Department Clears Officers in Fatal Shooting of Teen

DeOnté Rawlings, shot by an off-duty officer last year.
DeOnté Rawlings, shot by an off-duty officer last year. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 5, 2008

D.C. police said yesterday that they have finished an internal investigation into the shooting of 14-year-old DeOnté Rawlings last year and cleared the two officers involved of wrongdoing in the youth's death, saying "the use of force in this case was both justified and within department policy."

James Haskel and Anthony Clay, each of whom has been on the force for more than 20 years, were put on paid leave after the shooting Sept. 17. The officers, off duty and out of uniform, confronted the youth over a minibike that had been stolen from Haskel's home. The officers said that DeOnté fired first and that Haskel shot him during a foot chase on Atlantic Street SE.

No weapon was found at the scene, leading the teenager's family and some residents to question the police account. The family has filed a federal lawsuit against the city.

The department's internal review of the incident began in May after an investigation by the FBI and U.S. attorney's office found no criminal misconduct by the officers. The department said it also cleared Haskel and Clay of wrongdoing in the death "after a thorough investigation and a careful analysis by experienced investigators of all available evidence."

The department said that the inquiry, to determine whether the officers used excessive force or violated other department policies, was conducted by its force investigation team and internal affairs bureau and that the findings were confirmed by the five-member Use of Force Review Board.

"The investigation and forensic evidence supports that there was an exchange of gunfire -- at least three shots were fired at the officers, and the officers returned fire, discharging eight rounds," the department said in an e-mail response to questions yesterday.

Asked about the phrase "the officers returned fire," department spokeswoman Traci Hughes offered a clarification last night. She said it should not be construed to mean that both officers fired. Although police have said in the past that Haskel fired and Clay did not, Hughes said Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier did not want to be specific about that point in yesterday's announcement.

"I stand by the findings of the investigative team and the board," Lanier said in a statement. "I recognize that many lives have been affected. Now that the matter has been closed, it is my sincere hope that the officers involved in the incident, the community and the department will be able to move forward and mend."

In May, Lanier had promised that when the inquiry was finished, "the results will be made public." But when asked yesterday whether the investigative report would be made public, the department responded with a statement saying only that the investigation was complete and that the officers had been cleared of wrongdoing.

Both returned to work after being cleared by the federal investigation in May, the department said.

"We're glad to have them back," Lanier said yesterday on WTOP radio's "Ask the Chief" program.

Gregory Lattimer, the attorney for DeOnté's family in the lawsuit, said a lawyer for the city told him that he will be given a copy of the investigative report soon as part of the evidence-sharing process in the civil case.

"I can't wait" to make it public, he said yesterday. "I'm going to be more than thrilled to talk about this nonsensical report."

Although he had not seen it as of last night, he said: "I know where it's going. And I have a belief that it's going to basically identify the shortcomings, then ignore the shortcomings and determine that [the officers] did what they had to do. "

Kristopher Baumann, chairman of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, the labor union representing D.C. officers, said that although neither officer was cited for wrongdoing in the shooting, Clay "received a reprimand for an administrative, technical violation unrelated to the gunfire." He would not elaborate.

The Washington Examiner reported yesterday that Clay was cited for carrying an improper type of ammunition. But the department said both officers "were carrying department-approved weapons and ammunition."

As for whether Clay was reprimanded for a different violation, the department said it "is not going to discuss recommendations for discipline because it is an internal personnel matter."

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