Alexandria Police Chief Charles E. Samarra has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review the fatal police shooting of Lewis Barber during a tense, 20-hour standoff in April.
The request comes after the police department's Internal Affairs Division presented a report to the Alexandria Human Rights Commission recently that clears two officers involved in the shooting of Barber, who had abducted his son at gunpoint. The commission voted 13 to 1 to accept the internal police investigation.
But some commission members said the report does not address several of their questions. They voted with the understanding that Samarra will review police procedures, tactics, training, command structure and actions in the shooting and report back to the commission on lessons learned and any changes that need to be made.
"I've always had a practice that we have nothing to hide," Samarra said later in an interview. "I want the community to rest assured that everything has been considered in the case." He said he makes it a practice to request an independent examination of police action.
Barber, 48, a carpenter, abducted his 9-year-old son, Philip, after his wife, Robin, obtained a temporary protective order. Barber took the boy to his home, on West Wyatt Avenue in the Del Ray section of the city, and held him while police outside tried to persuade him to allow his son to leave.
After 20 hours of mostly fruitless attempts to negotiate, Barber came outside with a gun. Two officers shot him three times as he stood on the front porch. Philip later was returned to his mother, who has since sold the house and moved with the boy to Florida.
"I am deeply grateful to the police department for their work on this -- the fact that they protected Philip and their candor in this investigation. But it's not done yet," said commission member Andrew Hyman. "I want to know what we should have done differently."
At the hearing, police officers said that during the standoff, they did not know of Barber's intense devotion to his son, who has a mild form of autism.
Samarra, who was on the scene with his deputy chiefs, said one of the reasons police decided to take action that afternoon was that Barber had become increasingly hostile to police, threatening to shoot them "between the eyes." He was becoming more intoxicated and refusing to negotiate, Samarra said, and they feared for Philip's safety.
"Do I think he would have hurt Philip based on everything we know now?" he said. "No."
Commission members said they have no doubt that police did as they should during the last six critical seconds, when Barber was shot. "They didn't have a choice," said Jimmie McClellan. "But the question that was in everybody's mind was, 'What brought them up to that moment?' That was something that troubled the commissioners."
McClellan and other commission members, in particular, want to know whether anything went awry in police planning that might have contributed to Barber's death.
An hour and a half before the shooting, the on-scene commander ordered portable toilets, food and water and had called Arlington's crisis team to relieve them, preparing for the standoff to stretch through the night, police officers said.
Samarra said he had just given money to a sergeant to go buy dinner for everyone. "There was no rush to end this," he said.
At the same time, however, the incident commander, hearing from mental health professionals that Barber appeared suicidal and that negotiations had stalled, reviewed the arrest plan and gave the go-ahead to act.
The plan was to lure Barber to the end of his walkway, police said. That way, one tactical team could toss a diversionary flash-bang grenade to his right while a second team could shoot him with nonlethal heavy rubber bullets and a third, fully armed arrest team could move in unnoticed from the left.
Commanders put Barber's pastor, who had been trying to talk with him on the phone, in an armored personnel carrier and drove him up to Barber's house -- a move that police said was "extraordinary." When the pastor told Barber that he could not step onto the porch, Barber began to curse at him, yelling, "You've betrayed my trust," officers said.
Not long afterward, Barber came to the end of his walkway and pointed his gun at a robot that had been sent up to the home. The head of the arrest team gave the order to move.
Then, one member of the team accidentally bumped the car they had been hiding behind, setting off the car alarm. Barber, instead of looking to his right, looked in the direction of the noise to his left and saw the approaching arrest team. He turned toward them and raised his gun about shoulder height, pointing straight in the air.
The lead officer "felt a feeling beyond fear, more like dread," said Lt. Hassan Aden, who presented the police's internal investigation to the commission. "He knew that one of them was going to get shot. He waited and waited and waited until he couldn't wait."
The officer fired. Then the flash-bang grenade went off. The team with the rubber bullets, unable to get to the porch, never got a clear shot through the magnolia tree, Aden said.
"What went wrong is not the plan," Samarra said. "What went wrong is Mr. Barber turned."
Aden's presentation shed new light on what he described as a tragic event for everyone involved -- Barber, his family and friends and the officers themselves.
The day of the abduction, Barber called Philip's caregiver and asked her to become Philip's legal guardian and raise him as a good Christian. Barber then confronted his wife, who was with the boy outside the Rock It Grill, where she worked.
Robin Barber put Philip into her car. Lewis Barber, a Civil War reenactor, pulled from his car a .44-caliber single-action pistol fashioned to look like an 1860s-era gun, cocked it, and pointed it at her. She ran down the street, leaving the child in the car.
That night, as police officers cordoned off the area around Barber's home, evacuated neighbors, set up sniper positions and began ringing his phone to get Barber to talk, Barber wrote what police described as a suicide note.
He willed possessions to members of his family. "To my wife, I leave nothing but disdain," he wrote, misspelling "disdain" several times. "Your vows were unkept. Your love was not for me or our son. Only yourself. Die old and alone." He then crossed out "old and."
"I regret that I will not be here to finish my journey," he wrote. "I haven't the patience to play silly games with silly people. God is my judge. What I have done may seem rash and stupid, but when I saw my son, there was no choice. I will not play paper games, so when P goes to school tomorrow, I will die."
The next morning, during the standoff, Barber used his cell phone to tell Philip's caregiver to come and take the boy to school. Negotiations fell apart, police said, when Barber insisted that she come alone to the porch to get the boy.