A D.C. police officer acted appropriately in chasing, tackling and detaining a college student after a Capitol Hill bank patron called 911 to say she feared the teen and his friends were about to rob someone, according to a report released Wednesday.
Two other officers who assisted in stopping Jason Goolsby, 18, on the evening of Oct. 12, also were cleared by an internal police investigation.
“We feel that the officers’ actions, given the entirety of the circumstances, were appropriate and within department policy,” D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said at a Wednesday news conference.
Police released Goolsby, who attends the University of the District of Columbia, and a friend, who recorded Goolsby’s detention, after determining that no crime had been committed. The woman’s fears about black teenagers lingering at a bank, the police response and a video that showed white officers struggling with a black youth raised the specter of racial profiling and aggressive law enforcement.
Lanier said that the woman was right to call police and that the officers were right in the way they responded. She said that the encounter would have ended differently if Goolsby had not run from officers or resisted when they caught him. Amid the tense climate of distrust, Goolsby said, he feared police, and he complained that he was held in handcuffs for up to two hours; police say it was for no more than 20 minutes.
“The sad part about the way this unfolded is that we don’t want anybody to get the wrong message,” Lanier said. “We don’t want people to feel they can’t call the police if they feel something is suspect. . . . But we also don’t want young African American males to be afraid of the police when they say they want to talk to you.”
Goolsby’s attorney, Peter C. Grenier, called the 55-page report “nothing more than a whitewash, and I mean that in literally every sense of the word.” He added that police “investigated themselves, and lo and behold, facing a lawsuit, they found everything was squeaky-clean and fine.” A lawsuit has not been filed.
Police acknowledged one error when a dispatcher wrongly told officers that the young men outside the Citibank ATM on Pennsylvania Avenue SE were “robbing people in the area.” The report says another dispatcher quickly corrected the mistake, telling responding officers that the youths were “just suspicious.”
Lanier said the mistake confused a rapidly unfolding incident, but she does not think it affected the way in which officers approached Goolsby. Grenier called the mistake shameful and said it added unnecessary tension that provoked a strong police response.
The incident occurred Oct. 12, when Goolsby and two friends went to the bank shortly after 6 p.m. Goolsby said he was planning to withdraw money to pay for a recording session that was canceled at the last minute and that he and his friends lingered at the ATM while they decided if they still needed the funds.
Goolsby said that while he was in the vestibule, he held the door open for a woman who was pushing a baby stroller. He said he then heard the woman tell her husband that she had forgotten something in the car, and the couple abruptly left.
An officer who interviewed the woman wrote that she said all three young men were standing inside, not speaking and not using the ATM, which made her feel “uneasy.” As she left the vestibule, she told the officer, one of the young men told her, “Oh, my bad, I should have gotten the door for you.”
Goolsby and his two friends departed after the woman left. Police said she called 911 and told the operator that black youths were “waiting at the door to let people in but aren’t doing anything inside the bank.” She added, “We felt like if we had taken money out, we might’ve gotten robbed.”
Police responded to the call and saw Goolsby — matching the description given by the woman — crossing Pennsylvania Avenue. Goolsby said a cruiser sped at him, and he feared being struck, which police dispute.
The report details an ensuing foot chase crisscrossing Capitol Hill streets and says that Goolsby pulled his backpack around to his front and repeatedly reached in as if grabbing an object. One officer wrote that he feared Goolsby was reaching for a weapon, though none of the officers drew their guns.
Grenier denied that Goolsby reached into his bag, and he said that if Goolsby had, officers surely would have pointed their guns at the teen, given the initial dispatch of a search for armed robbers.