For years, D.C. Council member Jim Graham has crusaded on behalf of residents who came to him with often-convoluted tales about clashes with police officers over insults that turned into assaults. Now Graham himself has become one of those stories, after a shouting match with a driver ended with a friend of Graham's being locked up on a misdemeanor assault charge.
Police officials are investigating their handling of the incident Sunday night in Adams Morgan after Graham (D-Ward 1) filed a complaint accusing them of poor police work. "It is time to realize how fundamental and endemic the problems are in our police department," he said.
The incident began about 9 p.m., when Graham and his friend George Lejano were walking to their parked car after a movie and were nearly run down by a speeding, white Cadillac at 19th Street and Sunderland Place NW, Graham said.
Graham motioned for the driver to slow down, he said. When the driver maintained his pace and even seemed to try to clip the two as he passed, Lejano said he slapped the car with an open palm as it skimmed past him.
"The driver swung open his door -- my first thought was: 'This guy is big, what have I done?' " Lejano said.
The driver left his car and lurched toward Graham, who said he was frightened and tried to defend himself with his position as an elected official. "I'm a city council member! I'm a city council member!" he said he told the driver. He then ran to his car and pointed out his special-issue plates.
The man kept coming at Graham and told him he didn't care who he was, Graham said. When Lejano heard Graham say 'What are you going to do? Hit me?' he jumped between the two men and tried to stop the confrontation, he said.
The man and Lejano fell to the ground and struggled as Graham looked on. Lejano said he "defended [himself] with true vigor," though his eyeglasses broke. The driver, whom police would not identify because he was not arrested, had a split lip and was taken to George Washington University Medical Center for treatment and later was released, police said.
When police arrived, they asked Lejano for his name and address, but didn't ask him about the fight, he said.
Graham said he was never questioned and Lejano was taken away in handcuffs to the hospital so he could be examined for bruises.
The police report on the incident states that two men were arguing and that Lejano stepped in between them and punched one in the face twice, knocking him to the ground.
Lejano was charged with simple assault. He is to appear in court Jan. 30.
Graham said yesterday he is angry that police never asked him what happened, that Lejano was not asked to explain the incident and that the other man was not arrested. A police official close to the investigation said the case was handled professionally.