D.C. Police Trying to Explain Lack of Gun With Slain Teen

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The D.C. police officer who fatally shot a 14-year-old boy in Southeast Washington on Monday night was off duty, out of uniform and acting on his own to find a minibike that he believed was stolen from his home, authorities said yesterday.

New details emerged about the killing of DeOnté Rawlings, who was shot in the head after he allegedly fired a gun at the officer and an off-duty colleague. But authorities were unable to answer a question that has raised a community outcry: If the youth had a gun, where is it?

No weapon was found, but the officer's unmarked car has a bullet hole, and authorities said they found shell casings from a .45-caliber gun.

Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier's explanation did little to satisfy family members and neighborhood residents. "Immediately after the shooting, there was a lot of chaos," Lanier said. "It's possible somebody picked the weapon up."

Police officials said the trouble began after the officers, riding in a personal car, saw the youth on the minibike and confronted him. Last night, authorities said they did not have the motorized bike. Like the gun, police speculated, it must have been taken from the scene before the area was secured.

The shooting took place about 7:30 p.m. Monday in the 600 block of Atlantic Street SE, in the Condon Terrace public housing complex, and soon drew a crowd protesting the police action. At first, the details were sketchy. As more information was provided, doubts persisted.

"There's a level of unrest and distrust," said William Lockridge, who represents the area on the D.C. Board of Education. He said that many people in the community "think this kid was shot and there was no reason. They don't buy the fact that the kid had a gun."

Yesterday, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty visited the youth's home, where family members shouted at him. "If there was a gun, police would have it by now," cried Carolyn Rawlings, DeOnté's cousin.

Fenty (D) promised a thorough investigation. "If I wanted to sweep this under the rug, I wouldn't be here," Fenty said. "I would have stayed downtown."

In an interview, Fenty said he understood the concerns about the case. "I agree with the family and the community. There has to be an answer to where the gun is, and we're going to find it," he said.

Lanier and other officials would not identify the officer who fired the fatal shot. Lanier's spokeswoman, Traci Hughes, said, "Considering the heated reaction of the community, we don't want to put an officer in danger."

Yesterday, police officials provided this account of the shooting:

The officer, a member of the helicopter unit, saw that his minibike had been stolen from the garage of his home in Southeast Washington. To look for it, he cruised the neighborhood in his personal car with another off-duty officer. He spotted DeOnté on a bike that he thought was his.

Remaining in his car, the officer called out to the youth. Before the officer identified himself as police, the teenager opened fire, hitting the officer's car about a foot below the driver's-side window, police said.

The officer fired back, then left his car and chased the teenager, engaging him in a running gun battle that ended with the youth shot in the head, police said. The second officer, whose name was also not released, did not draw his weapon, police said. Both officers are black, as was DeOnté.

Police think the gun and the minibike were stolen from the scene after the shooting, according to two police sources who declined to be identified because the investigation is continuing. After the shooting, the officer crouched behind his car for safety and waited for backup, one source said. That could be when the gun and minibike were stolen, the source said.

Police said they have evidence to support the officer's assertion that he was fired on: They found the bullet hole in his car door and three .45-caliber shell casings on the ground. Sources said the bullet hole looked new.

Investigators also found eight shell casings from a 9mm Glock -- the type of gun issued to officers by the police department -- leading them to believe that the officer fired eight times.

Both officers have been placed on administrative leave with pay pending an inquiry by the police department's force investigation team. As is routine in police shootings, the U.S. attorney's office will conduct an independent review.

Lanier, who joined Fenty at a news conference yesterday morning, said it is not common practice for officers to investigate crimes in which they are the victims.

"It's not standard procedure for an officer to investigate a burglary in his own home," she said. Still, she added, "I can't say he was doing anything wrong, looking to see whether the minibike had been dumped somewhere."

DeOnté's family said they do not think that he stole the bike or fired the gun.

"He didn't have a gun," said his father, Charles Rawlings.

Rawlings said he wants police to test his son's hand for gunshot residue, which he thinks would show that he did not fire a gun. But police said the department stopped doing such tests several years ago because they are considered unreliable.

DeOnté, the youngest of 16 children, was a smart, helpful member of the family, his father said. He was called "Lips" because of a bump on his upper lip from when a car hit him a few years ago, his father said.

The boy would run errands for the family and mow neighbors' lawns. He had a summer job this year cleaning buildings for the D.C. school system, his family said.

Charles Rawlings said his son transferred just this week from Hart Middle School to Ballou Senior High School. He described the teenager as a good kid but noted that he had a tendency to cut up in class and roam the halls during study time. DeOnté also was hanging out with friends on the streets, his father said.

Rawlings said he had talked to school counselors about getting help for his son so he would stay focused on school.

"All these years, I've been reaching out for help, no one wanted to help me," he said. "Now he dies, and I get all this help."

Staff writer Robert E. Pierre and staff researchers Meg Smith and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company