Lorita Geddie arrived with a tattered binder stuffed with worn autopsy reports and letters to officials: files kept after Geddie's unarmed son, Joseph Cooper Jr., was shot and killed Nov. 11, 1995, by an off-duty D.C. police officer.
The Rev. Franklin Garner Pryor arrived with bad memories: his arm grabbed and his body shoved by police officers in his Petworth neighborhood.
One after another, about 70 victims of alleged police brutality lined up Tuesday night at long tables inside All Souls Church Unitarian in Columbia Heights to share their stories with representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice civil rights division. The testimony will be used in the department's review of District police officers' use of force. A second forum will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. today at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 2458 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE.
"It's going to take time, but at least people are finally beginning to recognize that this is a problem," said Geddie, who brought a poster-size photo of her son to the hearing.
The interviews will be studied for possible patterns of abuse, though some cases may also be investigated individually, said Mark Thompson, of the District branch of the NAACP, which helped organize the sessions.
The Justice Department also is investigating the use of police force in New York City and Los Angeles. But the Washington investigation is at the behest of Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. It is the first time a police chief in any city has called for an investigation of his own department.
Ramsey requested the probe and changed the department's procedures for investigating shootings after an eight-month investigation by The Washington Post revealed excessive police force and after the death in January of a Northwest Washington man whom police said they shot because he lunged at them with a knife.
The number of police shootings has declined this year, according to Ramsey. Ten people were shot by police from January to November, compared with 32 during the same period in 1998.
But questionable police actions still occur, said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who cited the Nov. 23 shooting of Xicara Julio Ceasar Pascual, 29, a Guatemalan immigrant killed by a police officer after he allegedly lunged toward the officer with a broken beer bottle. The incident is still under investigation, police said.
Wilfredo Lima, 18, came to the hearing with his friends from a history seminar at Bell Multicultural High School in Columbia Heights. He wanted to know more about Pascual's death.
"The shooting of the guy from Guatemala got me upset," Lima said. "There are a lot of police officers who are very nice, but there are also ones that are bad."