Shootings Have Upped Tension in the '90s
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 15, 1998; Page A27 An early indication that D.C. police had entered a new era of gunplay came in February 1991, when seven officers from the 5th District fired a total of 55 rounds in a foot chase with a man suspected of stealing a car.
One officer thought Rex Alan Anderson had a gun. The officer fired once, and six others joined in. Anderson was wounded. No weapon was recovered from him, and investigators concluded that only a few of the shots could be justified, according to investigative reports. All seven shooters were young officers appointed to the force in 1989 or 1990.
Prosecutors declined to charge Anderson with a crime. He sued, and the District settled in 1995 by paying him $100,000 without admitting wrongdoing.
As police shootings increased in the early 1990s, officers were increasingly the target of gunfire themselves. In 1992, when D.C. police stepped up undercover street operations against drug dealers, two officers were shot on the same day.
"The whole environment of guns and violence changed so drastically," said Isaac Fulwood Jr., who retired as police chief in 1992. "A police officer is like anyone. I would rather go to the grand jury and defend myself than to be planted in one of them pine boxes."
In 1993, fatal police shootings of civilians doubled to 14 over the previous year. At the end of the year, a drug dealer stood over Officer Jason E. White and shot him in the face. It was the beginning of a blood tide.
In November 1994, a gunman walked into police headquarters and shot and killed Sgt. Henry J. "Hank" Daly and two FBI agents. "The shooting at police headquarters rattled people," said William L. Hennessy, a retired D.C. police captain. "It sent a message." The next year, a "cop stalker" began randomly shooting police officers in the District and surrounding areas. He wounded two D.C. officers before committing suicide.
In October 1995, Officer Scot S. Lewis was shot and killed by a man in the presence of his partner, Officer Keith DeVille, who then shot and killed the gunman. Then, in early 1997, three officers were shot and killed in quick succession. The first, Officer Brian T. Gibson, was shot on duty while he sat in his cruiser at a traffic light outside a nightclub on Georgia Avenue NW.
Gibson's memory weighs on the minds of Washington officers. In the 4th District police station, a small wooden plaque bears a silvery photograph of the square-jawed officer and a replica of his polished badge.
"That plaque hanging on the wall tells us that you can't sit at a traffic light and feel comfortable," said Sgt. John D. Pollock as he drove through the 4th District on a recent rainy Tuesday night.
Hennessy said the tension pushes police to the limit and sometimes beyond. "There are probably more questionable shootings," he said. "Stress wears you down. It fatigues you. You get tired from being in a heightened state of readiness."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company