CPL. KEITH Washington, the Prince George's County police officer who shot two unarmed furniture deliverymen in a dispute at his home three weeks ago, one of them fatally, is on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into the incident. That status notwithstanding, he remains certified as a police officer, meaning he is still authorized to carry a weapon issued by the department. Given what is known about his past, and his repeated problems with anger management, you'd think Prince Georgians might justifiably be nervous about that.
But not Jack Johnson, the Prince George's county executive. Mr. Johnson is an old associate and booster of Cpl. Washington's, having hired him first as his driver and then, two years ago, as his deputy director of homeland security, despite public warnings about Cpl. Washington's checkered past, volcanic temper and tendency to turn routine encounters into tempestuous ones. Now that Cpl. Washington has killed one man and badly injured another, Mr. Johnson says the officer will not be returning to his position in the county department of homeland security. Well, that's comforting. Less comforting, however, is Mr. Johnson's prescription -- that Cpl. Washington resume work as a police officer.
In fact, it's hard to think of a worse place for Cpl. Washington than the police department. In incident after incident over the years, on duty and off, including ones involving his daughter, his homeowners association and a fender bender that he was investigating, Cpl. Washington is alleged to have exhibited rough, menacing or violent behavior, often in response to seemingly ordinary circumstances. Three years ago he was suspended from the police force for an off-duty scuffle. Now, using his service weapon, a 9mm Beretta, he has shot two unarmed Marlo employees who were delivering a bed set to his home; both were apparently hit multiple times.
We hope an ongoing investigation will reveal how a dispute over the delivery of a bed set escalated to the point where Cpl. Washington not only brandished a weapon but felt it necessary to pull the trigger again and again. The facts surrounding those shootings are still uncertain: One man is dead; another hasn't yet talked to police, prosecutors or a grand jury; and Cpl. Washington's own account hasn't been heard in public. So we won't prejudge the outcome of the investigation. But it seems fair to wonder whether Mr. Johnson's cavalier prescription -- to send Cpl. Washington back to active duty as a police officer -- is not premature, at the very least.