Adrian James Credit: Darrow Montgomery

On a summer day in 1995, Adrian James, a onetime hero cop turned disgraced felon, was hanging out in his old police beat in the Bloomingdale neighborhood with two men in their twenties.

He’d met one of them, Rob, 15 or so years earlier, when James was a highly respected Metropolitan Police Department officer and the man was just a kid. Once a wiry athlete, James was showing the beginnings of a middle-age paunch, but his mind remained sharp. He remembered Rob because when the young man was a pre-teen, he had been a terrific basketball player recruited by local high schools. As James tagged along, Rob and his pal began talking about a recent kidnapping and murder. Rob’s friend said he was related to one of the perps—a guy named Roach Brown.

“Rob’s friend said Roach Brown was part of it,” James recalls now. 20831702

Rob’s friend also mentioned that Brown was in serious debt—and that he worked for Mayor Marion Barry. The man said Brown “worked right down the hall from the mayor, and he kept a gun in one desk drawer and drugs in another,” James recalls. James had never heard of Brown, who was a convicted murderer and former gangster.

James listened and took mental notes but asked no questions. As a cop, he’d been good at blending into the background and observing. 

Neither man explicitly said how he knew about the abduction turned homicide. James didn’t get the impression that the men had been involved in the crime or had talked to Brown directly. “If they were related [to Roach], they could have heard it from another relative,” James says. The ex-cop’s gut and experience told him the information was credible. “If I had still been on the police department, I would have taken them to homicide so detectives could get a statement.”

At that point, James had been working for about three years as a confidential, unregistered informant for Police Capt. William “Lou” Hennessy, a friend and former colleague. Later that day, James called Hennessy—who headed the homicide squad—to share his tip.

Hennessy immediately matched the tip to the abduction and killing of Carlton “Zack” Bryant, a veteran gambler known to have copious amounts of cash. Before that day, James had never heard of Roach Brown, but Hennessy had: Brown was a veteran D.C. gangster.

James’ crime tips had always panned out, Hennessy says. He wrote up the ex-cop’s information in two separate investigative documents.

The tip would lead to one of the messiest episodes in MPD history. Within a few months, Hennessy—arguably the department’s most successful homicide commander ever—was ousted from his post by Barry’s police chief, who smeared Hennessy in off-the-record remarks to reporters, claiming that the captain was the target of a criminal grand jury investigation, an outright fabrication. With Hennessy out of homicide, no one investigated Brown in connection with the Bryant homicide. 

The captain’s two investigative documents mysteriously disappeared from the police file on the case. And James’ life as a valuable confidential informant evaporated.

Until the publication of this article, James has never been publicly identified as Hennessy’s informant.

Adrian James Credit: Darrow Montgomery

***

Now 61, James looks every day his age. His face is generously lined, and his once lean 5-foot-9 frame supports a middle-age gut. What little hair he still has is flecked with gray. He takes medication now and then for schizophrenia, and to help him sleep. James could easily be mistaken for a retiree on the homestretch of a publicly uneventful life.

But he has been a hero cop who earned, by his count, more than 40 commendations. He’s been a police pariah, an armed crack-smoking bandit, a convict, and a trusted informant who provided leads that closed about two dozen felonies, including a handful of homicides. “I was a Billy Badass,” James says matter-of-factly during one of more than three dozen interviews.

James says he believes the MPD fired him unfairly in 1984, that he is not responsible for his felonious behavior because he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, when he provided drugs to a girlfriend, which led to his ouster.

“I thought I got the screws as far as the police department,” James says. “Nobody knew about PTSD back then. I thought it was wrong that the police department turned its back on me, didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt.” 

James is not much for introspection. Aside from expressing anger—at the police chief who fired him, at the federal prosecutor who tried his drug case, at the deceased internal affairs investigator who arrested him—James has a difficult time conveying emotion. He admits his past crack use and robberies. But he dodges responsibility, and isn’t contrite. About his bad choices and behavior, James blames PTSD, with which he was diagnosed more than 10 years after his firing.

“I lost perspective on what had happened to me,” James says. “I had a simple life: Policing, chasing girls, playing basketball. Losing the job left a big void. After I got fired, I just lost it. I just thought it was unfair. … So I thought, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to do what they said I was doing.’ I was angry, pissed off. I got a rotten apple deal. I felt betrayed, lied to.” Asked if he regrets his criminal behavior, he answers, “No, I regret that the police department didn’t get me help for PTSD when I needed it.” 

“Adrian’s never been a bad person,” says Hennessy, now a Maryland District Court judge. “He’s just a guy who made very poor decisions. If he was a bad guy, I wouldn’t have had anything to do with him.” Hennessy understands why James’ life fell apart once the MPD fired him. “He felt he’d lost everything meaningful in his life. He felt he had nothing to lose, and people are dangerous when they feel they have nothing to lose.”

***

James and his three brothers—Adrian was the second oldest—grew up in Paradise Manor, a sprawling housing complex in deep Northeast, between the Anacostia River and Interstate 295. James didn’t see much of his father, who was often in trouble with the law. When James was a young boy, his father was incarcerated for several years on a burglary charge. An uncle, who stole safes, also served time.

In 1972, as he prepared to graduate from Eastern Senior High School, James took an aptitude test provided by an MPD recruiter. He had no college plans, and he’d be needing a steady job after graduation. He did well on the test and became an MPD cadet. In November 1974, James was sworn in as an MPD officer and assigned to the 5th District, which included some of the toughest sections of Northwest and Northeast D.C.

James was a good young cop. He got to know Hennessy, also a young 5th District (5D) officer, and in short order the two became what MPD cops call “10 percenters”—the relatively small group who made as much as 90 percent of the department’s arrests. James recalls Hennessy showing him how giving guys on the street a break on small offenses—like smoking a joint on the porch—built credibility and equity. The guy you didn’t haul away for a misdemeanor might later offer  information about a felony. “I saw the value in it,” James says.

James evolved from a good officer to a great one when he partnered with Charlie Miller for three years beginning in 1976, Hennessy recalls. By the time Miller retired in 1993, fellow cops widely considered him one of MPD’s top narcotics officers. And Miller himself had nothing but respect for James.

“He was young,” Miller says now. With his big, wire-rim prescription eyeglasses and wiry build, James didn’t look formidable. “He looked like Urkel,” Miller adds, referring to the Family Matters sitcom character. “He was a little guy, but he had the heart of a lion. I knew if I went through a door into trouble, either both of us were coming out alive together, or we’d both die together. I trusted him more than my own brother. I love that man. Let me tell you something, he was good. Adrian James was 1,000 percent police. He was worth taking the time to teach.”

As the 1970s gave way to a new decade, James had the respect of his fellow officers but was not well known outside of the police department. That would soon change.

***

On Feb. 11, 1980, MPD Officer Arthur P. Snyder and his partner were manning an observation post in the 2000 block of 14th Street NW, between U and V streets, on the lookout for hand-to-hand drug deals. Today, that area is one of the more vibrant in the city, chock full of new restaurants, coffee shops, and gleaming apartment buildings, populated by well-off young professionals. But in 1980, that part of 14th Street was a major drug market. Hustlers plied their trade openly, selling heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamines out of the boarded-up ruins of buildings that had housed grocers, hardware stores, and dry cleaners before the 1968 riots.

“You’d go out there anytime, there’d be 200, 300 people out there to buy drugs, daytime and nighttime, weekdays and weekends,” Hennessy recalls.

Snyder and his partner saw a drug sale go down, called for backup, and Snyder went after the suspected dealer on foot. Snyder, who was in uniform, told his partner there’d be no problem, he knew the guy. The hustler—Bruce Wazon Griffith—was known as “Reds,” because of his light complexion. He was a garden-variety neighborhood slinger.

As Snyder approached Griffith, someone on the street called out “Mickey Mouse comin’,” Snyder’s nickname. Griffith pulled out a pistol and fired. One bullet struck Snyder’s belt buckle, a second his bullet-resistant vest. Snyder fell to the ground, unconscious.

Griffith then stood over Snyder, shot him in the head, and ran. 

The audacious killing rocked the MPD and stunned much of the city. In the eight days after the murder, the Washington Post published at least six front-page articles related to the attack. It had been nearly three years since a D.C. cop was killed in the line of duty.

Law enforcers streamed onto city streets, looking for the killer. Virtually every MPD officer on the force hunted for Griffith, along with U.S. Park Police, Capitol Police, officers from suburban Maryland and Virginia, and agents from the FBI, DEA, and ATF. They raided the homes of Griffith’s relatives, friends, girlfriends, and criminal associates. They hunted him in nightclubs and alleys.

Two days after the killing, James and partner Bob Lanham were on their beat in Bloomingdale when a teenager discreetly asked James if he was looking for Griffith. James had arrested the adolescent a few years earlier for a burglary, and had urged leniency because the boy was contrite.

The youth told James that Griffith would be on a particular street corner the next day. It was a classic example of what Hennessy had taught James: If you give non-violent offenders a break, some of them will help you solve big crimes.

The next afternoon, with Lanham in the passenger seat and both cops dressed in plainclothes, James drove his 1978 gold-colored Toyota Celica into Bloomingdale and parked on a side street with his gun in his lap.

Minutes later, a cab stopped near them on First Street. A man wearing a ski mask and goggles got out of the taxi. “He took his ski mask and goggles off and wiped his brow. I looked up with my binoculars and said, ‘That’s him,’” James recalls. Griffith got back into the cab, which headed north. As Lanham radioed for backup, James followed, maybe 20 feet behind the taxi.

Suddenly, a patrol car roared onto the block, lights flashing, siren screaming, and stopped just behind James’ Celica. No point in stealth now. “I jumped out and Bob jumped out, we took cover behind a parked car,” James says. “I took out my gun and said, ‘Come on out with your hands up, Griffith, I know it’s you!’”

“The cab driver jumped out and rolled, like he was in a TV show,” James recalls. Griffith raised a gun and fired through the taxi’s back window, sparking a furious gun battle.

James and Lanham were almost out of bullets when Griffith crawled out through the blown-out rear window and rolled off the taxi. “He came out blazing,” James says. “I was behind the parked car, waiting for him. He runs and turns to fire. He took only a couple of steps. I stepped out from behind the car in a crouch and let him have it. He dropped.” 

Griffith was dead.

When James arrived at the 5D station that night, two dozen officers and a handful of commanders met him with a standing ovation. To many Washingtonians, and certainly his fellow cops, James was a hero. “Young officers looked up to him,” says Marcello Muzzatti, who joined 5D as a rookie in 1981. He retired in 2010 and later served as president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #1. 

In the months after he took down Griffith, James became even more zealous on the street, and took greater risks, Hennessy says. At the time, the MPD had no protocol requiring officers who had been involved in shootings or other serious incidents to receive counseling. “If I shot someone on a Tuesday, my sergeant would say go home and get drunk for three nights, then I’d be back at work by Friday,” says Charlie Miller, James’ former partner.

A few months after the shootout, MPD made counseling mandatory for officers who’d used force that led to a death or a serious injury. The program has helped countless officers over the years, says Gary Hankins, who was chairman of the FOP’s labor committee and helped negotiate for the program. But it was not in place when James shot Reds Griffith.

James earned the adulation of fellow officers and respect on the street. Then he sold drugs to an undercover policewoman.

***

James had married in the late 1970s. By the early ’80s, the marriage was over. He became sexually involved with Velisa Clark, a stunning Howard University student. In 1982, someone broke into her Southwest D.C. apartment and stole $12,000, she told police. Clark named James as a potential suspect. She told officers that he gave her drugs, which led to internal affairs arresting James on felony drug charges.

James denies that he stole Clark’s money, but he acknowledges he bought heroin, cocaine, and marijuana and sold them (unknowingly) to an undercover officer. His explanation seems fanciful. “She reached out to me for help,” James says, adding that Clark had told him some of the stolen money belonged to an organized crime outfit in New Jersey.

Clark told him that a hit man from New Jersey named Bob was going to come to D.C. to look into the stolen cash, and that she was afraid for her life, he says. He says she told him that Bob knew James was an officer—and that if James sold him drugs, Bob would believe he was a dirty cop. “It was a way to earn his trust,” James claims.

James bought $240 worth of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, intending to sell it to Bob so he could position himself as crooked in Bob’s eyes, James explains. But Bob didn’t show up to the buy on Sept. 1, 1982. Instead, outside the Skyline Inn hotel on South Capitol Street SW, James met a woman whom Clark introduced as one of Bob’s friends. She was actually Gretchen Merkle, a U.S. Park Police officer working undercover as part of an  internal affairs investigation. 

Sgt. Richard R. Caron arrested James the next month. In November 1982, the police department suspended James without pay, and he went on trial in D.C. Superior Court in January 1984. At least six well-respected D.C. police officers, including Hennessy and James’ old partner Charlie Miller, testified as character witnesses. “If you can prove to me that Adrian James sold drugs for profit, I would lay my arm in a paper cutter, and you could have it,” Miller told the jury.

James testified that he bought the drugs as part of an undercover operation to protect Clark, who did not testify. (Efforts to reach Clark were unsuccessful.) The jury acquitted James.

He expected that a police trial board would then clear him to return to duty. “I thought I’d earned the benefit of the doubt,” he says. But a few months after the acquittal, the trial board fired him, not for the drug allegations, but for running an unauthorized police operation, according to his lawyer in a later case. James says a friendly captain told him the trial board was prepared to clear him, but then-Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. told them to find a reason to fire him. (Turner died in 1993.)

James felt betrayed. Stripped of his badge, he didn’t just tumble into the life of a gangster: He took a running start and leaped. “They accused me of doing all these crimes I didn’t do. I may as well go out and do some,” James recalled telling Hennessy. Around this time, the crack cocaine epidemic ravaged D.C., unleashing a torrent of violence as dealers fought over turf. And the ex-cop who never smoked or used drugs became a crack-smoking armed bandit.

***

In 1986, a woman friend who was using crack gave James his first hit. “It was a rush, it felt good,” he recalls. Initially, he used with his friend, smoking crack whenever she had some. Then he started using on his own, which meant he needed money.

So he started robbing drug dealers. It started when James went to Mayfair Mansions, a sprawling apartment complex in deep Northeast, near his childhood home of Paradise Manor.

One night, as James walked into the complex to visit his brother, a half dozen drug dealers quickly surrounded him, offering crack. James patted the gun tucked in his waistband and barked, “Get the fuck away from me.” The encounter tripped a wire in James’ mind. “Something told me this was a way for me to make money.”

Before long, he figured out that many of the hustlers weren’t locals. “These guys didn’t know me,” he says. “They weren’t from the city. They were from Florida, St. Petersburg, Miami, New York City. Some were from North Carolina. I saw a lot of guys in Mayfair and Paradise with money signs on them. They were from out of town. They had no business fucking with my city.”

They didn’t know him, so they couldn’t retaliate. James knew that drug dealers were unlikely to call police to report that someone had stolen their crack.

One night at the complex, a dealer approached him. James suggested they go inside one of the buildings to make their transaction.

James pulled out his gun and said, “Hand that over.” He says he usually wore a hoodie during his robberies, and sometimes hit his victims on the head with his gun “to get their attention. Once you get their attention, they’ll cooperate.”

“I was robbing the hell out of those motherfuckers,” James says.

Stripped of badge, service revolver, salary, and pension, James still had the skills acquired on the force, and put them to new use. He’d hang out in the complex, knowing how to blend in, sizing up potential targets. His brother helped by telling him where dealers lived.

One day, James learned that a Jamaican dealer had just gotten a healthy shipment of cocaine delivered to an apartment in Mayfair. James knew the people in that unit, and talked his way in, intending to rob the hustler. But before James could pull off the heist, a team of officers from the 6th District raided the apartment. James tossed his handgun, but police arrested him for illegal gun possession. The U.S. Attorney’s office chose not to prosecute.

“That was my gun, but they couldn’t prove it,” James says, still angry that police charged him. His old partner Charlie Miller was by then a sergeant in 6D. He told an officer to uncuff James, then spoke with him.

“Buddy, what’s going on with you?” Miller asked. “You were the best.”

“I was trained by the best,” James replied.

His former partner wouldn’t look him in the eye, Miller recalls.

***

James kept some of the crack he jacked from dealers for his personal use. He gave some away to girlfriends or relatives, and sold some. “Usually to people I knew, like my brothers, and for less than I could have sold it for,” James says. “I wasn’t really a drug seller. I gave a lot of drugs away.” James committed dozens of robberies and made numerous small sales of crack without getting caught.

His luck ran out on Dec. 2, 1986. A Drug Enforcement Administration agent arrested him and a girlfriend as they sat inside a car outside the main terminal of National Airport.

The agent found 31 grams of cocaine inside James’ jacket and an illegal handgun. James was trying to make a cocaine delivery to a man named Bobby Shapiro, a friend of his girlfriend, federal court records show. Unknown to James, Shapiro was cooperating with the DEA and federal prosecutors. This time, the jury convicted James of cocaine possession with intent to distribute. James was sentenced to three years in prison. He remained free while he pursued an appeal, which was denied, and began serving his sentence in August 1989. He served most of his time in a federal institution in Florida, and was released in December 1992.

James lost touch with most of his fellow officers after the department fired him, but Hennessy remained a loyal friend. He would swing by in his patrol car to check on his former colleague and slip him $20 here, $50 there.

Soon, James began giving Hennessy tips. “He’d tell me who was talking about a particular case, where we might find a gun used in a particular crime,” Hennessy says. James was providing information that Hennessy used to close cases—serious ones like armed robberies, attempted murders, assaults with a deadly weapon.

James provided the information not because he saw it as a way to redeem himself, but because Hennessy had remained a friend, and because he had faith that his former colleague would follow through.

At one point, James told Hennessy he knew who had committed a bank robbery, and identified a suspect from surveillance photos. The FBI locked her up, and James earned $500 in reward money.

In September 1993, as citywide violence fueled by the crack trade was reaching its bloody apex, Hennessy assumed command of the homicide squad. By then, the District had earned its “nation’s murder capital” distinction and would finish the year with a then-record 454 killings, the vast majority drug-related. Hennessy revamped the way detectives investigated homicides. He assigned investigative teams to each of the seven police districts, and gave them a mandate to develop sources in their respective areas.

The new approach worked. In September 1995, the Justice Department recognized the MPD homicide squad for maintaining a closure rate of more than 50 percent. It had typically lagged in the thirties before Hennessy assumed command. It seemed the MPD was stemming the bloody tide. Then James called Hennessy with his tip about Roach Brown.

***

In late April 1995, someone abducted Carlton “Zack” Bryant, 59, from his home at gunpoint. Bryant’s family received a ransom demand soon afterward. Bryant was a legend among the city’s old-school hustlers and gangsters, and he was a prime target for a shakedown because he was known to have plenty of cash. From the 1960s to the 1980s, Bryant sold heroin and ran an illegal numbers racket.

Though his relatives delivered $50,000 in cash, Bryant’s battered corpse was found near the Barry Farm public housing project three days after the kidnapping. Later that summer, James overheard Rob and Rob’s friend talk about Roach Brown’s alleged involvement in a kidnapping-murder.

Hennessy immediately grasped the significance, because Brown wasn’t just any suspect. He was a veteran D.C. gangster who’d helped Marion Barry win back the mayor’s office after Barry served time for cocaine possession.

In 1965, a judge had sentenced a young Brown to life in prison after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder. Brown and three other defendants had beaten and fatally shot a man during a robbery. Brown admitted his part in the attack but denied shooting the victim.

Nine years later, President Gerald Ford commuted Brown’s sentence from life to 30 years in prison, making him eligible for parole. He was released, and worked a series of jobs, including a production gig at a local TV station.

Brown couldn’t stay out of trouble. In 1987, he started using crack and was caught selling cocaine to an undercover officer. About that time, he stole $45,000 from the Hillcrest Children’s Center, a charity for emotionally disturbed kids. He pleaded guilty to both offenses. The judge sentenced Brown to 10 years in prison and ordered him to pay $45,000 in restitution. Brown caught another break in 1993, when authorities transferred him from federal prison to the D.C. Department of Corrections. He was supposed to serve the remaining 16 years on his murder conviction, court records show, but he was released on parole after only five months in D.C. custody.

The next year, Brown worked on Barry’s 1994 mayoral campaign, organizing ex-offenders. Barry defeated incumbent Sharon Pratt Kelly and six other candidates in the Democratic primary and cruised to victory in the general election. Mayor Barry rewarded Brown with a $35,000-a-year job as director of the Office of Ex-Offender Affairs.

At the time Bryant was kidnapped, Brown still owed significant restitution for his theft from the children’s charity. An MPD review of court files, Hennessy says, showed that Brown made a healthy payment just after Bryant was abducted and killed.

A day or two after James called Hennessy with his tip about Roach Brown, the captain and his informant met at MPD headquarters. Hennessy took notes as James recounted what he’d heard. A few days later, James returned to headquarters, and Hennessy had him talk to the detective on the Zack Bryant murder case. Hennessy was so protective of James that he didn’t identify him by name to the investigator. In two documents, known within the MPD as 123s, Hennessy wrote up James’ tip and placed them in the case jacket.

“My plan was to wire up Adrian and have him talk to the two people [Rob and Rob’s friend] again, to get them on tape,” Hennessy recalls. Detectives could then subpoena them to testify before a grand jury.

But Hennessy never got the chance. That September, he learned from a police commander that Mayor Barry wanted to transfer him out of homicide. Hennessy asked interim police Chief Larry D. Soulsby if that was true, and Soulsby denied it.

By late October, Hennessy had confirmed the rumor. On the day Barry held a news conference to announce that he was making Soulsby permanent chief—which gave Soulsby the authority to transfer commanders—James paged Hennessy. The two met at a hamburger place on New York Avenue NW. James had heard news of the transfer, and asked if it was true. Yes, Hennessy replied.

“Do you want me to kill him?” James asked. The ex-cop was so loyal, Hennessy thought he might really try to hit the chief. No, stay away from him, Hennessy replied. The press conference was an hour or so later. Soulsby announced a series of transfers but said nothing about Hennessy, the head of the homicide squad who was gaining national prominence. Afterward, I and two other reporters approached Soulsby. I asked what was happening in homicide. He was moving Hennessy to night patrol, Soulsby replied. “Sounds punitive,” I said.

Soulsby, who did not respond to letters and phone calls asking for comment on this story, said he would elaborate only if the other two reporters and I agreed to go off the record. We did, and the chief lied, saying Hennessy was the target of a criminal grand jury investigation. I gave Soulsby a chance to back off, asking him if he might have misspoken. “I did not misspeak,” he insisted.

I ran into Hennessy a few minutes later at MPD headquarters. He asked what Soulsby said about him. I hesitated for only a moment. True, I had agreed with Soulsby to go off the record. But those agreements assume both parties’ good faith. Soulsby had almost certainly lied to me and I knew it. As far as I was concerned, it voided our agreement. Still, I didn’t directly answer Hennessy’s question, responding instead with one of my own, whether he was the target of a grand jury. “That lyin’ son of a bitch!” Hennessy exploded. He later confronted Soulsby, raging at him for lying, an encounter he taped.

Hennessy and the police department eventually reached an agreement: The captain would not testify against Soulsby at his confirmation hearing before the D.C. Council, and the chief would assign Hennessy to the training division, rather than night patrol, and leave him alone.

The next spring, Hennessy ran into the detective assigned to the Bryant homicide and asked about the case. Your source was mistaken, the detective answered—it wasn’t Roach Brown, it was Roach Henry. Hennessy didn’t press the detective because he was no longer head of homicide. But he checked on Roach Henry, and learned that he had a good alibi. The week that Bryant was kidnapped and killed, Henry had been busy dying of cancer—in prison. But Hennessy still called James just to double-check. James confirmed his sources had accused Brown. 

Hennessy arranged for a detective to let him see the Bryant murder file. His write-ups on James’ tip were gone. Someone was derailing the investigation from the inside, Hennessy suspected.

The issue of Brown’s alleged involvement in the Bryant homicide emerged publicly in the fall of 1997. On Oct. 10, radio station WTOP aired an interview with James in which he recounted how he had obtained information that an unnamed mayoral aide had been involved in a kidnapping-murder. Reporter Paul Wagner (now with WTTG-Fox 5) did not identify James and had a station engineer disguise his voice to protect his identity. 

The same day, in testimony before the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee, Hennessy described how he was removed from the homicide unit after his informant provided information that a mayoral aide (whom Hennessy did not identify) had participated in Bryant’s kidnapping and killing.

During that time, many people—including some of Bryant’s friends—thought he was behind the kidnapping and killing, Roach Brown says. “Word on the street was there was a contract out to kill me,” Brown recalls.

After a Councilmember said the FBI should investigate Hennessy’s allegations, the police captain took two FBI agents to a jail in Tappahannock, Virginia, where James was incarcerated for missing an appointment with his probation officer. The agents interviewed James, but nothing came of it. Brown says that no investigator ever questioned him about the kidnapping-murder. “No FBI, no detective, no IRS,” he says.

His name probably became the focus of the Bryant investigation because people mixed him up with Roach Henry, Brown claims, adding that he had attended Bryant’s funeral. In fact, Brown says, Bryant was his cousin. (In 1997, Brown told Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy that Bryant was his friend.) “I didn’t have nothing to do with it,” he says. “I had no motive. I was in the political arena, in the mayor’s office. It was the pinnacle.”

James dismisses the idea that he’s endangering his life by revealing his identity as an informant. “I don’t worry about things I can’t control,” he says. “I don’t worry about things that happened in the past. Besides, he’s gotta be older than me. He’s past grinning about getting away with it.”

Brown tells City Paper that James “has nothing to worry about from me. Man, I’m 72 years old, in failing health. The only person I hurt is myself, getting out of the car.”

Brown left the mayor’s office in 1997, and for the last several years has hosted a weekly radio show that focuses on prison reform and the rights of inmates and ex-cons.

Hennessy earned a law degree, served briefly as a Maryland state delegate, and in 2005, took the oath of office to become a Maryland District Court judge. Soulsby resigned under a cloud of suspicion in November 1997, hours before MPD Lieutenant Jeffrey Stowe—the chief’s best friend and roommate—was charged with extorting money from married men who frequented gay bars.

James says that until I started asking him about it, he hadn’t thought of the Roach Brown episode in years. He dismisses Brown’s explanation that his accusers, at least one of whom was related to Brown, had confused him with Roach Henry. “I wouldn’t know it was a kidnapping unless someone told me,” James says. “I wouldn’t know [the suspect] worked for the mayor’s office unless someone told me.”

***

Today, James seems stuck in time, emotionally and mentally, an urban version of Rip Van Winkle squinting uncomprehendingly into the glare of a city transformed. He depends on SSI payments and lives in a subsidized apartment in a Southeast neighborhood where gunfire is common. He gets around on a bicycle and relies on public transportation and rides from friends. James has missed much of the dramatic renewal that the District has undergone in the last two decades.

In a series of interviews, I drove James to the scenes of some of the most dramatic episodes of his life. He gawked at the changes in the Southeast neighborhood around Nationals Park, where in the early 1990s he hustled for a living, washing cars and passing out fliers for small money. When I took him to the Bloomingdale neighborhood he had once patrolled as a cop, he marveled at the throngs of white people. “There weren’t any white people here when I was a cop,” he marveled.

“It’s sad,” Hennessy says. “Adrian peaked so early in his life. He reminds me of a top-notch athlete whose career was cut short by injury. He was phenomenal as a street cop. He had amazing sources, talent, and instincts.”

Credit: Photo courtesy Adrian James

Ruben Castaneda is a former Washington Post reporter and author of S Street Rising: Crack, Murder, and Redemption in D.C.