It’s not easy for Mark Manley to discuss the night in November when he killed a man. 

The problem isn’t trauma. Manley, a 29-year-old District security guard, has no qualms about shooting Javone Smith, a masked gunman who, with three others, was allegedly trying to rob a vape shop hosting a pop-up marijuana event on Florida Avenue. 

Manley said the problem is what followed. Even though the shooting was ruled justified, his special police officer’s license was suspended, his security agency business license was revoked, and his firearm license application was denied. 

He said he’s being unjustly punished by D.C. police, who successfully argued in administrative court against the return of his business license because Manley advertised his company when it was unlicensed.

The November shooting — one of nine homicides deemed justifiable last year in the District — left the security guard fighting to support his family and a mother grieving two sons lost to gun violence in less than three weeks. 

Both the shooter and his victim’s family want more from the legal system, more from the police and prosecutors following a split-second decision that ended with a man’s death. 

Javone’s mother, Mary Smith, said that even if her son was committing a crime when he was shot, he didn’t deserve to die. 

“They’re saying just because my son is trying to rob this person, it’s justified,” she said. “I don’t agree with that.”

Manley, meanwhile, said police took away his ability to provide for his family.

“They got me shook,” Manley said. “They took away everything in the blink of an eye.”

Three weeks of tragedy

Manley, a father of five, owned a company with eight employees. He said he’s been protecting people since he was 16, when he started working security at a Maryland hotel, earning $12.50 an hour. 

He was working security on the night of Nov. 14, 2018, but without a security business license — “everybody works security without a license,” he said — and armed with an unregistered, unauthorized weapon. He had applied for the license days before the shooting but didn’t receive approval until January. Police took notice after the shooting, and now, Manley said, he’s lost his livelihood. 

Police reports indicate that Manley was on the corner of Florida Avenue and Eighth Street NW smoking a cigarette while guarding a vape shop. Four armed men in ski masks jumped out of a black SUV, he said, and one pointed a gun at him, telling him to get on the ground. 

“They put a gun in my face,” he said. Then he fired five rounds. “I’d rather see my babies. I would do whatever it takes to get back home to them. I’m not a violent person, but I will do what I have to do to stay alive.”

Five 9mm shell casings were found, and surveillance video showed Manley firing the gun, according to a police report. Police found Smith, 26, of Southeast, with gunshot wounds. He later died at a hospital. 

More than 1,600 people nationwide were killed by private citizens in homicides ruled justifiable between 2013 and 2017, according to FBI statistics. The nine such killings in the District last year were the highest number in the past decade. 

Those who commit such homicides in the District rarely are charged with other crimes. Police said four people have faced other charges in 40 justifiable homicides in the District since 2010. Manley faced a weapons charge months after the shooting that was later dismissed.

For Mary Smith, Javone’s death marked the end of three weeks of terrible tragedy. In October, Javone’s daughter died shortly after birth. About a week later, his 25-year-old brother, Taquan, was fatally shot on Alabama Avenue SE — a case in which police say no one has been arrested. 

Smith doesn’t dismiss the possibility that Javone was involved in an armed robbery when he was killed less than a month later. Both sons had been “out in the street,” she said. 

Taquan, who pleaded guilty to a robbery charge in the District in 2013, was released from prison in 2018. Javone had been a boxer as a teenager before being found guilty of drug charges in 2014 in Maryland, and he had also pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of a vehicle in the District, among other charges. 

“I don’t know what they were out there doing,” their mother said. “It was no good to lead them both to die the way they died.”

Smith said she doesn’t understand why the shooting of her son was ruled justified. She doesn’t understand why there can’t be a trial when police know who pulled the trigger. 

“You still shot and killed my son,” she said, standing in her living room next to the matched pair of urns for her children’s ashes. “It’s not like he was in that man’s house . . . I don’t know what was going on because I wasn’t there.” 

Smith said she wasn’t allowed to view video footage that police say shows Javone trying to commit the robbery when he was killed. She also wasn’t allowed to retrieve his personal belongings or the clothes he was wearing when he was shot, she said.

“Did this guy even go to court?” she said. “Or did they say he’s not guilty? . . . I don’t know. I don’t really know the legal system, and that’s what they play on — us not knowing.”

Special police officers can carry weapons in the District and make arrests at the properties they’re paid to protect. Security officers don’t have arrest authority and can carry only batons. As of 2016, there were 7,720 special police officers in the District with active licenses — of whom about half carry firearms — and 8,860 licensed security officers. 

Steve Maritas, organizing director for the Law Enforcement Officers Security Unions, a D.C.-based union for special police officers, said up to 20,000 people work as security officers in the District. While not familiar with Manley’s case, he said training and licensure are essential. 

“The law is the law,” he said. “If you drive a car without a license, you get pulled over.”

'I didn't have any other options'

On March 6, Manley was arrested at D.C. police headquarters while trying to register another weapon, and was charged with carrying a pistol without a license and unlawful possession of a firearm. 

After he spent a weekend in jail, the charges were dismissed — but Manley’s security business license was revoked.

He was not charged in the shooting. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said the evidence was insufficient to move forward with charges but wouldn’t elaborate. 

D.C. police declined to comment on the shooting or Manley’s business license. A letter from the police department’s Security Officers Management Branch, which handles security licenses in the District, said “a criminal background review and a more extensive criminal background check” showed that Manley was “working for an unlicensed security agency and as an unlicensed Special Police Officer” on the night of the shooting. The letter also said Manley was the subject of a grand jury investigation. (Manley said he’s not aware of a grand jury investigation, and prosecutors wouldn’t discuss that case). 

“I know my handgun wasn’t registered, so I know I was committing a crime,” he said. “It was four men with guns drawn out. I didn’t have any other options.” 

Elliott Jones, the Healthy Vapes shop manager, who hired Manley to work that night, called him a “hero.” 

“What would you consider somebody who stopped four masked gunmen from killing somebody — possibly you — on the street?” he said. 

At an April status hearing in which Manley appealed the suspension of his license, police said they were unaware that prosecutors had declined to charge Manley in the shooting and that firearm charges against him were dismissed. Administrative Law Judge Samuel McClendon and police said they were unaware of any previous case in which a security guard’s business license was revoked.

“It seems like what is driving this is that he was involved in a shooting,” the judge told police. “Without that, I’m not sure if we would be here.” 

In a decision issued Friday, McClendon affirmed the license revocation, saying images posted to Manley’s Instagram account showed that he was running an unlicensed security operation. According to the decision, a caption on one photo read: “Ready to protect and secure 24 hours, the Manley way!”

Whom Manley had shot, and why, wasn’t mentioned. 

Finding a path forward

Manley said he wants to get back to work. He’s trying to keep busy, working security jobs out of town, including driving a newly signed rapper from Baltimore to Atlanta. Manley called that line of work “executive protection” — but that’s not his ultimate goal. 

“I want my license back,” he said. “I want to be able to operate as a security guard in the District like I’ve been doing all my life. That’s it and that’s all.” 

The city’s Office of Administrative Hearings is still deciding the fate of his gun license. 

For Smith, there’s little left to hope for when it comes to her sons. They’re gone. Her friends tell her that, even months later, the reality of the situation hasn’t hit her. She hasn’t yet grieved. 

She planted a cherry tree in the front yard of her home as a memorial. A plaque with her sons’ names blew off the tree in a storm. She plans to put it back on. 

In her living room — bare except for a shrine to her sons — she unfolded another memorial: a quilt made by a funeral home, emblazoned with portraits of Javone and Taquan. Then, she left the room. 

“I can’t even look at it,” she said.

Peter Hermann and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.