2 Detectives Indicted on Charges of Misconduct
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Two D.C. police detectives were indicted yesterday on charges that they conspired to alter witness accounts of a deadly dance-floor stabbing two years ago at Club U in Northwest Washington.
The 10-count indictment charges that Detectives Erick Brown and Milagros Morales pressured witnesses to change their stories to pin the killing on a man who, it turned out, was involved but could not have inflicted the fatal wound.
The charges are among the most serious allegations of official misconduct against D.C. police officers in recent years. The extensive probe, culminating with yesterday's indictments in U.S. District Court, has complicated the homicide investigation.
More than two years after Terrence Brown was killed, no one has been charged with murder or manslaughter, and no such charges appear imminent.
Brown, 31, a patron from Northeast Washington, was stabbed Feb. 13, 2005, during a performance of the go-go group Rare Essence. The killing led to the shuttering of Club U. Housed in the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW, the club was popular but had long drawn complaints about violence in and around it.
The slaying renewed such concerns and quickly commanded the public's attention. Within weeks, the conduct of police would come under scrutiny after it emerged that detectives Brown and Morales had been pulled off the case.
After the slaying, witnesses told investigators that they had seen a man, who turned out to be Jerome Jones, wielding a box cutter during the early morning melee that ended with Terrence Brown's death. But a forensic examination concluded that a box cutter could not have killed Brown; the finding set in motion the events that led to the indictment.
Jones was eventually charged with assault and other offenses. Earlier this year, he was convicted of simple assault, obstruction of justice and possession of prohibited weapon.
That was well short of first-degree murder -- the charge detectives Brown and Morales sought against Jones when they presented a proposed arrest warrant within days of the killing to the U.S. attorney's office.
The prosecutor overseeing the case asked the detectives to bring in the witnesses for follow-up interviews. The news from the medical examiner that a box cutter could not have killed Brown raised more questions about the witnesses' accounts.
Erick Brown, the detective, balked at bringing in the witnesses and had to be ordered to do so by a police commander, the indictment alleges.
Before bringing each of the three witnesses in, the indictment charges, Brown and Morales told them they needed to change their statements to conform them to the forensic evidence. For example, one witness was told to say Jones had had a "knife-like" object, the indictment charges.