The charge of assaulting a police officer, which is meant to shield police from danger, also can be used as a tactic against citizens.
By Christina Davidson and Patrick Madden
Wiggling while handcuffed. Bracing one hand on the steering wheel during the arrest. Yelling at an officer.
All these actions have led to people being prosecuted for “assaulting a police officer” in Washington, D.C., where the offense is defined as including not just physical assault but also “resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating or interfering” with law enforcement.
A five-month investigation by WAMU 88.5 News and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University — and co-produced by Reveal — documented and analyzed nearly 2,000 cases with charges of assaulting a police officer. The results raise concerns about the use or overuse of the charge. Some defense attorneys see troubling indicators in these numbers, alleging that the law is being used as a tactic to cover up police abuse and civil-rights violations. Police sources contend that this perspective overemphasizes troubling but rare incidents, and fails to account for the dangers police face on the job.
However, as protests and rioting have exploded across the county in response to police conduct, even Cathy Lanier, the chief of police in the nation’s capital, is urging lawmakers to revise the statute because its broad application “naturally causes tensions between police and residents.”
A team of researchers and reporters analyzed thousands of court records from 2012 through 2014, including charging documents, case summaries and police affidavits.
The investigation found:
- Ninety percent of those charged with assaulting a police officer (APO) were black, although black residents comprise only half of the city’s population.
- Nearly two-thirds of those arrested for assaulting an officer weren’t charged with any other crime, raising questions about whether police had legal justification to stop the person.
- About 1 in 4 people charged with a misdemeanor for assaulting a police officer required medical attention after their arrest, a higher rate than the 1 in 5 officers reporting injury from the interactions.
- The District uses the charge of assaulting a police officer almost three times more than cities of comparable size, according to a 2013 FBI report and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) numbers.
- Prosecutors declined to press charges in more than 40 percent of the arrests for assaulting an officer.
D.C. Council member Mary Cheh proposed a crime bill two weeks ago that includes a measure to narrow the “assaulting a police officer” statute. After being briefed on the results of this investigation, Cheh felt moved to explore the possibility of emergency legislation.
“Having the benefit of the research ... and given the consequences ... there may be some interim step that we on the Council can do,” she said in an interview. “I could pass that reform on an emergency basis so that it could go into effect far more quickly.”
‘Criminalizes too much’
“The APO statute results in more injustice than almost any other statute that I can think about,” said John Copacino, a professor and director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at Georgetown Law School. “Police officers have a legitimate need to be protected from being assaulted, but this statute goes too far and criminalizes too much.”
Copacino said many cases arise from a typical human response to being unjustifiably stopped by an officer, yet District residents do not have the right to resist an unlawful arrest. “When [police] are clearly arresting someone for no reason, if the person resists by pulling away, by not putting his hands behind his back when the police officer grabs him to try to handcuff him, that becomes a crime in itself,” he said.
Terrell Hargraves lived through such a scenario when he had trouble moving into the handcuff position because of nerve damage in his shoulder.
On Sept. 30, 2011, two MPD patrol officers said they saw something “suspicious” in the way the 35-year-old riding in the car ahead of them looked around before his friend dropped him off “in a high crime area” on Minnesota Avenue NE. “Officers recognized this behavior as consistent with that of flight from police to evade apprehension or interrogation,” they wrote in the police affidavit.
Hargraves wanted to stop at the convenience store to buy a pack of cigarettes before a party at his grandmother’s house a block away, he said in an interview. He had taken only a few steps away from the car when he heard an approaching officer order him to the ground. Bewildered, he asked why, at which point the officer pulled out handcuffs.
Struggling to cuff Hargraves’ injured arm, the officer deployed a metal baton and began striking his legs repeatedly. A second officer arrived, and together they used “the minimum amount of force necessary” to detain their suspect, according to the affidavit. Hargraves was charged with assaulting a police officer for pulling away from the officer’s grip.
He spent nine months in jail awaiting trial because when he was arrested, he was 30 days shy of completing three years of parole for a past conviction of fleeing a police officer. He lost his job. He missed the birth of his son. A judge ultimately found him not guilty at trial.
Terrell Hargraves was on the verge of a new life. On Sept. 30, 2011 he was only 30 days from completing three years of probation for fleeing a police officer. Soon after, his longtime girlfriend would be giving birth to their first child. And he’d just been offered a job.
“It can so disrupt your life,” Cheh, the Council member, said in a discussion of such cases. “When you go back and look at the underlying circumstances, you say, ‘Really? That’s what was involved?’ And now this person has lost a job or maybe been locked up for five months.”
A defendant arrested for assaulting an officer generally faces a monumental challenge defeating the charge, even when the judge believes the person behaved reasonably under the circumstances.
Emanual Wilson was tackled and arrested for assaulting an officer the moment he stepped out of a car during a traffic stop. The police were arresting his pregnant girlfriend for driving with a suspended license. Wilson couldn’t see what the police were doing but could hear his girlfriend yelling that she was pregnant and not to touch her.
Wilson testified that he was acting on instinct to protect his unborn child and girlfriend. Judge Harold Cushenberry agreed. At the trial, he said, “You had a normal human reaction.”
But that reaction was also technically interference, so Cushenberry had to convict Wilson of assaulting the police. The judge concluded Wilson’s trial by saying, “Good luck to you. I’m sorry this happened.”
Because the APO statute includes interference as one element under its broad umbrella, Wilson now has a criminal record with the violent connotations of “assaulting a police officer,” which can negatively impact future employment prospects, security clearances, home loans or anything that requires a criminal background check.
“The real horror about the assault on a police officer statute is that we have thousands of people in our community who are now facing lifelong consequences for what really is harmless conduct,” said Patrice Sulton, a criminal defense attorney who frequently assists the District branch of the NAACP.
Lanier acknowledges that problems with the law can damage police relations by sparking resentment in the communities: “The language is so broad, overly broad. That allows for too many things to fit into that category,” she said in a recent interview. “So some of what’s included in that is no physical assault at all. And for people who are being charged with assault on a police officer: There is the tension.... If you didn’t physically assault someone, to be charged with assault on a police officer wouldn’t feel fair.”
Sgt. Delroy Burton, head of the local police union, agrees with Lanier: “They need to go ahead and deconstruct and make this law easier to use so that we don’t create the impression that police officers are out there charging people for crimes they didn’t commit,” Burton said. “That’s the impression this gives, the way it’s written right now.”
On race and geography
Neighborhoods subjected to a stronger police presence inevitably have a greater frequency of interactions, which has led to an unequal distribution of arrests. A 2013 report by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee found that black people represented eight in 10 of all those arrested in the District. The WAMU-IRW investigation found an even larger disparity in cases of assaulting police officer: 90 percent of those charged from 2012 through 2014 were black.
“This should be an early warning system for the agency,” said Geoffrey P. Alpert, professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina and an expert on police violence. “It tells you something is wrong and they need to figure what is going on…. The statistics, the patterns, the practices, just don’t look right.”
However, Burton, the head of the police union, doesn’t believe that the APO statistics reveal bias or discriminatory policing: “The reality is that the numbers reflect the people involved in that type of crime. It’s just that simple.”
The police department, in a statement, said the issue of racial disparity in crime statistics is complex but “researchers generally agree that simply benchmarking arrest rates against a demographic proportion is not a reliable indicator of bias.”
One place where the police presence is heavy, the economically depressed Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast D.C., also appears to have a higher prevalence of APO charges. Some residents say they are collectively viewed and treated as criminals by police.
“They think we are the bad guys, but we’re not,” said Antonio Bates, a resident of the neighborhood who had his own experience with APO charges.
Community tensions haven’t sparked an epidemic of attacks on law enforcement in Washington, but the rate for assaulting police officer cases runs roughly three times higher in the District than in cities of comparable size, according to an FBI report and the MPD’s own statistics.
The ACLU of the Nation’s Capital examined assaulting police officer statutes in the country’s 50 largest police jurisdictions, determining that the District “is among the broadest in country because it encompasses a range of behaviors that go beyond assault,” said Program Director Seema Sadanandan.
The District law wasn’t always unique. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the statute more closely resembled the modern standard elsewhere — narrowly defined to punish acts of violence against police officers. But amid the onset of white flight to the suburbs and black migration from the Deep South, Congress broadened the scope in 1953 to include resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating or interfering. Civil rights marches and anti-war protests were roiling the District in the early 1970s when the law was further amended to remove the right to resist an unlawful arrest. The number of arrests started to climb after the D.C. Council enacted a misdemeanor option in 2007. From 2012 through 2014, more than 80 percent of the APO cases were found in misdemeanor court, according to our investigation.
The definition of “police officer” has also been broadened over the years to include an array of law enforcement and other public servants, from Secret Service and U.S. National Park Service Police to emergency medical technicians and private security guards.
Bad stops turn into legitimate arrests?
During the three-year period of cases examined, nearly two-thirds of those arrested for assaulting a police officer weren’t charged with any other crimes. That statistic marked a red flag to more than a half-dozen criminal defense attorneys interviewed for this project.
“That tells you a lot: That there is no other crime being committed,” said Copacino of Georgetown. “The police, they’re probably stopping or detaining people where there is no justification for doing so, and any resistance to that becomes grounds to an arrest.”
He added that the charge can be deployed to sidestep the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures: “It turns a bad stop into a legitimate arrest that [the police] can then use to justify whatever they find in the course of that stop, be it guns, drugs, knives, whatever.”
However, Burton, head of the police union, disagrees with the conclusions of defense attorneys.
“To look at some cold numbers and conclude, ‘Well, this is troubling,’ in my view, tells me they are making some type of political statement,” he said.
Lanier said cases with only an assault charge don’t necessarily indicate a problem: “Interactions with enforcement in a lot of different community environments —interactions with people with mental health issues — that can lead to a confrontation, and there’d be no other charge. That just goes to show that there are certain interactions with police that we want to limit. If it doesn’t need a police officer, we don’t want a police officer doing it.”
Burton said the number of people getting arrested for assaulting an officer reflects the reality of police work in Washington: “It’s a very, very tough place to work. You are working [around] people who ... hate the police and will fight the police every chance they get. And every chance they get to injure a police officer, they will take it.”
Forty percent of those arrested for assaulting a police officer from 2012 through 2014 had those charges “no papered,” meaning that they were arrested and booked by the police but prosecutors did not formally file charges.
In a statement to WAMU, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes most local criminal cases in the District, said it does not pursue charges that can’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt: “When charges are declined, this does not necessarily mean that the conduct did not take place, and that police were not justified in making an arrest, but rather that we have determined that we cannot meet the burden of proof.”
The police union chief also pushed back against the finding that more suspects arrested for misdemeanor charges of assaulting an officer require medical treatment than do the officers they reportedly assaulted. Burton points out that affidavits may mention a trip to the hospital if, for example, a diabetic is arrested without his or her insulin.
The percentage of defendants injured after their arrest varied by law enforcement agency. For MPD, which was responsible for most of the APO arrests, roughly one in four suspects needed medical attention. For others, the rate was much higher. More than 40 percent of suspects arrested by Metro Transit Police required medical attention; most of those had been pepper sprayed, according to the transit agency.
“The explanation for why MTPD’s percentage is higher than, say, MPD is likely due to the nature of transit policing,” said Metro spokeswoman Morgan Dye. “The overwhelming majority of MTPD officers patrol alone, which changes the dynamic of the interaction … An officer patrolling alone who is being assaulted needs to take immediate, decisive, lawful action to gain control of the situation for his or her safety, as well as that of the public.”
Sulton, however, has seen too many cases in which a defendant was more seriously injured than the officer: “I think it’s actually being used to cover-up excessive use of force…. When police are brutalizing people in the community, the justification that they give for those injuries is that the person either resisted arrest or reached for a weapon or assaulted that police officer.”
Copacino agrees: “It’s not infrequent that our clients get beaten up by the police in the course of a stop, and we come out of it with a charge of APO…. Who do we believe on this stuff and where does it come from? I’ve seen too many cases to believe that it’s not initiated by the police.”
Warren Cooper is a black man and a Navy veteran with nearly 20 years of service and experience as a military police officer. But on July 15, 2013, his experience and credibility mattered little when two police officers viewed him as a threat. The officers were responding to Cooper’s 911 call for help retrieving possessions from an ex-girlfriend. The woman denied having anything to the officers, so Cooper asked that they all go talk to her together.
“Next thing I know one of the officers takes me ... and he slams me up against the wall,” Cooper says. “And I am like, ‘Whoa, Whoa,’ so I throw my hands up immediately to let him know that I am not resisting.” According to the police affidavit, Cooper “squared his shoulders and took a fighting stance with both fists up to his face (as a boxer would).”
One shot him with pepper spray: “My face felt like I was in burning coals,” Cooper said in an interview. “My eyes were feeling like they wanted to cook themselves in their eyelids.” The two officers dragged a blinded Cooper outside and threw him to the ground: “He was on top of me, beating me, punching me, and she was ... beating me with [a baton] all over my body.”
Cooper spent a week in the hospital hooked up to intravenous antibiotics after his entire leg swelled from an aggressive infection in a cut from the baton.
A security camera at his ex-girlfriend’s apartment building recorded the encounter, although Cooper has never seen the footage because prosecutors dismissed his APO case before trial, and his civil suit was settled out of court. In the terms of the deal, the District admitted no wrongdoing. Read about another case in which a resident, Marilu Hernandez-Romero, settled an excessive force lawsuit against MPD after facing an APO charge herself:
Lanier, the police chief, monitors quarterly trend reports covering allegations of excessive force and civil lawsuits, and says she hasn’t seen any evidence that her officers are using the assaulting a police officer statute to cover up incidents of excessive force.
Asked about civil lawsuits in general against MPD, and the appearance of one officer in multiple lawsuits, Lanier says that when an officer makes an arrest, the odds of civil litigation go up dramatically.
“If they are the most productive officers and they are handling 10 times more calls for service each shift than their counterparts, they are obviously going to have more arrests and obviously have more confrontations,” she said.
Lanier says the department has an early warning system designed to track individual officers and identify problematic behavior, which can lead to a supervisory review and possible re-training.
Additional training would improve individual misbehavior, but matters of community relations run much bigger than one officer.
As a former police officer and current adviser on best practices, Ron Hampton favors a community policing approach, and uses his own 23 years of experience as an MPD officer to illustrate its benefits. When he was an officer in the District, Hampton policed his own neighborhood. He says that gave him “a vested interest” in both the security and well-being of others in his neighborhood, which helped him develop a mutual bond of trust with an expansive network of local contacts.
“I knew people in the community, and they knew me,” he said. “I didn’t operate from a fear base. I operated from the standpoint of being a member of the community but just happened to be a police officer.”
These days, police officers tend to live in the suburbs, in part because living well in the city can be prohibitively expensive. But MPD could face significant challenges recruiting personnel from neighborhoods that would benefit most from community policing because high arrest rates diminish the pool of potential candidates with clean records.
The police could have had an ideal recruit in William Kenley — until he was arrested for assaulting a police officer. Kenley grew up in Northeast D.C. aspiring to become a police officer. He pursued a criminology degree at the University of the District of Columbia and is employed as a correctional officer.
A fellow correctional officer was coming by to pick him up on June 20, 2013, when police stopped him in front of Kenley’s house. Kenley started filming with his phone when the officers got rough with his friend. The last few frames of the short video show an officer charging toward him.
Kenley said the officer hit the phone out of his hand and knocked him to the ground. Ten or more minutes later, an officer put him in handcuffs, arresting him for allegedly ordering his dog to attack the officers.
But the officers had initially failed to turn over to prosecutors a witness statement that contradicted the police version of events. The case against Kenley was dismissed before trial.
Beating the charges doesn’t mean Kenley escaped the experience unscathed. Because of the arrest, he was suspended from his corrections job for three months without pay. And he no longer dreams of joining the MPD. Even if he still had that ambition, he believes the arrest would make him an unattractive candidate.
“I went to school to become a police officer. I worked hard to get here. I am an African-American male. It’s hard growing up in the inner-city and staying out of trouble. My mama raised me right,” he said. “It feels like I lost what I worked my entire life for.”
Contributing: David Donald, Christina Animashaun, Mariam Baksh, Meldon Jones, Ly Le, Amber Liu, Pietro Lombardi and Miranda Alyse Strong
By Christina Davidson
Below are four stories involving the charge of “assaulting a police officer” in Washington, D.C. In each case, the defendants’ accounts, as told to WAMU 88.5, are interlaced with descriptions taken from Metropolitan Police Department affidavits.
September 30, 2011, 3900 Block of Minnesota Avenue NE
Terrell Hargraves was on the verge of a new life. He was only 30 days from completing three years of probation for fleeing a police officer. Soon after, his longtime girlfriend would be giving birth to their first child. And he’d just been offered a job.
Finding work is tough with a criminal record, even more so while on parole. But the 35-year-old impressed the interviewer enough to earn an immediate offer. The prospect of a regular paycheck was exciting, even he’d have to empty trash and mop floors for it.
MPD: The front passenger of the vehicle, later identified as Defendant Hargraves, began to look over his shoulder numerous times. Defendant Hargraves then began to look around his surroundings.
Terrell’s grandmother lives in a cracked concrete and brick neighborhood that represents a different reality than the gleaming marble and granite of the U.S. Capitol a few miles away. Riding to his grandmother’s birthday party, Terrell wanted to stop for a pack of cigarettes.
MPD: Defendant Hargraves tapped the driver of the vehicle on the arm and made a nodding motion in the direction of the sidewalk.
Terrell signaled his friend to let him out at the convenience store a block away from his grandmother’s house. The car stopped just long enough for Terrell to hop out.
MPD: Officers recognized this behavior as consistent with that of flight from police to evade apprehension or interrogation. Based on Defendant Hargraves unprovoked flight, in a high crime area, coupled with his suspicious behavior, Officer Lally exited the vehicle to conduct a stop.
Terrell had only taken a few steps when he heard someone shouting at him. It was a police officer. The approaching officer ordered him to the ground. Terrell asked why.
MPD: Officer Lally then felt that for his safety and to properly detain Hargraves, he would place [him] in handcuffs.
The officer handcuffed Terrell’s right hand. He reached for the other arm, but Terrell wouldn’t give it to him. He couldn’t. His left arm has limited mobility because of nerve damage from a shoulder injury.
MPD: Officer Lally then, fearing that Defendant Hargraves was reaching for a weapon, ordered Defendant Hargraves several times to give him his hand.
Terrell tried to tell the officer about his shoulder injury, but he couldn’t seem to hear over his own screams. The officer took out his baton and began striking Terrell’s legs repeatedly.
MPD: Officer Connors then responded to assist Officer Lally, at which point the minimum amount of force necessary was used to detain Defendant Hargraves.
Hours after the incident, Terrell was charged with assaulting a police officer.
Because he was arrested while on probation, Terrell spent the next nine months in jail awaiting trial. He lost his job. He missed the birth of his son. By the time a judge declared him innocent, his new life had been destroyed, along with his ability to trust the police.
November 22, 2012, 3910 14th St. NW
Marilu Hernandez-Romero worked a dinner shift the night before Thanksgiving of 2012. After closing down the restaurant at around 1:30 a.m., she and a group of co-workers and patrons, including her sister, Yesenya, decided to go dancing.
Immediately after arriving at Sabor Latino Bar and Grill in Columbia Heights, one of Marilu’s friends bumped into an apparently inebriated patron at the crowded bar, sparking a verbal exchange between the two women that ebbed and flowed for perhaps a half-hour.
MPD: Officer R. Valentine called for assistance because of a disorderly group.
The conflict ended after the woman threw a drink on Marilu’s friend, and a male companion pulled the drunk woman away and out of the restaurant.
MPD: Officer Jimenez and Pena interceded in attempt to prevent the fight which DEF, ROMERO, Y, and DEF. ROMERO-HERNANDEZ, MARILU were inciting.
Things relaxed after the unruly patron left. Marilu was talking to her former brother-in-law about walking her home when she heard a commotion.
MPD: Officer Jimenez attempted to make contact with DEF. ROMERO, Y, to request [her] to leave the establishing to prevent violence.
Marilu saw police officers near the front door. One of them was hitting or pushing her sister Yesenya in the chest.
MPD: Officer Jimenez reached toward DEF, ROMERO, Y, to gain her attention. DEF, ROMERO, Y, responded by scratching Officer Jimenez’s right sides of his face, causing visible scratches and breaking the skin.
“I can’t tell you how I felt, but I felt a sort of panic when I saw my sister getting hit in the chest,” Marilu said.
MPD: Officer Jimenez attempted to gain control of DEF. ROMERO, Y, by holding DEF. ROMERO, Y’s shoulders. Upon DEF. ROMERO-HERNANDEZ, MARILU observing Officer Jimenez and DEF, ROMERO, Y’s altercation, DEF, ROMERO-HERNANDEZ, MARILU turned and scratched Officer Jimenez on the left side of the face.
“I saw that my sister was getting hit in the chest so I walked as fast as I could to get to her. And I touched the police officer who was hitting her, I touched him on his shoulder,” Marilu said.
MPD: Officer Jimenez attempted to hold back both DEF. ROMERO, Y, and DEF ROMERO-HERNANDEZ, MARILU, while doing so all parties fall to the ground.
“Next thing I knew, something hit my face so hard and I fell to the ground,” Marilu said. “The next thing I remember is that there was a huge weight on me and I was getting punched in the face.”
[Editor’s note: Marilu does not know how many times she was hit, but one witness testified in a deposition that the officer punched her “many times.” Jimenez said in a deposition that he punched Marilu once in the face.]
MPD: While on the ground, DEF. ROMERO, Y. and DEF. ROMERO-HERNANDEZ, MARILU continue to scratch Officer Jimenez’s face.
“I was on the ground. He kept punching me in the face. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t do anything but close my eyes,” Marilu said. “All I could hear were people yelling. ‘Leave her alone! Leave her alone!’”
MPD: Officers are able to gain control [of] DEF. ROMERO-HERNANDEZ, MARILU, handcuff her, and remove her from the establishment.
“I feel like they were beating me for one or two minutes. It felt like a long time, but I think it was a short time. The next thing I knew, they aggressively picked me up and pulled my arms behind my body, and they carried me out of the bar and hit my head on the doorframe of the bar. They were also holding me by my hair as they carried me out of the bar. I was in front of a window of the restaurant, and the next thing I remember, they used my hair to hit my head against the window,” Marilu said. “And after that, I don’t remember anything. I lost consciousness.”
MPD: DEF. ROMERO-HERNANDEZ, MARILU was transported to Washington Hospital Center by DCFEMS Ambulance #11 for injuries to her nose and mouth.
Marilu has no memory of being transported to the hospital, but recalls vague flashes of her shirt being torn open, and police officers cleaning the blood off her face before taking photos of her. When she finally regained full consciousness, an officer standing nearby said he was going to have to handcuff her to the bed. “Why do you have to handcuff me to the bed? I didn’t do anything,” Marilu said. The officer replied, “You assaulted a police officer.”
MPD: Officer Jimenez was transported to Washington Hospital Center for treatment and released.
Marilu suffered a traumatic brain injury, a bilateral fracture in her nose, two black eyes, and a head wound requiring nine stitches on two levels of depth.
Marilu's APO charge was dismissed after she completed pretrial diversion. She filed an excessive-force lawsuit against the police, which was settled in May for $335,000. The District admitted no wrongdoing.
June 20, 2013, on the 1000 Block of Girard Street NE
MPD: Officer Shaatal reports…he was flagged down by a concerned citizen. The citizen told Shaatal that a black male in a grey car was playing loud music and the music had curse words and racial slurs and that elderly citizens and children were present.
William Kenley was at his home in Brentwood waiting for a ride from his friend, a fellow corrections officer.
MPD: D1 was sitting in a grey vehicle…with loud music playing.... Officer Shaatal then asked D1 for his drivers license and registration and D1 said, “No, for what?”
Looking out his window, William saw police seemed to have pulled over his friend. He went outside to see what was happening.
MPD: Officer Shaatal, while trying to watch the aggressive behavior of D1, asked D2 to back up. D2 would not.
William was standing in front of his house.
MPD: Officer Shaatal then asked D1 to step out of the vehicle. D1 said, “For what?” …. When D1 stepped out of the vehicle he balled up his fists and began to flex his shoulders and became very aggressive.
“[My friend] complied with him, he stepped out the car. And that’s when I saw the officer pushing him in the back,” William said.
MPD: Officer Shaatal then told D1 to place his hands on the trunk of the vehicle. D1 said, “Why?” Officer Shaatal then told D1 to place his hands behind his back. D1 did not.
“My friend said, ‘You don’t have to put your hands on me. I’m doing what you ask me to do.’ That’s when [the officer] pushed him into the back of the car,” William said.
MPD: Officer Shaatal then placed his hand on D1’s shoulder at which time D1 using his right arm threw an elbow at Officer Shaatal’s face.
“My friend turned his head around and said, ‘What are you doing?’” William said. “And that’s when he pulled out his baton and proceeded to beat my friend with the baton and said he’s resisting.”
MPD: Officer Shaatal was able to back up at which point Officer Littlejohn brought D1 to ground where D1 began violently throwing elbows and tried to stand up. Officer Shaatal issued loud verbal commands for D1 to stop resisting but D1 would not. Officer Shaatal then tactically deployed his asp baton and struck at D1s legs in order to stop the physical assault.
“The other officer on the scene, he came up behind my friend and put him in a chokehold. At this time, I feared for my friend’s safety, I feared for his life in general, because they were using excessive force,” William said. “And I started to record the incident.”
MPD: Officer Shaatal was able to see out of his peripheral vision that D2 was coming closer and ordered him to back up which he failed to comply. [Editor’s note: The police affidavit does not mention that Kenley started to record with his phone.]
Additional officers arrived on the scene. One charged at William, slapping the phone out of his hand and knocking him to his knees.
MPD: D2 was accompanied by a large brown dog and commanded the dog to attack the officers by stating “sick ‘em” “Get them.”
William said that when his mom came outside to see about the commotion, his 9-month-old pitbull puppy slipped out the door and started running around the yard.
MPD: Both defendants were then placed under arrest for Assaulting on a Police Officers.
William was calling and chasing after the dog, trying to catch it when he saw an officer draw his gun. “I was scared for my dog’s life. I was scared for my life at that time,” he said. But he managed to grab his dog and put her back inside the house.
He was standing outside telling his mom and neighbor about what had happened when an officer asked if he could move his truck into the alley. A group of officers was still standing in front of his house talking when he returned from moving the truck. One approached, walking behind him to place him in handcuffs.
“The officer said to me, ‘You like to sic dogs on people?’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’” William said.
As he was being walked to a squad car, William saw one of the officers originally on the scene. “I said to him, ‘Why are you all lying on me?’ And his response was, ‘Next time mind your business... and I’ll see you in court.’”
[Editor’s note: The following statement was an addendum attached to the original affidavit, and filed a day later.]
MPD: After D2 gave the command attack of “Sick em” and “Get em,” the dog then charged towards the officers within five or six feet. Officers felt threatened because the dog was very large, as well as barking and growling aggressively. Officer Baldwin then drew his service weapon in defense towards the dog. D2 gained control of the dog momentarily and then released the dog towards the officers again. The dog suddenly retreated.
William Kenley was arrested and charged, but the case was dropped before trial.
Kenley’s friend was arrested, but prosecutors did not file formal charges against him.
August 7, 2014, 1100 Block of 16th Street NE
MPD: Officer J Afari (driver) Officer R Buck (front passenger) were operating as members of the 5th District Vice Unit, operating a silver unmarked police vehicle with emergency equipment, wearing plain clothes with a tactical vest with ‘POLICE’ affixed to the front and bearing police badges on the front.
Four cousins had walked from their grandmother’s house up to the BP gas station to buy snacks.
MPD: Lt T Haseldon observed a black male wearing a white A-frame shirt and blue jeans (hereinafter referred to as R-1) holding his waistband, as if he were concealing a weapon, walking away from the area of where a shooting previously occurred shortly before and standing at a BP gas station.
On their way back, Marcus, 20, and Antonio, 18, were walking across a Denny’s parking lot with two younger cousins when three older men pulled up in a car. One asked if they could chat for a minute. Antonio said no, and the group kept walking.
MPD: As officers told R-1 in a loud and clear voice to stop, R-1 did not comply and continued to walk at a faster pace. Lt Haseldon approached R-1, at which time R-1 fled on foot…and was later stopped on the sidewalk.
The men jumped out of the car. The youngest cousin, only 14, took off running down the alley alongside his grandmother’s house. The men ran after him, tackling him just as he reached the front sidewalk.
MPD: At this time Officer Afari walks over to attempt to assist Lt Haseldon when another black male wearing a white A-frame shirt (later identified as Marcus Bates hereinafter referred to as Def Marcus Bates) attacks Officer Afari, hitting Officer Afari on the back of the shoulder with a closed fist.
Marcus ran to intervene, grabbing one of the men and trying to pull him off the kid. During the struggle, Antonio heard one of the men calling for back-up and realized they were dealing with cops. Multiple police cars swarmed the house within moments.
MPD: Officer Afari, Officer M Weiss, Officer J Sprague, Officer R Shifflett, and Officer McCrae attempted to apprehend Def Marcus Bates, at which time he was finally apprehended inside of [redacted] 16th St NE.
Officers pulled Marcus away and tried putting him in handcuffs. Their grandmother, Vivian Bates, watching from the window, yelled at Marcus and Antonio to get inside the house. Marcus wiggled free and ran for the door, slamming it behind him. A stream of officers charged through the door into Vivian’s living room, knocking the 73-year-old grandmother out of her wheelchair and onto the floor. A female cousin stood up from the couch, and an officer pushed her back down.
MPD: While being handcuffed, a black male wearing a blue striped shirt (later identified as Antonio Bates, hereinafter referred to as Def Antonio Bates) jumps off of a couch inside the location of [redacted] 16th St NE, in front of Officer McCrae, and pushes Officer McCrae in a forceful manner.
Antonio followed the officers into the house, yelling at them to stop beating Marcus. One officer grabbed him and threw him against the wall, breaking a shelf.
MPD: Officer McCrae and Officer K Tilley apprehend Def Antonio Bates and place him in handcuffs.
Officers struggled with Marcus from the front room to the back of the house, one hitting him repeatedly with a metal baton, even in the head, according to his grandmother. Vivian pulled herself back into her wheelchair and rolled to protect her grandson from the officer with the metal stick. She hit the officer in the back repeatedly, begging him to stop beating Marcus. He wouldn’t stop, but the baton did slip from his grasp during one swing and nailed Vivian in the knee.
MPD: R-1 was placed under arrest for APO misdemeanor and taken to Children’s Hospital, treated and released and taken to [the Juvenile Processing Center] for processing.
MPD: Def Marcus Bates was placed under arrest for APO misdemeanor, taken to Howard Hospital for his injuries and processed at 5D.
MPD: Def Antonio Bates was placed under arrest for APO misdemeanor and taken to 5D for processing.
The 14-year-old was treated for cuts and bruises. Though he was arrested, prosecutors decided not to file charges against him.
Marcus Bates was treated for a broken wrist. His case was dismissed before trial.
Antonio Bates was handcuffed so tightly, his wrist is scarred. His case was also dismissed before trial.
Vivian was not arrested for hitting the officer. She later found his metal baton under her bed. That day changed Vivian’s sense of security in her own home: “I’m getting ready to move because I don’t want it to happen again. I don’t want the police running in here on me like that because it scared me.”
Contributors To The Project
From the Investigtive Reporting Workshop and WAMU 88.5:
Reporting: Patrick Madden and Christina Davidson
Data analysis: David Donald
Data research: Chris Baronavski
Interactive map and graphics: Kelly Martin
Design and web production: Sydney Ling
Photos: Christina Animashaun
American University graduate student researchers: Christina Animashaun, Mariam Baksh, Meldon Jones, Ly Le, Amber Liu, Pietro Lombardi and Miranda Alyse Strong
AU data entry: Ly Le
Additional research: Laura Peterson
Managing Editor, Investigative Reporting Workshop: Lynne Perri
Managing Editor, WAMU 88.5 News: Meymo Lyons
Online Managing Editor, WAMU: Joe Warminsky
Executive Editor: Susanne Reber
Executive Producer: Kevin Sullivan
Senior Editor: Deborah George
Engineer and Sound Design: Jim Briggs
Digital Editor: Julia B. Chan
Community Manager: Byard Duncan
Web Producers: Jaena Rae Cabrera and Sam Ward
How We Did It
By David Donald, Investigative Reporting Workshop
For the “Assault on Justice” investigation, WAMU 88.5 News web-scraped and downloaded the assaulting a police officer charges in the District of Columbia Courts from January 2012 through December 2014, found here. This produced a spreadsheet of more than 2,000 cases, including felony, misdemeanor and domestic violence assaulting an officer (APO) charges for all District-based police agencies.
The initial scrape included case numbers, dates and charges but left out many important attributes for deeper analysis. To obtain the added detail, graduate students from the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, under the guidance of editors and reporters at IRW and WAMU, researched every case using public access to the records at the District Courthouse.
The students entered each case number into the system, inspected the complete case documentation online and, if enough detail was present, printed the case record, including the affidavits from the arresting officers. However, some cases did not contain enough information or could not be located and did not become part of the final database for analysis.
Under IRW guidance, students and IRW staff entered the relevant data from the printed reports into the database. When completed, IRW editors cleaned the database for consistency and made integrity checks, comparing the database to the original paper documents. Once completed, the database contained 1,966 usable cases.
Many limitations still remain. IRW included a partial report in the database even though it was missing some data. For example, only 91 percent of the cases included the defendant’s race and ethnicity, although the rest of the form may have been complete. Other key, standard details were left off of otherwise complete reports.
Another limitation is the practice of listing multiple charges on one form. When attempting to analyze what happened in each case, there is only one outcome listed that applies to the first charge on the report. The outcomes on other charges, including some charges of assaulting an officer, are not recorded. This also leads to difficulty in counting misdemeanor charges of assaulting a police officer when the primary charge is a non-APO felony.
As in all data, other unknown errors likely exist. However, any specific incidents drawn from the database were checked against the paper record.
IRW ran descriptive statistics and other summary calculations on the data to find patterns behind the individual charges of assaulting a police officer. Because of missing data, most results should be treated as estimations and are expressed as such in the report. Also, IRW followed accepted rounding practices.
The map of arrest locations throughout the District was drawn from the database, which includes the arrest address. WAMU ran the arrest addresses through an online geocoder to give them latitude and longitude coordinates, which allowed the map designer to place the address on the map and add details, such as race of the defendant, to the map.