'I Felt I Had to Fire'
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The 1995 shooting of a black plainclothes detective by a white uniformed officer stirred racial tensions within the force. Rank-and-file officers demanded information at roll calls. From within the ranks and outside, the department's ability to investigate a police shooting came under scrutiny.
Plainclothes Detective Lani Jackson-Pinkney was shot in the back and severely wounded by a fellow officer who mistook her for a robber as she stopped a carjacking in a heavy rain.
The patrolman who shot her, 5th District Officer Robbie Sean Dykes, resigned from the force in October 1997 because he felt the shooting investigation contained errors and misstatements. Dykes said in an interview that the errors rattled his confidence in the department and made him feel he would be in legal peril should he use his gun again.
Jackson-Pinkney has filed a Superior Court lawsuit alleging that department-wide training failures led to the shooting and put officers at risk. The District has denied her allegations, and Dykes has filed court papers saying his training and conduct during the incident were proper.
At 1:15 p.m. Dec. 19, 1995, Detectives Jackson-Pinkney and LaJuan Lynch were on their lunch break at the D.C. Farmer's Market when someone reported that two men had forced a video salesman into his van at gunpoint.
The detectives radioed for backup, then broke up the carjacking. One robber fled with Lynch in pursuit while Jackson-Pinkney forced the other to the ground. She was standing over him with her pistol drawn when Dykes ran up.
As the crowd parted, Dykes saw the back of a person in a bulky winter coat pointing a gun at a man seated on the sidewalk. He figured the seated man was a crime victim about to get shot.
"I said, 'Police!' " Dykes would later testify. When the person holding the gun did not respond, "I felt I had to fire."
Struck in the back by two bullets, Jackson-Pinkney collapsed on the pavement and looked up at her assailant.
"Dykes," she said, "I'm pregnant."
Jackson-Pinkney gave birth to a healthy daughter four months later, but she remains partly paralyzed and unable to work.
Lt. Rodney T. Parks sent top officials a four-page report the day of the shooting, summarizing the statements of several witnesses, including a bystander who said he heard Dykes yell, "Police, drop the weapon," before he fired.
Ten months later, in October 1996, when homicide branch detectives forwarded the final investigative packet to the U.S. attorney's office for review, that witness statement and several others could not be located and were not included in the packet, a report by 5th District Lt. Melvin E. Gresham said.
"Attempts to obtain these statements from the homicide branch were unsuccessful," and the witnesses could not be found, Gresham wrote. Without the statements, no witness corroborated Dykes's account that he warned Jackson-Pinkney before shooting. It was for that reason the department declared the shooting not justified, a police spokesman said.
Police reports differ in their accounts of the numbers of bullets fired. Two bullets hit Jackson-Pinkney, while carjacker Gregory Gary took a bullet in his left shoulder and a bystander was struck in the knee. Gresham's February 1997 report stated that Dykes fired all four shots.
But other police reports show only three bullets at most were missing from Dykes's gun. Jackson-Pinkney's gun was two rounds short of its capacity, an evidence report shows, raising the possibility that she also fired although she said she didn't. It is not clear from police reports whether Lynch fired. Her gun was not confiscated at the scene as required by police regulations, but was turned over later to fellow officers who discussed the shooting with her before she made her official statement, a police report shows. Lynch said her gun jammed when she tried to fire it.
From a hospital room two days after the shooting, Jackson-Pinkney gave her statement to two detectives from her own 5th District, as well as a homicide branch investigator.
Jackson-Pinkney's partners took a close interest in her answers, police reports show. When Jackson-Pinkney stated that she was tussling with Gary for "three to five minutes" before Dykes arrived, for example, Detective James O. Johnson asked, "Was it actually that long? . . . I'm not trying to change your time, I'm just trying to say, think about three to five minutes is a long time. Think about that again."
Dykes, by contrast, was asked to give only a cursory statement on the day of the shooting, and that statement's lack of detail would be used to attack his credibility during the July 1997 deposition he gave in Jackson-Pinkney's lawsuit against him and the District.
Last March, five months after he resigned and more than two years after the shooting, police officials ruled that Dykes's use of his gun was not justified.
Dykes now works as a Maryland school security officer. As the pending lawsuit swirled around them, Dykes and Jackson-Pinkney reconciled in telephone conversations and at a meeting in her Prince George's County church. She has forgiven him.
Staff writers Jeff Leen and Sari Horwitz, computer-assisted reporting director Ira Chinoy and database specialist Jo Craven contributed to this report.
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