A D.C. police officer fatally shot a 34-year-old man who opened fire on him early Tuesday during a confrontation in Southeast Washington, according to authorities, who said police recovered a handgun at the scene.
But Cleman R. Sweptson Jr.’s relatives disputed the account, insisting that the father of two did not carry a gun and had been unjustly stopped by police a few minutes after 3 a.m. outside his mother’s apartment building, about a half mile from the Anacostia Metro station.
Sweptson’s mother, cousin and friends seethed as they stood behind police lines while detectives worked near the covered body at Sheridan and Bowen roads in Buena Vista, just east of Suitland Parkway. “Police are supposed to protect, not kill,” said Sweptson’s cousin, Jeanine Jackson, 32.
D.C. police said a 7th District officer had stopped Sweptson as he rode his bicycle in the street while holding an open container of alcohol and ordered him to the sidewalk. Officer Araz Alali, a department spokesman, said that Sweptson was acting strangely and that the officer “believed he was high on narcotics.”
Sweptson stopped his bicycle, reached into his jacket, pulled out a handgun and fired several times at the officer, who returned fire with his 9mm Glock, police said. Sweptson was struck several times in the upper body and pronounced dead at the scene; the officer was not hit. Police said a .380 semiautomatic handgun was recovered at the scene.
Authorities did not identify the officer who shot Sweptson but said he was put on routine administrative duty pending the outcome of the investigation. An autopsy will be performed.
Sweptson’s mother and cousin questioned the police account, saying they heard from people who had been looking out apartment windows and standing nearby that Sweptson had been sitting on the apartment building’s front steps. The bystanders told them that a police officer ordered him to leave.
He got on his bicycle, the family was told. He was supposed to have gone to his sister’s house in Barry Farm, just across a pedestrian bridge over Suitland Parkway.
“The stories do not add up at all,” Jackson said. “The police keep talking about a gun. He didn’t carry a gun.” Sweptson’s family said they planned to hire a lawyer to investigate.
Sweptson lived near where he was killed and went to his mother’s apartment nearly every day, relatives and friends said. He was the father of two girls, ages 3 and 11, and had just taken a job with a moving company.
D.C. Superior Court records show that Sweptson was convicted of attempted drug distribution in 2006 and sentenced to 15 months in prison and five years of supervised probation upon his release.
The shooting occurred near the dividing line between Barry Farm and Buena Vista, historically among the District’s most violent neighborhoods, where trust of police has been hard-fought. One community leader said she feared that the shooting would erode cooperation between residents and officers.
“Unfortunately, in Ward 8, we have a lot of crime,” said Natalie Williams, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for 8A. “We have a lot of good people here and bad things happen to them. We have a lot of questions for police.”
Williams, speaking of all crime, said “it’s time for our leaders, the community and the clergy to come together and find an answer.” She commended the leadership of D.C. Police Cmdr. Robin Hoey, who took over the 7th District in October, but said, “We still have a lot of work to do.”
Hoey said he did not think the shooting would have an impact on police efforts to keep the neighborhood safe or deal with residents. “We’ll continue to police the way we police and involve the community, and we’ll certainly have a dialogue with them,” he said. Hoey said police would do “even more, if there is an erosion in confidence.”
The commander would not discuss the details of the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation, but said the department will be “very transparent.” He called the shooting “very sad” but said officers “will take necessary action to protect themselves.”
People who Sweptson’s family said witnessed the initial confrontation between Sweptson and the officer would not talk to a reporter. Sweptson’s mother, Carolyn Bell, 54, said there were surveillance cameras on nearby apartment buildings near the shooting scene. Police said they were trying to determine whether any cameras captured the incident.
“Cameras don’t lie,” Bell said. “This community is angry, and we want to see what the cameras show.”
Williams, the neighborhood commissioner, said that if Sweptson was sitting on the steps of his mother’s apartment, as people told her, “why did they tell him to leave?”
“The community wants answers,” she said.
Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.