A District police officer who was found dead in the Washington Channel shortly after he was arrested in a child sex case probably committed suicide by jumping into the water, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier told residents at a community meeting Thursday night.
The medical examiner has not yet ruled how Marc Washington died, but the police chief spoke out at a Southeast Washington church in an effort at blunting public concern after the arrest of Washington and another officer from the same 7th District station. The roughly 70 residents who packed the Faith Tabernacle Church expressed concern that problems might be more widespread.
“I hear you saying that these are isolated incidents," said Khadijah Gribble, 42, of Congress Heights, who has four sons living in the District. “But something doesn’t feel right. What is being done to prevent this?”
Lanier told residents that investigators found no misconduct beyond the initial investigation into the two officers, one of whom was charged with running an underage prostitution ring out of his apartment. Lanier said that there was no customer list in the prostitution case against Officer Linwood Barnhill and that one other victim was found in the Washington case, a woman.
“I don’t think there is any cause for alarm,” she said. “There is no widespread corruption in the 7th District.” She said an officer initially suspected of tipping off Washington to his arrest has been cleared.
The 4,000-member D.C. police department has been shaken in recent weeks by a string of arrests and accusations that have raised questions of credibility and produced a steady stream of bad news for Lanier.
The latest blow came a week ago when a veteran captain, Lamar West, was given a 10-year suspended prison sentence and probation after pleading guilty to assault for trying to choke his wife in the back seat of a car in 2012. That came two weeks after Officer Samson Lawrence was indicted on attempted first-degree murder charges after authorities said he beat his wife and threatened to kill her during an argument in November at their Prince George’s County home.
Washington was charged with producing child pornography after police said he took pictures of a semi-nude teenager who had run away from home and returned. Washington was found dead in the Washington Channel on Dec. 10, a day after he was released on bail.
Barnhill’s Southeast Washington apartment was searched a day after Washington was arrested by detectives looking for a missing teenager. Police arrested Barnhill on Dec. 11 on a charge of pandering minors for the purpose of prostitution.
Lanier stressed that some of the officers recently arrested, including Barnhill, were hired in 1989 and 1990, years in which hiring standards were lowered to quickly add 1,500 members to the force. She again stressed the theme as several residents questioned the training of officers. Lanier said she has some of the same questions many residents do: “What happened, why did it happen, what are we doing about it?”
Resident Paul Kearney questioned Lanier about the department’s ethics training for recruits and veteran officers at the academy. Lanier agreed that the ethics issue is important but said that the misconduct discussed runs deeper, into criminal conduct.
Phil Pannell, a longtime activist, noted that residents pack meetings when there are problems or tragedy but rarely show up for the more-routine meetings that could help the community be proactive instead of reactive.
“Most of the cops aren’t pimps and pedophiles,” Pannell said.