Questionable Cases Costly
By David Jackson
Three of the shootings resulted in settlements or judgments totaling $6.3 million against the District. The other led to a lawsuit that is pending. These accounts are drawn from police and court records, as well as interviews.
Nov. 30, 1992:
Construction worker Brian Butler stopped to urinate in a Southeast alley, selecting the side wall of a sporting goods store owned in part by Officer Clarence B. Johnson. Johnson, who was off duty, approached and the two men argued. Johnson, who later told police he believed Butler was reaching for a gun, shot Butler once in the chest with his police pistol, seriously wounding him. Butler did not have a gun. He said he was zipping his pants when Johnson grabbed his jacket and fired. For reasons police officials could not explain, the shooting was never examined by the weapon review board, a police spokesman said.
While waiting for the review that would never occur, Johnson began to experience psychological stresses that stemmed from "the lack of support he felt from the police department through the long period of vulnerability," according to a June 1994 medical report, which recommended that he retire on disability. He is currently on paid disability leave, a police spokesman said. Johnson did not return messages.
Butler filed a Superior Court lawsuit, which the District settled in March 1995 by paying $100,000. The District declined to represent Johnson in that civil lawsuit but paid his attorney fees.
Aug. 16, 1994:
At 11:45 a.m., members of the department's Emergency Response Team were summoned to a Southeast apartment where a 31-year-old drug user held his 70-year-old mother hostage at knifepoint.
At Mary Haley's apartment building that day, the ERT officers donned black ballistic vests, kneepads and helmets. One policeman had a shield; another carried a submachine gun. The team had no strategy for capturing or disabling her son Terrence Hicks, Officers John L. Henderson and Daryl K. Stewart testified in a subsequent civil suit.
When they rammed open the door, Hicks clasped his mother with one arm and with the other held a 9 1/2-inch kitchen knife above her chest.
"I yelled, 'Drop the knife,' " Stewart testified. "He said, 'Shoot me.' " Hicks raised the knife and police fired at least 23 rounds, hitting Hicks 13 times and killing him. Twelve of those 13 bullets went from back to front, an autopsy later concluded. Mary Haley suffered bullet wounds to her ear and fingers.
Haley alleged in a Superior Court lawsuit that the officers wrongfully shot her son. She died of unrelated causes before the May 1998 trial, but the jury awarded her estate $6.1 million.
Haley's attorney, Gregory Lattimer, argued that the officers fired "finishing shots" at Hicks while he lay prone beneath his mother's coffee table. Attorneys for the District contended that Hicks continued to pose a threat because he was still moving and could reach the knife.
In his initial statement to homicide investigators, Stewart said Hicks dropped the knife during the melee. Later, he contradicted that account, testifying that Hicks held on to the weapon until the end, court records show. Stewart explained the difference by pointing out that a statement to homicide detectives "doesn't deal in specifics" the way court testimony does. He and Henderson declined to comment.
D.C. attorneys have filed court papers seeking to overturn the verdict.
A few weeks after the trial, about 20 members of the ERT turned in their pagers for eight hours. Their protest was intended to draw attention to what they consider their inadequate training, Detective Frank Tracy, the police union chief, said in an interview. Washington's ERT "used to be the best in the world," Tracy said. "Now they are second-guessing their own readiness. They fear for their own safety."
Dec. 6, 1994:
Officer Julius Dancy was on patrol on Georgia Avenue NW when he saw two men kicking a third man on a sidewalk, according to a statement he later made to police. Dancy said he chased one man, Michael Rutledge, and shoved him against a building. Dancy said that Rutledge grabbed for his police pistol and that the gun went off. One bullet hit Rutledge in the back, and he remains partially paralyzed. Rutledge was unarmed and was not charged with a crime.
Investigations by police and the U.S. attorney's office were not completed until more than three years after the incident. Prosecutors declined to bring charges against Dancy, but police declared the shooting not justified. Dancy resigned from the force in January to avoid being fired, he said in an interview. He denied wrongdoing.
Rutledge has sued the police department, alleging Dancy shot him from several feet away during the chase, not from close range. Attorneys for Rutledge filed court papers saying the department's investigative reports omitted evidence.
Dancy, 38, also complained in an interview about the investigation, saying police failed to talk to some witnesses. He said he felt the department wanted him off the force because he had been in two previous shootings. Whether a shooting is justified can depend "on who is pushing for you and who is pushing against you" within the department, he said. "In my case, it looked more like a railroading than an investigation."
Jan. 14, 1995:
Officer Melvin Key was off duty and driving with his 17-year-old brother when the brother thought he saw a boy holding a gun in a woman's face. Key made a quick U-turn and doubled back on Livingston Road SE. He spotted a young man with what appeared to be a gun. No woman was visible. The off-duty officer jumped out of his Toyota and, with his service weapon drawn, identified himself as a police officer, witness statements show.
When Key ordered him to "drop the gun," the man "just kept looking at me as if he was going to do something," Key said in a police statement. Suddenly, the man raised both arms, Key said. Fearing he was about to be shot, Key fired four times, and the young man crumbled.
Roland Antonio Wells, 21, was carrying a BB gun. Wells had been arrested once, three years earlier, on a misdemeanor assault charge that prosecutors dropped the next day.
Two of Key's bullets struck Wells, one in the right knee and the other in his left abdomen. Wells died of the wounds six months later.
Two boys who were with Wells said in a videotaped deposition that they were standing 15 feet away. Wells had his hands in the air and was beginning to put the gun down when the officer fired, they said. Police did not question the boys until weeks after the shooting, and only after Wells family attorney Joel DuBoff called federal prosecutors and asked, "Why has no one talked to the children?" said DuBoff, a former assistant U.S. attorney.
The incident was never examined by the police weapon review board. It was one of four shootings involving Key in just over a year.
Three years after the shooting, in July 1998, the District settled a lawsuit brought by Wells's father by paying $67,500.
Key declined to comment. "Taking a person's life, that's something that a normal person won't ever experience and a lot of police officers won't experience," Key told The Post. "I don't know if I could ever talk about that again."
He was promoted to sergeant in March 1997.
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