No Federal Charges in DeOnté Rawlings Shooting Case

By Keith L. Alexander and Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 2, 2008

Federal prosecutors said yesterday that no criminal charges will be filed against two off-duty D.C. police officers involved in the fatal shooting of 14-year-old DeOnté Rawlings, saying they concluded that the youth fired the first shots.

The U.S. attorney's office and FBI based their findings on gunshot sensor technology, shell casings found at the scene and the accounts provided by police. The gun that DeOnté allegedly fired has yet to be found, authorities said.

Authorities spent months trying to reconstruct the chaotic events last Sept. 17 on a Southeast Washington street -- a sequence that began with two off-duty officers venturing out, on their own, to find a stolen minibike. They spotted DeOnté on what one officer said was his bike, confronted him, and the violence unfolded within just six seconds, including a running gun battle that ended with the youth's death, prosecutors said.

As many as 12 shots were fired, including three or four aimed toward police by DeOnté, U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor said. The investigation found that the officers acted in self-defense, he said.

"What happened that night was a tragedy. A young life was needlessly taken," Taylor said. "But our judgment was there was no evidence of a crime. The officers had an actual and reasonable fear and the acts that they took were in response to that fear."

The case has been surrounded by controversy from the start. The D.C. medical examiner concluded that the youth was shot in back of the head. Neighborhood residents and policing experts raised questions about the officers' judgment and conduct, and DeOnté's family insisted that he never would carry a gun. Authorities did not attempt gunshot residue tests to help determine whether the youth fired a gun, saying they would have been inconclusive. The family filed a $100 million lawsuit against the city, which is pending in federal court.

"Everything is crooked. DeOnté never had a gun," the youth's father, Charles Rawlings, said. "They never found a gun. . . . It's all confusing. I don't accept it at all."

Officers James Haskel and Anthony Clay have been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. It is not immediately clear when they will be able to return to work. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said the department will launch an internal investigation to determine whether the officers broke internal rules.

Haskel did not return a call seeking comment, and attempts to reach Clay were unsuccessful. Kristopher Baumann, head of the labor committee of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the officers were relieved by the decision.

"It's not that they just won't be charged, but that they went through the evidence and found that the officers responded after someone tried to kill them," Baumann said. "Hopefully, they can start putting back their lives, but they'll never be the same."

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who angered many officers when he agreed to pay for DeOnté's funeral, issued a statement saying it was important that "all members of the community respect the legal process. Now that this process is complete, we will work to ensure that the community and our officers who put their lives on the line every day continue to heal together."

In making their announcement, authorities released their most complete account yet of the episode. Prosecutors, the FBI and D.C. police investigators reviewed evidence gathered at the scene, heavily canvassed the area for anyone who might have information, and interviewed 42 people.

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