D.C. Advisory for Off-Duty Police Follows Teen's Death

The courtyard in the 600 block of Atlantic Street SE where the 14-year-old was fatally shot Monday night. (By Michael Williamson - The Washington Post)
By Allison Klein and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 21, 2007

Acting in the wake of this week's fatal police shooting, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has put out a directive to clarify how off-duty officers should react if they become victims of a nonviolent crime. The guidance gives officers a great deal of discretion in an area that police experts said is loaded with risk.

The directive would not have barred off-duty officer James Haskel from acting on his own Monday night when he discovered his minibike missing from his Southeast Washington home. Soon after heading out with another off-duty officer, Haskel got into a confrontation that ended with the death of DeOnté Rawlings, 14, who allegedly had the minibike.

The killing, which police say came after DeOnté opened fire on the officers, has generated a community outcry. Police found no gun or minibike at the scene. Officials said the minibike was located yesterday, but a gun has yet to turn up. Police declined to say where the minibike was found or who had it.

A senior law enforcement source said federal prosecutors are likely to open a grand jury investigation into the shooting, possibly as early as next week, to subpoena witnesses and other information. Prosecutors are already reviewing evidence.

Haskel and the other officer, Anthony Clay, have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the probe. The U.S. attorney's office is leading the investigation, and the FBI yesterday said that it will assist.

Policing experts questioned the officer's decision to investigate the apparent theft of his own property, saying it created too much potential to cloud his judgment.

"If you're cruising around in a known high-crime neighborhood investigating a crime, it's a good idea to bring on-duty police with you," said Dennis Kenney, a Washington-based professor at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "That's why we put them in marked cars and uniforms."

Lanier's directive -- which she is having read at roll calls for the next two weeks -- is meant to cover off-duty situations.

"Importantly, off-duty officers who come upon or are victims of a non-violent property crime where there is no immediate threat to their safety, should proceed cautiously in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety," the directive states. It says that the off-duty officer should contact on-duty police officers before taking police action.

Sources have said that someone in the neighborhood called in a report of a theft at Haskel's home shortly before the shooting. It was unclear who made that call, and police officials no longer are releasing such specific information in the case, saying they will provide a full airing once the investigation is complete.

Haskel and Clay went looking for the minibike in Haskel's sport-utility vehicle. Police said the shooting occurred after they spotted DeOnté on the bike in the 600 block of Atlantic Street SE. DeOnté allegedly fired a shot that hit the SUV. Haskel left the vehicle and chased the teenager, engaging in a running gun battle that ended with the youth shot in the head, authorities said.

Clay took off in the SUV immediately after the shooting and returned about 10 minutes later without the vehicle, law enforcement sources said.

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