Bryant’s backers argue that he been made a scapegoat for a surge in homicides in Ward 8, which is covered by his district in Southeast Washington. His supporters include the police labor union, which says Bryant has improved officers’ morale.
Police officials say Bryant failed to put enough officers on the streets amid the surge in violence and that he has been dealing with a family issue that has taken him away from work at a critical time.
Police Chief Peter Newsham ousted Bryant a day after a news conference on Tuesday at which he and the mayor promised additional resources to combat a near 50 percent increase in homicides across the District. In a posting on an Internet listserv, Newsham said “a change in the leadership at the district level is necessary.”
On Thursday night, Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) demanded that the commander be returned to the district. Bryant was named commander in December 2016, and the following year was chosen as commander of the year.
“The overall response from the Bowser administration on this issue remains, too little, too late,” White said in a statement. “The decision to demote Commander Bryant is just another example of the lack of a coherent and coordinated strategy from the Office of the Mayor to effectively address increased violence in Ward 8.”
White, whose 17-year-old cousin was among more than a dozen people shot in Ward 8 since the Memorial Day weekend, added that “Commander Bryant has been made a scapegoat by this demotion.”
A spokeswoman for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said that the chief executive had seen White’s statement and would not comment on his allegations.
Paul Trantham, an activist and advisory neighborhood committee member, said he and other leaders met with Newsham to show support for Bryant. He said the chief promised to reconsider if Bryant can return to a full schedule. But a top police official called that unlikely.
“The decision has been made to move forward with Commander Andre Wright,” said Dustin Sternbeck, the department’s chief spokesman, referring to the new 7th District commander. “We look forward to continuing to work with the community under new leadership.”
Trantham said that one concern about Bryant cited by police officials at the meeting was whether Bryant failed to follow orders to put extra police on three streets after recent shootings. Additional shootings took place on each of those streets in days after the order. A police official confirmed that discussion. Trantham said that Bryant was not given enough officers.
Authorities have now increased police staffing in Ward 8. While violent crime is down in nearly every category this year, homicides are up 47 percent, with 64 reported as of Saturday. Of those, 30 have occurred in Ward 8, neighborhoods that include Anacostia, Congress Heights and Washington Highlands.
On Friday night, White complained that the increased efforts to drive down crime had led to abuses by police. He posted two videos on Facebook documenting what he described as a random stop of two young men by officers in the Southwest part of Ward 8. White said that police detained the men without cause for two hours and told them they could be freed if they called somebody to give up a weapon.
“This is the type of practices MPD is doing to get guns off the streets,” White said on the video. “It’s illegal and unethical.”
At one point White — who earlier this month declared “a crime emergency” in Ward 8 and said that police and other agencies were not responding — complained to an officer about the length of the detention. The officer answered: “We do it until we complete everything.”
Newsham disputed White’s assessment and said the stop was not random. He said officers found the men, ages 19 and 21, in a parked car on Atlantic Street bagging marijuana and with a gun magazine filled with 19 rounds of ammunition. Police said one of the men told officers his brother had the gun, and police had him call his brother to try to give up the weapon.
Newsham said the brother did not provide the weapon and the two men in the car were freed without charges. Police said they seized the gun magazine and the pot, and will continue to investigate.
The chief said police will review body cameras to make sure the incident was handled properly. He said officers made the stop “in the confines of the Constitution” and he said that White’s “actions seem to be trying to provoke the officers.” He said the officers handled the encounter professionally.
White said later that he continues to believe the detention was illegal and that if police had the evidence they described, both men would have been arrested.