The Washington taxi driver who unknowingly chauffered alleged police-killer Bruce Wazon Griffith just before Griffith was slain in a shootout with the police has been charged with several crimes stemming from his chance encounter.
The driver, Charles Edward Allen III, a 37-year-old janitor who lives in Takoma Park, faces up to two years in jail and fines totaling $2,400 if convicted of having an unregistered handgun and marijuana in his cab that day.
Prosecutors charged Allen with four misdemeanors on Wednesday despite a personal plea from one of the detectives who arrested Allen and praised his cooperation with investigators.
Homicide detective Robert Chaney said that charging Allen was one of "the hardest things I've ever done. He really helped us."
The U.S. attorney's office said yesterday that all cases involving illegal possession of handguns are prosecuted with "virtually no exception." A hearing on the charges was set for April 1 in D.C. Superior Court.
In the Feb. 14 shootout at First and W streets NW, Allen sprang from the taxi only seconds before Griffith and three police officers exchanged shots. Moments later, afraid police might think he was a confederate of Griffith, Allen volunteered the information that a Saturday-night special .22-caliber handgun in the car belonged to him before officers searching the cab found it.
"I had a pistol under the floor mat," Allen said in a recent interview. "I didn't want them to think I was with him. I'm only a cab driver."
The charges are just so much more bad luck for Allen, whose cab is now a riddled hulk of evidence rusting in the basement of police headquarters. Its windows are shot out, lights are shattered and a fender is dented.Pieces of the cab have been stripped away by police evidence technicians.
The day of the shooting, Allen stripped off his coat and dropped it -- to show police he wasn't armed. Someone in the crowd stole $17 from the coat.
Allen also lost a half day's pay from his janitor's job when he went to police headquarters to give his story instead of going back to work at the Barnard Elementary School in Northeast Washington.
If he is convicted of any charges, he could lose his cab driver's license.
A partly disabled veteran of the Vietnam War, Allen has yet to begin the long bureaucratic process of getting compensated for his cab or having it repaired.
Allen has to write a letter to Mayor Marion Barry, who has to send it to the corporation counsel's office. That office has a backlog of more than 600 cases of persons wanting the city to reimburse them for something.
The corporation counsel's office indicated last week that Allen may not get anything because the police apparently were not negligent.
Allen, the father of three, has never been arrested before. He said he used the cab to make ends meet. His janitor's job pays $12,500 a year and he lives in a federally subsidized high-rise apartment. His wife works as a domestic.