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  •   Fighting Cars With Glock 17s

    Officer John Diehl says he thought "Holy moly!" when a car came toward him at this spot in March 1994. He fired 11 bullets to stop it, wounding two men inside.
    (Rick Bowmer – The Washington Post)
    Standard police procedure, in Washington and elsewhere, calls for officers to avoid approaching suspicious vehicles from the front on foot. Officers also are advised to remain close to their own vehicles, call for reinforcements and use a bullhorn or voice commands to order suspicious drivers to get out of their cars.

    In nearly a dozen cases examined by The Washington Post that involved officers shooting unarmed drivers, those procedures often were not followed, according to police reports, court papers and internal police investigative documents. Here are some of those cases:

    MARCH 23, 1993
    The Cabdriver
    An off-duty D.C. police officer working as a security guard at the Greyhound Bus terminal on First Street NE tried to arrest a cabdriver for failing to display a taxi license. Officer Troy Ray, 24, a three-year member of the force, ran about 35 feet in an effort to block the fleeing taxi driver at the exit ramp of the station parking lot. A police news release said the officer feared for his life and fired one shot into the taxi's windshield as the car drove toward him, then two more into the driver's window after the cab struck him.

    A bullet deflected off the cabdriver's arm into his chest. Adesola Adesina, 34, was pronounced dead later that day. The officer was treated for cuts and bruises and released.

    The U.S. attorney's office declined to prosecute. The department ruled the shooting justified. Ray declined to comment beyond saying, "That was a very tragic time for me."

    APRIL 8, 1993
    The Car in the Alley

    A D.C. officer on foot patrol approached a car parked in an alley behind the 900 block of Shepherd Street NW. When Officer Daniel Hall neared the car, the driver tried to pull away, hitting the officer with the car, according to police.

    Hall fired 14 times, killing the driver and hitting nearby garages, cars and apartment windows, according to newspaper accounts. The dead man, Telulope Awonie, 41, had no criminal record in the District.

    Hall, 27, a three-year member of the force, was put on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation of the shooting. Four years later, the U.S. attorney's office declined to prosecute Hall and sent the case to the department for administrative action, which is still pending. More than five years after the incident, Hall still has not been restored to full duty status. Hall did not respond to messages seeking comment.

    FEB. 26, 1994
    The Chase

    After a high-speed traffic chase that started in Virginia, passed through the District and ended in Prince George's County, five D.C. police cars boxed in a gold Honda in a parking lot at Branch and Southern avenues.

    Two officers, Keith DuBeau and James Sulla, got out of their patrol car and rushed the Honda with their guns drawn, according to police accounts given to Prince George's and District investigators.

    The Honda started moving, ramming cars and scattering the officers. DuBeau fired 18 times, emptying his magazine, as the Honda drove away from him toward other police cars. Sulla fired eight to 10 times at the Honda's rear. Two other officers also fired.

    The Honda was hit by 39 bullets, including 13 into the trunk. The driver was hit five times and killed by a shot in the back, according to the Maryland medical examiner's report. He was Thappanika Ang, a 24-year-old baker from Falls Church and son of a Cambodian immigrant. He had cocaine in his blood, according to the medical examiner's report. Ang had left home after a fight with his family a few days earlier, court documents state.

    Experts consulted by The Post said DuBeau and Sulla used poor tactics by confronting the irrational driver on foot. Police investigators at the time also raised this point, asking the officers why they didn't protect themselves better. "Hindsight is 20-20," DuBeau told investigators.

    The shooting was ruled unjustified by the police department because DuBeau and Sulla fired at the Honda as it drove away, when the threat to them had passed. Sulla said he fired to protect the officers in the Honda's path, even though those officers were in his line of fire.

    Sulla and DuBeau were given five-day suspensions. The city settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Ang's family by paying $10,000 in July 1996.

    Sulla and DuBeau declined to talk to The Post. Their attorney, Robert Deso, said the department's ruling was unfair.

    "These guys were putting their lives on the line," Deso said. "What the hell do you want? They're doing what they're supposed to do. They didn't ask to chase [Ang]. This guy was trying to kill people."

    MARCH 30, 1994
    The Cornered Car

    Officers John Diehl and Kelvin Dyson tried to stop a speeding station wagon that ran a red light at V Street and Bladensburg Road NE, according to police documents.

    The officers followed the vehicle into an alley, where the fleeing car drove through a chain-link fence, turned around and backed up against a brick building with its motor running. After discussing it with his partner – "You want to go?" "No, be my guest" – Diehl told The Post recently, he approached the station wagon on foot. A police report states that the officers moved "towards the front of the station wagon, so that the car's headlights shone upon the officers."

    The driver "floored the accelerator and drove at the officers," the report states. The officers fired 28 times, according to a firearms discharge report obtained by The Post. The driver, Samuel Bynum, who had a long criminal record, was shot in both hands; a passenger was grazed on the head and shoulder. Both recovered.

    The shooting was ruled justified.

    Experts consulted by The Post said the officers put themselves in jeopardy by walking in front of a car they knew was trying to flee.

    But Claude Beheler, a retired deputy chief who was at the scene of the shooting that night, said the officers could not have arrested the suspects without approaching their car on foot.

    "You've got him backed up in a corner," Beheler told The Post. "You can't get on the PA system and tell him to get out and get in the back of your car and surrender. It's a physical situation. You've got to go out and get the guy."

    Dyson declined to comment. Diehl said in an interview that he fired 11 times because he felt his life was threatened, but that "if I knew I was going to be involved in a shooting, I don't think we ever would have chased that car."

    MARCH 21, 1996
    The Mystery Gun

    Directed by a helicopter, police officers chased a station wagon that drove away from the scene of a shooting in Southeast Washington. A newspaper article at the time cited police as saying, "Shots were fired at the pursuing police cars as they raced down the avenue, and the driver of the station wagon rammed one of the squad cars."

    The chase ended when four officers on foot shot and killed Edward Thomas, 20. Police said in a news release that Thomas "swerved toward them" near Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Fourth Street SE.

    The officers fired 46 times, according to investigative reports. No gun was found inside Thomas's car, and no evidence subsequently emerged that he had fired at police as they chased him, according to the reports. When police searched the area where the shots from Thomas's vehicle supposedly were fired, they found only a shell casing belonging to Franklin Porter, one of the officers who shot and killed Thomas in the confrontation several blocks away, the reports state.

    The U.S. attorney's office declined to prosecute any of the officers. Porter was cited by the department for making false statements about the shooting and received a 10-day suspension, a police spokesman said.

    Thomas had a history of gun charges and was wanted at the time of his death. Thomas's mother filed suit after the shooting, claiming that her son was "in a stationary vehicle" when he was shot. The suit is pending.

    Porter said through a police spokesman he could not respond because of the litigation.

    MARCH 18, 1997
    The Undercover Stop

    Two D.C. officers working undercover in an unmarked vehicle saw the driver of a car with Virginia tags exchange money for "several unknown objects" with a person in an apartment building on Martin Luther King Avenue SW, according to police documents.

    When the car started to drive off, Officers Michael Baker and Joseph Gingrich left their car and approached on foot, yelling "police!" and showing their badges, the documents state. The officers said they fired when the driver drove toward them.

    A D.C. police firearms discharge report shows that the officers fired at least 17 times. A ruling on the shooting is still pending from the department. The driver, Mark Stephen Farmer, of Lorton, was hit in the right leg, left arm and forehead. He was taken to D.C. General Hospital for treatment. The officers said they recovered three small bags of white powder, "believed to be illegal narcotics," from Farmer's car, but no weapon.

    Farmer, 42, who had drug possession convictions in the 1980s and early 1990s, was charged with assault on a police officer while armed with a car. No drug charges were filed against him, and two weeks later, the assault charge was dropped.

    Farmer sued the District this year, alleging excessive force in the shooting. Officers Gingrich and Baker, who was away on military leave, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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