A D.C. police officer has been placed on desk duty while the department investigates complaints that he responded slowly after a man was shot to death Tuesday just yards from the cruiser where the officer sat with a civilian employee of the department.
A witness said the officer didn't get out of his car until more than a minute after Michael Taylor was shot at First and R streets NW.
The officer, who is assigned to the central cellblock and has no patrol responsibilities in the area, told investigators he was delayed because he tried to summon help on his radio and cellular phone, a police source said. Police department policy requires officers to act immediately if they encounter a crime in progress, but they also are instructed to ask for backup and medical assistance.
"The issue is, one, what was he doing up there in the first place, and two . . . whether he took immediate action" after the shooting, Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said.
Ramsey would not identify the officer, citing department confidentiality rules. He said investigators think that the officer did not see the shooting happen, but that he was the first to report the shots.
Taylor was shot several times as he stood at the corner at 7:40 p.m. Police said that the man who killed Taylor was wearing a dark-colored sweat shirt, and that he fled on foot south toward Florida Avenue NW. Taylor, 22, was pronounced dead at Washington Hospital Center. Authorities have not released a motive.
Kevin Whitmon, Taylor's cousin, said Thursday that shortly before the shooting, he walked past the parked police cruiser on First Street. When Whitmon, who was not with Taylor, heard the shots from inside a Big Bear Market, he ran outside, discovered his cousin had been shot and began yelling for help, he said.
"He just stayed in the car . . . " Whitmon said of the officer. "And I'm out in the middle of the street hollering."
He said the officer exited the car more than a minute later, and seemed to walk unhurriedly to the corner while talking on a cellular phone. "He walked, and I mean, he walked slowly," Whitmon said.
The officer is a department veteran of about 30 years, police said. No action has been taken against the civilian employee, whose name police declined to release.
Although officers are required to respond immediately to a crime, they also are instructed to report the crime over their radio and call for backup before acting on their own, police spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile said.
About 50 of Taylor's relatives and neighbors gathered Thursday night for a candlelight vigil on the corner where he was killed. Homicide and internal-affairs detectives stood nearby, hoping to find witnesses.
The corner has become a memorial. Stuffed animals are stacked to the top of a "no parking" sign, and messages of love are spray-painted on the sidewalk, not far from where splotches of Taylor's blood remain.
"Anybody thinks we got a war in Iraq? We got a war here," said Larry Scott, 51, Taylor's uncle.
Amber Barbour, Taylor's mother, told the crowd her son was shot twice in the heart, once in the neck and once in the stomach, and "the rest in his chest." She told the gathering that anyone who might know something about the shooting should come forward.
"You don't want to get involved? You will be involved when it happens to you," she said. "So you're already involved."
During the vigil, anger at the police and complaints about the officer's response bubbled up occasionally.
Friends of Taylor's, though, said they wanted to focus on him. They described him as respectful, someone who said "sir" and "ma'am." They prayed for the family and sang part of a hymn. But after the first verse of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," one of the loudest singers started crying, prompting everyone to stop singing.