael Farish, a former captain who oversaw the homicide unit until his retirement in March, said the decision to close cases administratively is not done “willy-nilly.”
“In 80 percent of the cases, we have no doubt who did it,” Farish said. “But getting the evidence to bring charges is another thing.”
Farish said many prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office will not touch cases that they cannot win, “because that’s what law firms look for — your win-loss record, not how many times you went to court.”
Jeffrey Ragsdale, the homicide section chief for the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C., disputed Farish.
“I can assure you that a win-loss record is not the dispositive issue,” Ragsdale said, “but we do ethically have to have a firm belief that there’s a reasonable likelihood of being able to successfully prosecute somebody.”
The Justice Department refused to provide the declination letters detailing why the U.S. attorney’s office in the District decided not to prosecute cases, claiming it would constitute “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
The D.C. police news release issued within hours of the 1 a.m. shooting of Dixon on Aug. 14, 2001, said he was shot disarming a masked gunman, clad in all black, who attempted to rob him and another person. That person then flagged down a motorist, who drove him and Dixon to Washington Adventist Hospital, where Dixon later was pronounced dead. Police offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the killer’s arrest and conviction.
Eight months later, on April 26, 2002, police closed the case without an arrest, saying that the shooter, Vanterpool, acted in self-defense. Police did not produce the case file detailing why they closed it administratively, despite written requests by The Post under the D.C. public-records law.
Vanterpool gave an account of the shooting that differed widely from the version in the police news release, saying Dixon had confronted him over the earlier theft of guns.
Vanterpool told The Post in an interview this year that after the shooting he “ran home . . . grabbed my bulletproof vest and went to my girlfriend’s house.” He did not check to see if Dixon was breathing.
“I knew his fate,” he said.
About a week later, Vanterpool said, he flew to his father’s home in the British Virgin Islands and got into trouble with the law there. He was convicted of drug possession and sentenced to three years at Her Majesty’s Prison in Tortola, according to prison officials. He said he was released after two years and returned to D.C. in 2006. He said police have since stopped him while he was driving.
“I’ve had numerous run-ins with D.C. police, but they never have asked me about it,” Vanterpool said of Dixon’s killing.
In May 2007, Vanterpool was convicted in Alexandria Circuit Court of drug possession and given a two-year suspended sentence, according to Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections. He remained on supervised release until January 2009.
Today, Vanterpool, 35, is the father of a toddler and works as a home health aide, taking care of his disabled sister in the District.
Longtime homicide detective Daniel Whalen, who investigated the case, declined to discuss why police did not question Vanterpool.
“I just can’t comment,” Whalen said when reached on vacation in Massachusetts.
Lanier said suspects “cannot be compelled to provide a statement.”
“Depending upon the circumstances of a case, an attempt may or may not be made to interview a suspect,” she said in a written response in August about the case.
On Sept. 1, 2001, Michael Kingsbury, 24, was killed after allegedly trying to rob Orlando Wynne at gunpoint just after midnight in the driveway of 3101 Naylor Rd. in Southeast.
The two men struggled over the gun and Wynne grabbed it, according to the sole witness, who knew both men. Kingsbury ran and Wynne chased him, eventually shooting Kingsbury in the back of the head, lower back, chest and arm, records show.
Authorities prepared an affidavit for an arrest warrant for Wynne “charging him with first degree murder while armed.”
But police closed the case in March 2002 without arresting Wynne, saying that he shot Kingsbury in self-defense.
Glorine Jones, Kingsbury’s girlfriend and the mother of his child, said she was with him before the shooting. She said she was never notified by police and has not heard from them since shortly after the shooting.
“I have no idea what happened to the case,” said Jones, a Metro train operator. “They haven’t been in touch.”
After being alerted to the case by The Post, Lanier said Kingbury’s next of kin “passed away in 2007, so we are unable to know if she was notified of the closure.” She said the department would reach out to another family member “to make a notification.”
Wynne had served time in prison after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and carrying a dangerous weapon in 1989, according to court records. He also was found guilty of second-degree assault in Prince George’s County in 1997. He was released last month after serving time in prison for violating the terms of his supervision for a previous drug charge, according to the Bureau of Prisons. He did not return a phone message left last week.
The case file released by police contained no 252 report or administrative closure form providing details or a justification for the case closure.
Ragsdale said he was unfamiliar with the case and could not comment. The U.S. attorney’s office said the prosecutor who handled the case is no longer with the agency and declined to provide the name.
Ragsdale did say that generally police and prosecutors together decide whether a case is self-defense.
“It’s a referral to us based on their investigation,” he said. “For us to render an opinion that it’s a case that should be declined because of self-defense, it’s got to be a very, very strong self-defense case. It’s got to be literally overwhelming evidence of self-defense.”
Cases in which the evidence initially appears to be strong can end up with administrative closures as a result of a declination to prosecute by the U.S. attorney’s office. Prosecutors have what is known as “prosecutorial discretion” to decide which cases to take to trial.
It was 10 p.m. Aug. 14, 2007, closing time at Subway Liquor II at Fifth and K streets NW, when 21-year-old Antoine Mundell knocked on the door and asked owner John Shaw if he could buy a beer, according to a police report.
Shaw, 76, let him in after Mundell said he had proof that he was old enough to buy liquor. As Shaw walked a few feet across the linoleum floor to the counter, he again asked for Mundell’s identification.
“Are you for real?” Mundell asked him, according to witness accounts to police.
Mundell’s nickname was “Crank’em Up,” according to court records, which show that he has seven felony arrests in the District, with convictions including drug possession with intent to distribute and prisoner escape.
When Shaw refused to sell him a beer without ID, Mundell reached in his pants, pulled out a black .45-caliber handgun and aimed it at Shaw. A 38-year-old male customer begged Mundell not to shoot, the police report states.
“Don’t do it,” the customer said.
Mundell fired three shots, hitting Shaw in the back and forearm. The customer was shot once in his left leg. Shaw, a Korean War veteran, died 10 days later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The customer survived. At least one employee in the store at the time witnessed the shooting but was not injured.
“He’s been to war and comes back here and gets shot by some stupid kid,” said Shaw’s younger brother Roland, 70, who persuaded Shaw to buy the business with him and another brother in 1979.
The men had recently signed papers to sell the business “because we were getting older and the neighborhood was changing,” Roland Shaw said. “It was getting too dangerous.”
“He didn’t want to go,” he said. “He was stubborn.”
One witness, “without hesitation,” picked Mundell from a nine-photograph spread in September 2007 and identified him as the man he confronted about killing John Shaw, according to the police department’s 252 report. “I got to do what I got to do,” the witness quoted Mundell as saying.
Another witness, a “close friend” of Mundell’s who “hangs out with him regularly,” told police in January 2008 that Mundell confessed to killing Shaw. That person identified Mundell from a police photo and gave them Mundell’s name and address, the report said.
Police closed the case in December 2010 without arresting Mundell. The file was closed administratively after the U.S. attorney’s office declined to prosecute him, “based on numerous barriers to a successful prosecution.”
“It is known that Antoine Mundell produced a pistol and shot Mr. Shaw several times,” according to the report. “. . . however, [the U.S. attorney’s office] points out the difficulties in presenting these facts to a jury.”
The report does not contain an explanation of the difficulties.
Ragsdale declined to discuss specifics of the case or why his office decided not to prosecute Mundell.
“We’re not in a position to really talk about the reasons other than we were unable to successfully prosecute that case based on our review of the evidence,” he said. “I think there were reasons . . . that made the case unprosecutable. I obviously know more about the case than you do.”
The U.S. attorney’s office later said in a written statement to The Post that there was “insufficient evidence to go forward” but would not comment further.
After the office declined to prosecute, D.C. police closed the case on Dec. 15, 2010.
On the closure review form, police wrote in the remarks section: “USAO advocated probable cause but declined warrant due to being unable to disprove self defense.”
The 252 report noted that someone later told police that Shaw was holding a .25-caliber pistol at the time he was shot. The gun was removed by a witness “because he did not want anybody claiming self-defense,” meaning the witness did not want the gunman to be able to argue that Shaw drew first.
But Ragsdale said self-defense was not the issue. “Without getting into the weeds on that case, because I can’t comment much, that was a decision that was not based on self-defense,” he said. “There were multiple reasons.”
Shaw’s brother Roland, his closest living relative, said police did not notify him that a decision was made not to prosecute the suspect or that the case had been closed without an arrest.
“The detective told me they found the guy,” Roland Shaw said. “He was excited. I haven’t heard nothing since.”
Ragsdale said notifying families when cases are closed administratively is part of the job for police.
“Obviously, they’re supposed to do that,” he said. “There was a thorough investigation done in that case. Bottom line. The family should have been notified.”
The detective, Milton Norris, did not return a call seeking comment.
Frank Glascon, who purchased the store from Shaw and whose wife and stepdaughter were working there the night of the shooting, was stunned to learn from a reporter that Mundell was not charged.
“I don’t know why they didn’t prosecute him,” Glascon said. “They had eyewitnesses. It wasn’t a mystery who did it.”
“He should have at least been prosecuted for having a gun,” he said. “That’s why people don’t want to get involved — they have no confidence in the police.”
Ragsdale said the reason Mundell was not charged with a gun violation was because the gun was not recovered.
“There’s no question we didn’t recover the gun and that is not an ideal case to prosecute somebody for a firearm violation, although we certainly don’t condone it,” he said.
Three months after John Shaw’s murder, Lonelle Thomas, 32, was shot during a home invasion and kidnapping in the 900 block of Wahler Place in Southeast. He died in January 2008.
In December 2009, D.C. police traveled to the Federal Correctional Institution in Raybrook, N.Y., to bring Mundell back to D.C. on a warrant to stand trial for Thomas’s slaying. He was serving a sentence for willfully failing to appear before the court.
As D.C. officers were taking Mundell into custody, he blurted out: “D.C. doesn’t want to see me. They aren’t going to want to let me out because I will paint the streets red. D.C. is my paradise,” according to court records. On the ride back he added, “I’ve killed people in D.C. and robbed people in D.C.”
Mundell pleaded guilty last month to voluntary manslaughter while armed in connection with Thomas’s death. Prosecutors dropped 16 other charges against him in that case. He did not return a message left with a corrections official.
It was just shy of midnight on July 20, 2002, when a white Dodge Caravan pulled up to a crowd gathered in the 4200 block of Southern Avenue in Southeast. The side door opened and a young man of 17 or 18 with braided hair brandished a gun and fired about eight shots into the group, according to a written statement from an officer who interviewed one of the victims.
The bullets injured at least four people and killed another — Gregory Hodge Jr., 22, of Suitland.
Two weeks later, on Aug. 7, a call came in at 1:45a.m.: a shooting in an apartment at 325 Anacostia Rd. SE. When police arrived, they found Brandon Fuller, 21, slumped in a recliner, a fatal bullet wound to the head. An elderly, bedridden woman was found uninjured in a nearby bedroom.
Nearly 16 months later, on Nov. 22, 2003, Deandre Galloway, 17, was shot to death in D.C. Two days after that, police named Galloway as the killer in the Hodge case and closed it administratively. Nine days later, they closed the Fuller case, again fingering Galloway.
Neither case file contained witness statements implicating Galloway or written explanations of why police thought he was the triggerman.
Robert Alder, currently the acting captain of the homicide unit, said there was evidence showing that Galloway was responsible for both killings. Police did not provide the documentation.
A man was charged with Galloway’s killing four days after it happened, but the case was later dismissed.
Hodge’s father, Gregory Hodge Sr., questioned why police did not make an arrest if they were certain that Galloway was the triggerman.
“Was he a scapegoat just so they could close out the case?” he asked.
For eight years, Donna LaBoard has waited for police to arrest the man who pumped a bullet into the neck of her only son, Alphonso, in the 3800 block of 14th Street NW. The 19-year-old was headed home on his bicycle after visiting his girlfriend in August 2004.
LaBoard said that years ago she gave police the name of the man she believed killed her son after she learned it from her son’s friends, but the detective assigned to the case said he did not have enough evidence to arrest him, she said. LaBoard has not heard from the detective, Whalen, who was also the detective in the Dixon case, since early last year.
“He never calls me — I have to call him,” LaBoard said. “I even asked them if they could change the detective because he wasn’t doing anything. They never got back to me.”
Whalen said that he has been in contact with LaBoard but that “I can’t tell you when or how.”
Police listed the case as an “unknown shooting.”
LaBoard, a hospital worker, said she was unaware of what happened to the case until she was contacted by a reporter.
She did not know that police closed the case administratively in December 2007 after the U.S. attorney’s office declined to issue an arrest warrant for the suspect, on the grounds that the shooting was in self-defense, according to police records.
“You’re kidding,” LaBoard said. “They didn’t even notify me.”
Lanier said police had notified the next of kin in this case, but the department did not provide the documentation.
Additional details on the case were unavailable because D.C. police did not turn over the file, despite repeated written requests from The Post.
“I fought so hard to get them to do something,” LaBoard said. “If [Whalen] told me that the case was closed, I could have gone to his supervisor and asked them to keep investigating it. The boy who killed my son is walking around every day on the streets.”
Alice Crites contributed to this report.