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Three D.C. police officers suspended after video shows man repeatedly struck during arrest

D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post/POOL)

Three D.C. police officers involved in an arrest of a man in Southeast Washington have been suspended and referred for possible criminal prosecution after one of the officers was seen on video repeatedly punching the suspect in the face.

Police Chief Robert J. Contee III told reporters that he was embarrassed and ashamed by what he saw, adding that it was inconsistent with the department’s training, tactics and values.

The chief said officers were arresting the 23-year-old man after they saw a suspected drug transaction and then felt a handgun tucked in the man’s clothing. “This is not the way we train our members to get illegal firearms off the streets,” Contee said.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the District said in a statement that it is “examining the actions” of the officers. A spokesman declined to comment further.

The incident occurred Sunday afternoon in the 1500 block of U Street SE, near the Ketcham Recreation Center in Anacostia. The video was posted on Twitter by @Killmoenews, an account run by a journalist in the D.C. area.

The video shows three officers from the 7th District station surrounding the man, who had his back to a fence. The officers appear to be struggling to detain the man. An officer in the middle of the group uses his left hand to punch the man at least three times in the face and then punches him additional times using his right hand, the video shows. It also appears that a second officer ­punches him at least once.

The man struggles against the officers, but the video does not show him trying to strike them.

Contee said officers found a firearm — identified in a report as a .45-caliber handgun — on the man, and he was taken into custody. Another man was also arrested after police said he threw projectiles at the officers.

Prosecutors said in court on Monday that they would not pursue criminal charges against the men, and they were set free. The Washington Post is not identifying the men because they are not charged with any crimes.

The officer’s names were not released on Monday, though their identities and their body-camera videos could be made public later this week.

Gregg Pemberton, the chairman of the D.C. police union, said the officers were on U Street because of a spike in violent crime.

He said the gun the officers were trying to retrieve was loaded and “was unsecured and a danger to the police officers, the suspect and anybody nearby.” Pemberton said the man was resisting and “these officers used a minimal amount of force to subdue a violent suspect in possession of an illegal firearm.”

D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) said that he asked Contee after the incident if he would meet with concerned community members on Monday, and the chief said yes “immediately.”

The meeting of about 25 people in Ward 8 lasted about two hours, and community members expressed “years of frustration” surrounding complaints of officer misconduct, White said.

During the meeting, White said, Contee told the group that any time someone is “doing wrong to the community,” whether that is a resident or officer, he will address it.

“He jumped on it so quick, it calmed the people down,” White said.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said he was pleased Contee quickly sent the matter to the U.S. attorney’s office, adding, “There’s nothing in that video that justifies the officer beating the person.”

Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) called the actions by the officers “outrageous.”

Contee also sent a letter to officers reminding them of their “duty to intervene” if they see a fellow-officer engaged in questionable conduct.

“Simply put, I expect us to be better than what I witnessed,” the chief’s letter reads.

Michael Brice-Saddler and Paul Duggan contributed to this report.

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