'Unable to Escape ... the Car' Continued from Page 7
At 8:01 p.m. on June 10, 1996, the 6th District vice unit interrupted an alleged drug deal in the 5500 block of B Street SE. The brief police report written that night said officers saw one man give another what appeared to be drugs; both men were arrested and taken to the 6th District station for processing. The report also noted that one of the men, while trying to escape, "aimed his vehicle in the direction of the police officers."
Left out of the report was the fact that Lt. Elliott Gibson, the supervisor on the scene, shot the driver, James Theodore Willis, in the face. Willis was taken to D.C. General Hospital and later recovered.
Willis, a 38-year-old department store receiving clerk who had a history of petty drug crimes, was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and assault on a police officer for allegedly using his 1990 Buick in a vehicular attack.
Officer Anthony McGee signed the police report. Gibson signed as the supervisor.
McGee gave prosecutors a more detailed sworn statement on June 11, 1996, the day after the shooting, so they could formally charge Willis. McGee noted that 12 crack rocks were found in the car and six more in Willis's hand. Of the shooting, McGee simply wrote: "While Willis was driving on the sidewalk towards a group of children, a police officer shot Willis."
The next day, McGee altered that account in a written statement to investigators probing the shooting. This time, he made no mention of children. His statement indicated that he didn't even see the shooting. "I then heard one gun shot and looked back and observed that Gibson had his weapon out," McGee said.
Investigators never asked McGee to resolve the conflict between his two versions of the shooting, according to the department's final investigative report on the incident.
McGee's second statement may have differed with his earlier sworn statement, but it did not contradict Gibson's: He told investigators he fired because the car was coming toward him and he was trapped on the sidewalk by a four-foot wall.
"Unable to escape the path of the moving car, Lt. Gibson fired one round from his service [weapon] through the front windshield of the car," police documents filed in Superior Court note.
But another officer on the scene, Carol Queen, contradicted Gibson. She said in a statement to investigators that the car was not moving when Gibson fired. Queen also said two officers were standing atop the four-foot wall that Gibson said had trapped him.
In addition to McGee, three other officers at the scene told investigators they had heard but had not seen the shot. Among the five officers who said they had seen the shooting, three said the car had started to move forward, one said it had moved "slightly forward" and one said it came "directly at Lt. Gibson." Gibson said in his written statement to investigators that he fired from six feet away and that the car stopped six feet from him, an indication that the car had little forward momentum.
Gibson was ruled justified by police investigators and later was promoted to captain. Gibson and McGee did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Willis sued the District for assault and negligence, claiming he was shot while "sitting in his stationary vehicle."
On Dec. 8, 1997, Willis appeared in court before Judge Mildred Edwards on the criminal charge.
Willis's criminal defense attorney, Mark Rochon, said the police story changed "180 degrees" dropping the original justification of shooting to protect children because that version would have gotten Gibson in trouble with internal investigators for endangering the children with his gunfire.
Rochon said that if Gibson had "fired his gun and there were kids behind the car, he wouldn't be keeping his job, he wouldn't be a captain now. He would be a sergeant."
The next day, after negotiations with the government, Willis struck a plea bargain. In exchange for his guilty plea to lesser charges of cocaine possession and assault on a police officer without the dangerous weapon component Willis was sentenced to unsupervised probation. He walked out of court a free man.
The next day, Willis dropped his civil suit against the department.
Staff writers David Jackson and Sari Horwitz, database specialist Jo Craven, researcher Alice Crites and Metro Research Director Margot Williams contributed to this report.
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