A D.C. Superior Court jury acquitted D.C. police officer Kirk Roache of two felony charges yesterday but could not decide whether the off-duty patrolman committed a crime when he struggled with a panhandler and shot him outside a 7-Eleven.
On two counts of assault, the jury deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of acquitting Roache, who said he was drunk but not belligerent when he tussled with Leslie Isaac in Northwest Washington in July 1997. Prosecutors dropped a separate charge that Roache made false statements to the officers who arrested him.
During three days of deliberations, doubts about sharply conflicting testimony drove the jury's view of events, said one juror. The juror said he and his colleagues had trouble believing the accounts of any of the witnesses, including Roache.
The U.S. attorney's office must decide whether to retry Roache on the two assault charges. Judge Ronna L. Beck scheduled a hearing for Sept. 10. Roache remains on administrative leave from the police department, which he joined in 1989.
"We're very pleased with the verdict. He's very relieved, and he's very thankful," defense attorney W. Louis Hennessy said of his client. "Kirk's a good, decent guy. He believed he was doing the right thing."
Roache told the jury he was trying to arrest Isaac and fellow panhandler Duane Cooper outside a 7-Eleven store on Cedar Street NW when Isaac began to batter him. Fearing for his life, the officer said, he fired a bullet into Isaac's back.
The officer said he had been drinking heavily that Sunday--five hours after the incident, his blood alcohol level was still 0.13 percent. The legal limit for driving at the time was 0.10 percent. But he insisted he was doing the job he was trained to do when he tried to arrest the men.
Isaac and Cooper said, in essence, that Roache overreacted to a panhandler's pitch and then lost control when the two men defied his command not to enter the store. They said they doubted he was a police officer.
A store video shows Roache confronting Cooper, grabbing him at the neck and pointing a gun at his head. Moments later, Roache turned his attention to Isaac, who testified to lunging at the officer and pinning his arms to the asphalt.
Cooper fled. Roache's gun fell to the ground. Isaac stood up. Roache shot him, although Isaac's intentions at that point are in dispute. Isaac said he was headed inside the store to call police. Roache said Isaac was about to take a swing at him.
"The physical evidence in this case refutes every claim the defense has made," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cummings. "Kirk Roache knew what he had done was wrong. He knew he had to try and justify those criminal actions."
Hennessy countered that Roache did what he should have done. First, by trying to arrest Isaac and Cooper, who he said had been bothering a passerby. And second, by using his gun at a time when three D.C. officers had recently been killed.
"Officer Roache took it upon himself to get involved to help someone," Hennessy told the jury, which acquitted Roache of one count of assaulting Cooper and one count of mayhem involving Isaac.