Official Shot Movers in Self-Defense, Police Say

Denise Clark and Christopher Furbush, parents of Brandon Clark, at Prince George's Hospital Center, where their son lay in critical condition.
Denise Clark and Christopher Furbush, parents of Brandon Clark, at Prince George's Hospital Center, where their son lay in critical condition. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Eric Rich and Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 26, 2007

The movers arrived at Keith Washington's home in Accokeek on Wednesday night for what was to be a simple swap: one Marlo Furniture bedroom set for another.

An argument began between Washington and the two men and escalated quickly, authorities said. It ended when Washington, who is a police officer and a top homeland security official in Prince George's County, drew a 9mm Beretta and opened fire on the unarmed movers, they said.

Police said that they believe the officer, a 16-year veteran, acted in self-defense and that the two wounded men probably will be charged with assault, based on statements from Washington and a family member whom they did not identify. A police spokeswoman, Cpl. Debbi Carlson, said the officer suffered serious injuries -- she declined to describe them -- and required treatment at a hospital.

The movers -- Robert White, 36, of the District and Brandon D. Clark, 22, of Oxon Hill -- remained in critical condition yesterday, and Carlson said police had not heard their accounts.

Clark's live-in girlfriend, Leelee Best, echoing the sentiment of his family members, questioned the police claim that the movers were the aggressors, saying police "need to charge [Washington] for shooting them."

"It's stupid, honestly," Best said of the argument. "All he had to do was just tell them to leave. There are other ways you can handle it than shooting somebody."

Washington, 45, a former driver for County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), has long been a controversial figure. He was sued in 2000 by a man who claimed to have been arrested and strip-searched for protesting Washington's rough treatment of a motorist; a civil verdict against Washington for that incident was overturned on appeal. Washington also was later temporarily suspended for alleged aggressive behavior during meetings of a homeowners association board on which he served.

Because of that history, Johnson was accused of cronyism and poor judgment when he named Washington in 2004 to be deputy director of homeland security. Johnson brushed off the criticism, saying that he hired Washington in part because he is "mentally tough."

Washington, who was released from the hospital, did not respond to messages seeking comment, and no one answered the door at his home. An attorney who has represented him before did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Yesterday afternoon, Best said a Marlo delivery contractor for whom Clark worked knocked on the door of their home at close to midnight Wednesday. "I knew something was wrong," she said, speaking at Prince George's Hospital Center.

Best said the contractor told her that Clark called him from Washington's house Wednesday evening to say that Washington was angry over a bedroom set that was being exchanged.

Michael J. Winkelman, an attorney representing the families of White and Clark, said a Marlo representative and an associate he believes was the contractor visited with the family at the hospital yesterday. The associate told the family that the movers had sought guidance from a supervisor about how to handle the clash with Washington.


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