A D.C. Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit that claimed police put a teenager in mortal danger by trying to interview her at her home about a killing she apparently witnessed.
The day after the interview, Jan. 23, 2004, Jahkema "Princess" Hansen was killed, shot dead in what police say was a late-night, execution-style hit in a townhouse near the Sursum Corda housing complex off North Capitol Street near New York Avenue NW.
Investigators had wanted to talk to the 14-year-old about the Jan. 18 homicide of Mario J. Evans. The suspect in the killing was Princess's boyfriend, then 28-year-old Marquette Ward, and the detectives believed she may have been a witness.
After the detectives visited the Hansen family home, Judyann Hansen took her daughter to the office of the District's violent crimes unit. Princess was warned that as a witness, she could be in danger. She was told that if she cooperated, the police could protect her.
In the civil lawsuit, filed earlier this year, Hansen's mother claims the police knowingly put her daughter in danger when they showed up looking for her at the complex, which was notorious as a hub for drug dealing.
"Any time a police officer sets foot in that neighborhood, it gets around and it gets around fast," Hansen's attorney, Donald Rosendorf, said in an interview on Monday.
Already in danger, Hansen was placed in more peril by the actions of the police, he said, yet the police did not take steps to protect her.
"They basically signed her death warrant," Rosendorf said.
But in her interview with police, Princess had insisted that she knew nothing about the killing of Evans, according to police officials and the judge's finding. That, Judge John Campbell found, was crucial in assessing the police conduct.
"They said, 'we could protect you if you'll tell us what you know,' " Campbell said Friday, according to a transcript of the proceeding. "But she said, 'I don't know anything,' and left. There is no allegation that the police took any affirmative step at all to provide protection."
Only if the police had moved to provide special protection to Princess could her mother's claim have moved forward, Campbell ruled.
Without such a promise, the judge said, the police were covered by the public duty doctrine, which shields municipalities and their employees from liability for failing to provide public services or for providing such services badly.
But Rosendorf argued that the officers' actions had endangered Hansen and that, therefore, under an established exception to the public duty doctrine, she was entitled to expect more from the police.
Authorities believe that after telling investigators that she knew nothing, Princess told Ward of her silence and asked for some sort of compensation. A short time later, she spoke to Franklin Thompson, an associate of Ward's. That night, prosecutors charge, Thompson stormed the townhouse where Hansen was watching television and shot her dead.
Thompson, 23, is charged with Hansen's murder, and Ward is charged with Evans's murder. Both men have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to go to trial in March.