'Come On, Sarge, Help Me Out' Continued from Page 3
The driver "gunned the engine and took off at a high rate of speed, driving directly at an officer who was surrounding the vehicle," a police report said. Askew fired once "in an effort to stop the assault" on Middleton, the report said. The driver, Sutoria Moore, 19, was hit in the back of the neck. He was taken to D.C. General Hospital and pronounced dead at 3:29 a.m.
The police report was a series of lies: Middleton had not been standing in front of the car. The unarmed driver had not tried to run him down. And Askew had not fired to protect Middleton.
Prosecutors soon found themselves confronted by a coverup that used a "vehicular attack" story to conceal an unjustified shooting. Suspicions were raised because the officers' accounts conflicted with the physical evidence. Askew acknowledged to a prosecutor in early 1995 that his gun went off accidentally when he pushed himself away from the car body as Moore suddenly revved the engine. He later said his conscience had been bothering him.
"I knew in my heart that the truth had to come out," Askew said in a civil deposition.
Askew said Middleton suggested the vehicular attack story while they were sitting alone in Middleton's police cruiser minutes after the shooting. Askew said he was in shock at the time and "had the mind of a child. I believe Sergeant Middleton took advantage of that situation."
Middleton, in his civil deposition, said it was Askew who concocted the story. Middleton said that Gregory Archer, the first homicide detective on the scene, questioned Askew in Middleton's patrol car while Middleton sat in the front seat, a violation of the department's requirement that officers involved in shootings be separated during the investigation. Archer said in an interview that he did not recall whether he placed the officers in the same car.
As Archer interrogated him, Askew told the vehicle attack story and appealed for Middleton's support, saying, "Come on, Sarge, help me out," according to Middleton's account.
Middleton also discounted Askew's subsequent version that the gun discharged unintentionally. "He had to have fired the gun on purpose," Middleton said. "But his reason for it, I don't know."
Exactly three years after the fatal shooting, Askew pleaded guilty to lying about it. A Marine Corps veteran with 24 years on the D.C. force, Askew, 51, was sentenced to two years' probation and a $5,000 fine on the misdemeanor charge. Askew did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Three days later, Middleton, 47, also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for saying that he had been in front of Moore's car during the shooting when he actually had been on the driver's side. He got a six-month sentence, with all but 15 days suspended. Like Askew, he is no longer on the force.
Middleton said in an interview he had never worked with Askew before and had no reason to lie for him.
"I felt like he thought he saved my life, so I kind of put myself in a position that I wasn't really in," Middleton said.
"I was in for 27 years [on the police force]. I was out there making traffic stops, arresting people, writing tickets. I always felt that when I got my paycheck, I wanted to earn it," Middleton said. "You'd be surprised the heartache I had behind this death. It really hurt. It really, really hurt."
The car Sutoria Moore was driving turned out to have been stolen in a carjacking three days before the shooting, but Askew and Middleton did not know that when they made the traffic stop. Moore had only one charge on his police record, a traffic citation for driving without a permit when he was 16.
After Moore's death, his mother sued. The District settled the case last summer by paying her $375,000.
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