In a rare public statement, Prince George's County Police Chief Melvin C. High yesterday addressed his department's handling of the shooting of two unarmed deliverymen by a county police officer, saying that all investigations of officer-involved shootings are handled in the same manner.
The written statement appeared aimed at quelling concerns about the investigation into the Jan. 24 shooting by Cpl. Keith A. Washington, who is a senior county homeland security official and a former driver for County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D). High said he hoped to clarify unspecified "misperceptions" about the investigation of the incident, which left one deliveryman dead and another critically wounded.
"Whenever a Prince George's County police officer is involved in a shooting incident, a series of well established policies are activated," High said.
The statement was issued a day after the surviving mover, Robert White, who with colleague Brandon Clark was making a delivery to Washington's home for Marlo Furniture, told law enforcement authorities that Washington fired without provocation and then falsely claimed the deliverymen were intruders.
Police initially said, based on statements from Washington and a family member, that Washington acted in self-defense and that the deliverymen would probably be charged with assault. Police have since said they would draw no conclusions until their investigative work is complete.
Washington has not spoken publicly since the shooting and did not respond to a message seeking comment yesterday.
Washington was placed on paid administrative leave immediately after he shot the deliverymen with his work-issued 9mm Beretta. High said yesterday that Washington was also ordered to give up the firearm as required by departmental procedures.
Without mentioning Washington directly, High said he wanted to "set the record straight" about the investigation into the shooting at Washington's home, saying that the department's handling of the incident had been "mischaracterized" in media reports. Police spokeswoman Sharon Taylor later declined to point to specific mischaracterizations, saying the chief's focus was to clarify rather than cast blame.
High said officers involved in shootings have certain rights under state law. They are not decertified as police officers until criminal and internal investigations are concluded, he said.
High said the police department's internal affairs investigation is proceeding according to "standard" departmental procedures. According to High, if an officer is criminally charged, the department suspends its internal inquiry until the criminal case is resolved. Any officer who is convicted of a felony is subject to immediate termination, whereas an officer who is acquitted could still face internal discipline, High said.
"In the end, no matter the various speculative reports or desires of any party the decision the [police] department will make will be based on the facts alone," the statement said.
Washington, 45, shot White, 36, and Clark, 22, at Washington's home in Accokeek, where the men were delivering one bedroom set and picking up another. Clark died of his wounds Feb. 2.
Yesterday, county homeland security director Vernon R. Herron declined to comment in detail on Washington's job status as deputy homeland security director, saying only that he remains on leave and that Washington is "not active in Prince George's County Department of Homeland Security."
"We are trying to let the process work and not trying to circumvent the process in any way, shape or form," Taylor said.