A Police Officer Restrained

Monday, April 9, 2007

THE POWER brokers of Prince George's County seemingly have been anxious to protect a police corporal by the name of Keith A. Washington. This is beyond strange when you consider that Cpl. Washington, who has a long and chilling record of anger management problems, repeatedly shot two Marlo Furniture movers making a routine delivery to his home in January, killing one and crippling the other.

Nonetheless, Cpl. Washington's allies until recently have included his old associate County Executive Jack B. Johnson, whose spokesman publicly bristled at the idea that Cpl. Washington might be a menace to the community; Cpl. Washington also seemed to have the support of the police department, whose spokeswoman flew off the handle when it was suggested that a more vigorous investigation would be prudent. Protecting Cpl. Washington, rather than the public, appeared to be a greater priority.

Now, after the latest episode involving Cpl. Washington, cooler heads in Prince George's seem to be getting the upper hand. After Cpl. Washington allegedly pulled a gun on a real estate appraiser who mistakenly knocked on the door at his house in Accokeek on Thursday, authorities charged him with assault and ordered his arrest. Police Chief Melvin C. High stripped Cpl. Washington of his police powers and directed that his police-issued weapon be confiscated. Well, finally.

Cpl. Washington, a former driver, political backer and deputy homeland security director for Mr. Johnson, has friends in high places. He remains innocent until proven guilty. In the shooting case, for which a grand jury has been convened, he says he acted in self-defense. In the case of the appraiser, he denies pulling a gun. Despite his suspension from the police force, he still draws a salary said to be in the range of $90,000 based on his last active-duty job, in the county's homeland security department.

No one can predict the outcome of any criminal or administrative proceeding against him. A jury could be faced with deciding whether they believe Cpl. Washington or his accusers -- and rules of evidence might prevent jurors from knowing about Cpl. Washington's history. In the meantime, it's good that Cpl. Washington's superiors in the police department have responded to that troubling record.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company