It was 10:45 a.m. Sunday at Sixth and H streets, a gentrifying strip of Northeast Washington near Union Station. The store was busy. Police said the cashier at Register 4 tried to open the drawer but failed, and the gunman shot him in the chest.
The two fought over the weapon and the cashier was shot again, police said, this time in the mouth. The cashier broke free and ran as police said the gunman fired three more times, sending frightened shoppers scattering for cover and police racing to the store.
The cashier, reached by phone at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said he did not want to talk, one reason being his mouth was swollen. A hospital spokeswoman said that he was being released Monday and that he and his family have asked for privacy.
The harrowing account of what happened inside the Whole Foods comes from police documents describing the charge filed against Michael Victor Whatley Jr., who was arrested Sunday night in his Southeast Washington apartment, where authorities said he was found hiding in a closet next to a Russian-made ATI Saiga assault rifle made by Kalashnikov and loaded with 22 bullets.
Inside the apartment, police said they found the clothing numerous witnesses had described as being worn by the Whole Foods assailant — a black trench coat, black bandanna, New Balance sneakers and a black hoodie. Police also said Whatley had used his own name and address to rent what they said was the getaway car — a red Honda Civic Zipcar found by police parked at a Zipcar spot.
Whatley, who turned 28 Saturday , made his initial appearance in D.C. Superior Court on Monday and was charged with assault with intent to commit robbery while armed and possession of an unregistered handgun and ammunition.
His attorney with the Public Defender Service, James King, argued that police have no evidence directly linking Whatley to the shooting, saying the perpetrator wore a mask and a hat and witnesses never mentioned Whatley’s dreadlocks. King also said there was no evidence that the gun found when Whatley was arrested was used in the shooting. Police have said they have not found the handgun.
But D.C. Superior Court Magistrate Judge Errol Arthur said the “circumstantial evidence” outlined in the charging documents point to Whatley as the shooter and ordered him held in the D.C. jail until his next hearing, on Friday.
The Washington Post profiled Whatley in the summer of 2012, after his football coach at the Rosedale Recreation Center held up a book of his poetry at an anti-violence rally and told them: “A young man has emerged from here strong.”
Indeed, it seemed at the time that Whatley had made it out of a tough family life — his father died in prison for armed robbery, and his brother was killed on the streets. Many of his friends died violent deaths; he went to his first funeral in the sixth grade.
Whatley had hoped for a football scholarship but injuries sidelined his dream. Instead, Tennessee State University gave him a scholarship for theater and communications, and while away at school he acted in plays and worked on his poetry, an autobiography of the challenges he faced growing up, which he hoped to one day see acted out onstage. He wrote: “I’ve always been tough; I’ve learned that enough; Will never be enough.”
Said one of his college professors in 2012: “There’s a muse in him from somewhere.”
It is unclear whether he graduated from Tennessee State University. A school spokesman said Monday that he was unable to get confirmation. On his Facebook page, Whatley writes only that he attended the university. It appears he still harbored ambition to publish, listing himself as a music producer, composer and book publisher.
He also posted a picture of The Post profile, which ran a quote from him in large type — “I know where I want to go in life.”
What happened between then and now remains a mystery. Close relatives could not be reached for comment.
Police said Whatley has been involved in four domestic incidents, and court records show three arrests since 2013 before Monday. Court records indicate that he has had some mental-health issues.
In one incident in 2013, police said he was arrested while riding aboard a Metrobus with a gun. He shouted to police, “You looking for the king?” He was found incompetent and then later competent to stand trial; all the charges were dismissed.
In 2015, he was charged with assault on a police officer after authorities said he threw a flower pot at an officer in a hospital hallway and then tried to grab the officer’s gun while biting his arm. He was convicted and sentenced to 60 days in jail, with all but five days suspended.
Court records show he again was screened for mental competency.