D.C. police officer Kirk Roache was off duty and drunk when he pulled one panhandler from a Northwest Washington convenience store and shot another during a scuffle in July 1997, a District prosecutor told a D.C. Superior Court jury yesterday.
On the contrary, countered defense attorney William Hennessy, Roache may have been drinking and on his way to the movies with his girlfriend, but he acted responsibly when he collared the two men outside a 7-Eleven on Cedar Street NW.
Hennessy predicted that jurors would acquit Roache of five felony charges, including assault with a deadly weapon. After the evidence is in, he told them, a question will linger for the rest of their lives: "Why would anybody want to be a Metropolitan Police officer?"
Roache, on leave from the police department, is facing two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, two counts of aggravated assault while armed and one count of lying to police officers who interviewed him after the incident.
Duane Cooper, the first witness to testify, told jurors that he routinely collected $30 to $60 in a two- to four-hour shift as a polite panhandler. His style was to ask shoppers on the way in whether they might give him some change on the way out.
"It's nothing that I feel proud of," Cooper, 38, testified. But he said he would rather ask than steal. So cordial were things that he and his friend Leslie Isaac took turns asking for spare change.
About 9 p.m. on July 13, 1997, the two men were working the 7-Eleven, as they did when customers were most likely to be plentiful and generous.
Roache, dressed in T-shirt and shorts, approached. Cooper asked for money. Roache told him to move on.
"It was a thug-type voice. I thought he was a regular street guy," Cooper told jurors. "Next thing, he said: 'I'm a cop. You all have to go.' I said, 'Well, that's all you had to say.' "
Cooper told Roache he would leave after buying himself dinner. Roache, he said, told him he couldn't enter the store. Cooper went inside the 7-Eleven anyway. Roache called from inside the store for uniformed police officers.
"I just wanted to go in and get myself a half-smoke, spicy," Cooper said. "I have a right to go in the store. It's a free country."
A store video played for the jury showed Roache preceding Cooper and Isaac into the store, then leaving the store ahead of them. As Cooper departed, Roache grabbed him by the neck, yanked him out of the store and pointed a gun at his head.
"I was thinking about my life getting taken. I was wondering what I did wrong," Cooper testified. "If he would've said, 'You're under arrest,' I would've stopped and let him cuff me. He seemed kind of out of control."
The video then shows Isaac walking out of the store and Roache grabbing him and pointing the gun at him. Cooper walked away and didn't look back as Roache struggled with Isaac, who has not yet testified.
"He was confronted by an angry stranger, who had attacked him at gunpoint and who reeked of alcohol," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Feitel told the jury. "He didn't think he had committed a crime, no one had told him he was under arrest and Kirk Roache wasn't acting like any police officer he'd ever seen in his life."
During the struggle, Roache lost his gun, grabbed it and shot Isaac needlessly, Feitel said. Hennessy, former head of the D.C. police homicide division, said that Isaac threatened Roache and that the officer was obligated to arrest him, even though Roache had been drinking.
"There's no exception if he's .13," Hennessy said, referring to one estimate of Roache's blood alcohol level, which had been 0.10 five hours after the shooting. "He still has to do it."