Grand Jury Subpoenas Amateur Video Taken After Man Shot by Park Police in D.C.
Friday, August 7, 2009
A federal grand jury has subpoenaed an amateur video that shows confusion and screaming in the moments after U.S. Park Police fatally shot a man in the District's Trinidad neighborhood, as an investigation continues into the shooting death of Trey Joyner.
Will Jones, a Trinidad resident who filmed the scene on his camera phone after the shooting of Joyner, 25, said he testified Thursday before the grand jury in U.S. District Court. He testified for about an hour, he said.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, and officials with the FBI and U.S. attorney's office declined to comment. But the subpoena for the video and the man who shot it underscores how aggressively authorities are pursuing their inquiry into the June 8 shooting by U.S. Park Police officers, an incident that has roiled the Northeast Washington neighborhood because of conflicting accounts about what happened.
The video does not show the shooting itself, so it is unclear how it might help the grand jury decide whether the officers used appropriate force, said Wayne Schmidt, a lawyer and executive director of Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, a Chicago-based nonprofit that offers public education seminars on lethal force.
But Schmidt, who has not seen the footage, said authorities could use it to gain a greater understanding of what happened.
"You gather evidence before a grand jury because you don't know what might be critical," Schmidt said. "It may have no utility in this case; it may have quite a bit of utility. It might point out inconsistencies between what the officers say and what happened."
The video, which was obtained by The Washington Post, consists of two clips taken immediately after the 8:30 p.m. shooting and about five minutes apart. The first clip, which lasts 5 minutes 41 seconds, shows four officers in plainclothes wearing bulletproof vests and clutching guns, pacing the sidewalk as neighbors shout, "Why did they kill that boy?" and "They shot that man in the back!"
At one point, a man with long dreadlocks wearing a white T-shirt and jeans crosses the street to confront the officers, and an officer sprays him in the face with what appears to be pepper spray. A woman shrieks. The federal officers remain on the sidewalk close to Joyner's body. D.C. police arrive several minutes later and move the crowd of bystanders back. In the second clip, which lasts 44 seconds, the crowd is still shouting, and an ambulance is visible.
Regardless of whether the video is of value to the investigation, it reflects the growing national trend of private citizens using personal technology to monitor police conduct at the height of tense situations. Onlookers in Oakland, Calif., videotaped the New Year's Day fatal shooting of a 22-year-old man by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer. The images prompted an investigation, and a judged ruled recently that the officer will be tried in the slaying. Web sites such as CopWatch encourage people to videotape police conduct, and Video Vigilante, as a New York City man calls himself, videotapes illegally parked government cars and police on the job and posts the results on YouTube.
The Trinidad shooting occurred after U.S. Park Police received a tip that Joyner had a gun and then followed him by car into the neighborhood, Park Police have said. When they tried to arrest him in an alley, a struggle ensued and he was shot; a gun was found at the scene, according to Park Police. But some witnesses have said that police did not announce themselves and that they shot Joyner in the back.
Six Park Police officers were initially placed on paid administrative leave, and department spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser said two have returned to work. Other than that statement, Park Police have not responded to numerous requests for comment.
Park Police said detectives were following up on the gun tip as part of Safe Streets, an 11-member FBI-led task force composed of officers from the D.C. police, Park Police and the FBI. But weeks later, U.S. Park Police Chief Salvatore Lauro told residents at a community meeting that two of the officers involved in the shooting were part of the Safe Streets detail but were not on a task force assignment at the time. At the same meeting, Joseph Persichini Jr., head of the FBI's Washington field office, said his agents would lead the investigation into the shooting, taking over from D.C. police.