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  District Police to Reexamine 1995 Shooting

By Jeff Leen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 27, 1998; Page B01

After discovering shortcomings in their original internal investigations, D.C. police officials have decided to reexamine the actions of three officers who fired repeatedly at a car driven by an unarmed 15-year-old boy.

The action came after questions were raised about the case by Washington Post reporters researching a recent series on police shooting incidents in the District. The 1995 incident involving the juvenile had been investigated by 5th District police officials and ruled justified.

Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer, second-in-command to Chief Charles H. Ramsey, said the 1995 case has been referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility, the department's internal affairs arm.

"I have concluded that the investigative report is confusing and incomplete," Gainer said. "This conclusion, however, does not imply wrongdoing on the part of the involved officers."

In November 1995, three officers in Northeast Washington fired repeatedly at a Toyota Land Cruiser driven by Christopher Worthy, then 15. The officers said they started shooting because a passenger in the Land Cruiser shot at them after Worthy crashed the vehicle after a chase. They said they fired 15 times during the incident before the armed passenger escaped on foot. Police recovered no weapons at the scene.

Worthy, however, told an insurance investigator he was alone in the vehicle. He said police began firing at him during a mile-long chase through a residential neighborhood then continued shooting when the vehicle crashed. Worthy also said he was unarmed. He was arrested and charged with several crimes, including armed assault on an officer, but the charges were dropped two days later.

The Post came across Worthy's case while reviewing more than 70 shootings involving D.C. officers. A November series of articles disclosed that the District had the highest rate of police shootings per resident of any large U.S. city in the 1990s. It also revealed what experts and police officials called a troubling pattern of officers shooting into cars in violation of regulations. The series also reported that some internal investigations of police shootings were flawed.

Worthy filed a lawsuit accusing police of firing at him in a near-tragic case of mistaken identity but dropped it last year, leaving open the possibility of refiling it later. Worthy, now 18, could not be reached for comment. His mother said he works in South Carolina.

As they do in all shooting incidents, police responded to the Worthy incident with an internal investigation of the officers' use of force. As is customary, the case was not supervised by the U.S. attorney's office, which investigates officer shootings only if civilians are killed or questions are raised.

In Worthy's case, investigators took short statements from the officers the night of the incident and questioned them briefly a few weeks later. The officers' statements appeared consistent.

But at the scene where the officers said they had fired 15 times, an evidence technician recovered only six bullet shell casings. Officials said there is no indication in the case file that investigators probed deeper into the missing casings or Worthy's contention that the shooting started earlier than the officers said.

The police investigation took seven weeks. On Jan. 31, 1996, the department's Use of Service Weapon Review Board ruled the shooting justified.

"It was justified," Robbie Dykes, one of the officers, said recently. "I came back to work the next day."

Ramon Clark and William Croson, the other officers who fired, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Neither did the supervisors who conducted the investigation. Sgt. Joe Gentile, a police spokesman, said the officers could not discuss the case because it involved a juvenile and pending civil litigation.

The following account of the incident is based on court records, police reports, insurance documents and an account Worthy gave to an insurance adjustor to back up a $9,980.98 damage claim on the vehicle.

At 8:20 p.m. on Nov. 11, 1995, Worthy, who had no driver's license, said he borrowed a car to drive down the block to a birthday party at a friend's house so he wouldn't get wet in the rain.

The vehicle he took was a 1992 Toyota Land Cruiser parked outside the family's home in the 1400 block of Holbrook Street NE in the District's Trinidad section. It belonged to a BMW dealership where Worthy's 68-year-old father, James Worthy, had worked for 25 years. Worthy said he sneaked into his father's bedroom and took the keys.

Christopher Worthy said he left the party on Neal Street a few hours later and was driving home alone when he noticed a police car following him near his house, and he circled the block trying to lose it.

At 16th and Levis streets "something went pow!" Worthy said, "and I looked in the little side mirror. There was a police officer standing out there pointing his weapon at the truck."

Worthy said that when an officer shot through his back window, he panicked and led police on a chase at speeds up to 110 mph.

In their statements to internal police investigators, the officers said they were responding to a 9:18 p.m. radio call alerting them to investigate a man with a gun in a gray Toyota Land Cruiser at Neal Street and Bladensburg Road. Dykes and Croson said they pulled up behind a gray Land Cruiser at Levis and 16th streets and assumed the driver was armed.

The officers said they chased the vehicle until it crashed at 17th and Gales streets several blocks away. Clark pulled up in another patrol car.

All three officers later gave investigators the same account: Two men jumped from the Land Cruiser's passenger side and one started shooting at Dykes, who had left his patrol car with gun drawn. Dykes covered the vehicle's passenger side.

The officers said the passengers ran down an alley and were not pursued.

Dykes said he fired seven times, and a police firearm discharge report said he fired from 15 feet away from the Land Cruiser.

Croson, who was on the other side of the patrol car, said he fired twice, also at close range.

Clark, who had parked a few feet away on the driver's side of Dykes and Croson, said he fired six times after seeing the passenger shoot at Dykes.

Photographs of the pattern of bullet holes on the Land Cruiser show that most of the bullet damage is on the vehicle's driver side, not the passenger side where the officers said the gun battle occurred.

The internal investigation began the night of the shooting. Based on the officers' statements, an evidence technician searched for the spent shell casings – considered critical evidence in a shooting case.

The officers fired semiautomatic pistols, which eject casings that normally would be found at the shooting location.

But the technician found only six casings from the police guns, all recovered from the area where Clark said he fired six times. No casings were recovered from the areas where Dykes and Croson said they fired shots. And there was no evidence of any shots fired by the alleged passenger.

Dykes said the missing casings could have been lost in what he said was heavy snow.

But in the police report that night, under weather conditions the reporting officer checked the box for "rain" and left the box for "snow" blank. The National Climatic Data Center shows two-tenths of an inch of snow and a total of 1.15 inches of precipitation on that day in Washington. The snowfall did not leave an observable trace the next morning.

No one was hit, according to the officers, but Worthy said he was treated at D.C. General Hospital. His mother and father said recently that their son was grazed in the right shoulder. The police report does not mention a trip to the hospital.

Worthy was arrested as a juvenile on charges of armed assault on a police officer, reckless driving, leaving an accident scene and having no D.C. driver's license. He was held for an initial hearing in juvenile court Monday, Nov. 13, 1995, two days after the shooting.

But the case was never "papered" – Worthy was never formally charged. No police officers attended the hearing, Worthy's father said.

A spokesman for the District's Corporation Counsel, which handles juvenile cases, said the office could not discuss the case because it involved a minor.

Dykes recently said he was never assigned to go to court on the case, and he does not know why.

"If you ever find out, I'd like to know myself what happened," said Dykes, who resigned from the force in October 1997 for reasons unrelated to the Worthy shooting and now works as a security guard in Maryland.

Staff writer David Jackson and researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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