Johnson Calls Warning on Ex-Aide News to Him

By Candace Rondeaux and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said yesterday that when he appointed police Cpl. Keith A. Washington to a top homeland security post, he was not aware that doctors a decade earlier had deemed Washington "a potential danger" and urged that he not be permitted to serve regular duty as an officer.

Johnson said he first learned about Washington's psychiatric history "in the paper," referring to a Washington Post article that ran yesterday. "The laws on personnel and medical issues are well defined, and the county executive cannot get involved in those things," he said.

Johnson's relationship with Washington, a fraternity brother and his former driver, has drawn wide attention since January, when Washington shot two unarmed furniture delivery men. Washington, who has said he acted in self-defense, has been indicted on murder and attempted-murder charges.

After the Jan. 24 shooting, Washington remained as deputy director of homeland security until April, when he allegedly assaulted a real estate appraiser who says he mistakenly knocked on Washington's door. After the second incident, in which Washington was accused of brandishing a gun, he was suspended without pay from his job as a police corporal.

Medical records show that Washington was placed on restricted duty for more than a year in the mid-1990s after doctors and department officials determined that his inability to handle the stress of regular police work made him a potential danger.

A psychiatrist who was asked to conduct a "fitness-for-duty" evaluation wrote in 1995 that Washington had "fleeting homicidal and suicidal thoughts" and "fits of internal rage." According to the psychiatrist's report, Washington was asked to turn over his weapon that year after tearfully telling a supervisor that "he did not think he could be accountable for his actions."

The report was among several medical assessments introduced as exhibits in a workers' compensation case brought by Washington, the records of which are public. The records do not say when or why he was returned to active duty. The documents also make clear that police officials, including one who is now an assistant chief, were aware of the concerns at the time.

Yesterday, Johnson, who has said he hired Washington for the homeland security job in 2004 because he is "mentally tough," declined to say whether he would have done so if he had known about his history. "I can't speculate," he said.

But a political foe said it is improbable that the county executive would not have known about Washington's psychiatric history.

"I find it unbelievable that he did not know and did not have strong evidence that maybe this is not the type of job you give him," said former state delegate Rushern L. Baker III (D), who twice ran against Johnson for county executive.

Washington has said he fired at the two deliverymen -- Brandon D. Clark, 22, and Robert White, 36 -- when they attacked him after he ordered them to leave his young daughter's bedroom. They were at the home to deliver a Marlo Furniture bedroom set. White, a convicted felon, has said that Washington fired without provocation. Clark died without making a statement.

Yesterday, Michael Winkelman, an attorney for Clark's family, said he plans to take legal action against Washington, the county and the police department in connection with the shooting.

County officials "should have taken the advice of the professionals they asked for advice about Mr. Washington," Winkelman said. "It is horrifying that they would make the judgment to place the public in harm's way."

Johnson suggested that Washington's role in county government has been overstated. He called the homeland security position "only a liaison" between police and the homeland security office. He also said Washington served as his driver for only one month.

Kevin King, the real estate appraiser in the April 5 incident, said he was shocked to read about Washington's psychiatric history. King expressed anger that county officials did not take more serious action in response to the psychiatric issues that arose in the mid-1990s.

"The guy who he killed could have been alive if they had acted on Washington's plea for help," King said. "To me, that's basically what he was doing. He's asking for help with all that crying and talking about suicide."

Washington, who is also facing assault charges stemming from that incident, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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