Openness Promised In Probe Of Killing

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 3, 2008

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier yesterday promised a full airing of facts once the department completes its investigation into the conduct of two off-duty officers involved in the fatal shooting of 14-year-old DeOnté Rawlings.

A day after federal authorities announced that no criminal charges will be filed against police in the Sept. 17 shooting, Lanier said police investigators now will look into whether the officers used excessive force or broke any department rules or policies.

"Nobody is trying to hide anything," Lanier said. "When the investigation is done, the results will be made public."

The case was turned over to police after prosecutors and the FBI wrapped up a seven-month investigation that concluded the officers acted in self-defense. The investigation found that DeOnté, confronted while allegedly riding a stolen minibike, fired the first shots at police. No gun was found at the scene in Southeast Washington, but authorities said other evidence indicated the youth had a weapon.

The police department's probe, which will take about 90 days, will explore why the officers, James Haskel and Anthony Clay, went out on their own, out of uniform, in Haskel's SUV in search of a minibike taken from Haskel's home. It also will delve into why the officers temporarily left the chaotic scene in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and did not secure evidence. Even the minibike disappeared; it turned up days later in Upper Marlboro.

Haskel and Clay have been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. At the end of the 90 days, the investigation could result in no action being taken against the officers; a minor sanction, such as a recommendation for training; or a penalty as severe as termination.

The case has been surrounded by controversy.

The D.C. medical examiner concluded that DeOnté was shot in the back of the head. Residents questioned the officers' judgment and conduct, and DeOnté's family insisted that he would never have carried a gun. The family filed a $100 million lawsuit against the city in federal court.

Lanier said that the situation is "sad for everybody all around."

Policing experts said that Lanier has to walk a careful line between trying to satisfy community members who have questioned the officers' actions and members of the force who, from the start, viewed the shooting as justifiable self-defense.

"Her fate very much hangs on the outcome on a decision like this," said Brian Forst, a professor of criminal justice at American University. "She wants to be in good standing with the community and with the cops."

Some officers have been angry at Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) because he agreed to pay for DeOnté's funeral and held a series of news conferences with local and federal authorities, including one in which he invited DeOnté's sisters to the microphone to speak. After the announcement that the officers would not be prosecuted, he issued a short statement urging the community to respect the decision.

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