There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Two D.C. police officers thought they did the right thing by reporting a superior for alleged brutality. Not that it changed anything.
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery
It must have been a thrill, that first time in plain clothes. Officer Andrew Crone was fresh off his probationary period. He had spent weeks celebrating his induction into the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) ranks on the sidelines, nursing a broken hand, an injury he had received from a gun-toting suspect. It was his first week back. And on this Tuesday afternoon, March 2, 1999his birthdayhe had been told it would be his first shift undercover. He could say goodbye to the stiff uniform, the radio runs, the false alarms, and the Officer Friendly routine. At least for one night, he wasn’t nobody’s patrol grunt.
Crone slipped into his Yankees jersey, jeans, and, when nobody would lend out an unmarked Crown Vic, his own blue Jeep Wrangler. He grabbed his partner, Paul Regan, a five-year veteran, and the two spun off for the worst corners and alleys of their 6th District neighborhoods, the ones that edge Watts Branch Park and Lincoln Heights, along Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE.
All those streets, one red-brick low-rise after another, Crone and Regan cruised. It was a nice clear day, the temperature climbing into the mid-50s. Still, almost nobody was out. Those who were, were chill. No tunes of gunplay or suspicious activity crackled over their police radio. They hit a 7-Eleven for coffee and sodas and then zipped through more hot spots.
Young cops are either nervous-dumb or true-blue-eager or both. Crone and Regan were both. As Regan put it: “You deal with the meatheads every day. It’s us against them. That sounds corny, I know: the good guys against the bad guys.” Plain clothes would even things up a bit, give them a better chance to get back at those meatheads.
Regan and Crone had spent enough years working in the law-enforcement minor leaguesRegan as a beach cop in Cape Cod and housing-project security in Boston; Crone as a mall cop in Harrisburg, Pa.before joining the MPD. Regan, 32, an ex-infantryman, still liked to wear his hair cropped close. He was short, with small, bookish glasses and small hands. When he talked, his tone was pure librarian, a trait he had picked up from a family full of civil servants. Crone, 27, countered with a manner and style as brash as the punk bands he loved, Murphy’s Law and Social Distortion. He had a beefy build, moussed-up wavy blond hair, and a quick smile. Despite their differences, they were alike in feeling boredom intensely.
At about 4:30 p.m., Crone turned onto East Capitol Street and found several police cruisers heading north. Lt. Keith Perry’s car led the way. Perry was known within the 6th District as an overly aggressive cop who sometimes tiptoed on the line between a clean arrest and a shit-kicking. The two young cops knew the stories but thought they might be exaggerated.
“Let’s go follow them,” Crone said. “See what they’re doing.” They radioed Perry’s crew for approval. The lieutenant cheered the addition of some new recruits. There was work to be done.
Crone and Regan were told to check out the 4900 block of Ayers Place SE. They turned up 49th Street, pulled behind the George Washington Carver Apartments, and idled in the parking lot. If they waited long enough, they might see something, like a hand-to-car-
window transactionlike a drug deal.
It was about 5 p.m. The streets had gotten a little darker, a little colder, and a little emptier. The lot was a mess of gravel-filled craters and potholes. There were just car shadows. The night could go down just like thissitting in the Wrangler. This was an odd neighborhood, one that aspired to neither recklessness nor a perfect citizenry. It was a place that still played Curtis Mayfield; everyone seemed a cousin away from criminal activity. To residents, the cops were usually background music, or parents to the drunk-and-disorderlies and petty thieves.
But there was this one dude who noticed Crone and Regan right off. Kinda smiled at them and then tapped a bulge in his sweat shirt as if he wanted to sell them something. It was a simple gesture, a tap-tap-tap. They thought it was pot, the bulge was big enough. The weaker pot-possession laws allowed for the bigger display. This was the illicit partridge in the parking lotwhat they had been seeking.
Crone and Regan looked at each other, meditating on the potential pot dealer for a second or two. Maybe the suspect would sell to a couple of young white guys in a Wrangler; maybe not. But before they could make a decision, the guy turned away, opened the trunk of a car, closed it, and then left the lot. Maybe they could just observe him.
Wait and seethat was the best Crone and Regan could come up with. Regan radioed over to Perry’s crew with a description of the suspect: black male, possibly early 20s, gray hooded sweat shirt. He remembers feeling scaredscared of fucking up, of making a bad arrest. He didn’t want to screw up this opportunity.
Crone eased the Wrangler to the lip of the parking lot. It was there that they saw the flashing lights and heard the speeding whir of a marked Chevy Lumina. The Lumina pulled up to the corner of 49th and Ayers, where a half-dozen guys were standing. A uniformed officer emerged. It was Lt. Perry. He was followed by Officers Jaime Cullen and John Gartland.
Crone and Regan parked behind Perry and got out of their car, too. They could forget about the guy in the gray sweat shirt. Any hopes of netting a drug sale were gone. This was something a lot less subtlethe police version of an ambush, a jump-out. If Crone and Regan wanted one night of making commendation-level arrests, good arrests, this was not going to be their night.
“Turn around and place your hands on the fence,” they shouted. Everyone complied except this one guy. His name, they would learn later, was Alan Smith. Smith was holding a police-type baton at his right side. He did not raise the baton. According to court and police records, he never raised the baton.
“Drop the baton!” Everyone was shoutingSmith’s buddies, the police officers. Crone and Perry had their guns drawn.
Smith didn’t drop the baton.
Regan went to Smith’s side. He grabbed a shoulder. Crone holstered his Glock, came in and grabbed a hand. Smith steadied himself against the fence. Finally, the suspect dropped the baton, according to witness statements and court records.
Smith’s baton rolled to the sidewalk. Police and court records indicate that Perry picked it up. He nudged into Smith, moving Crone out of the way. He then raised the baton and smacked Smith over the head.
Regan, still at Smith’s side, heard only the first thump. Smith lost his footing and fell to the ground, landing on his stomach. Regan fell with him, landing on top of Smith’s shoulders and upper arms.
Smith says that at that point he may have lost consciousness. Court and police records show that he never said a word, never fought back. He simply lay limp, facedown. And without a word, Perry continued to hit his suspect with the baton. Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
“Oh shit,” Regan remembers thinking. “I knew something was wrong.” The officer thought he had to try and stop Perry. He crawled over Smith’s limp body and put his own in front of the suspect’s head to shield the steady blows. Thwack. Thwack.
Perry didn’t stop swinging the baton, according to both witness statements and court and police records. The lieutenant struck Regan in the back of the head and on the right hand. Regan quickly jerked away, and Perry continued to swing full force into Smith’s body. Finally, he stopped.
Regan was dazed. “I remember looking up and seeing everybody there,” he says. “How did I get myself in the middle of this? I knew instantly that the lieutenant screwed up.”
When Crone saw Smith lying on the ground, he froze. He thought Perry had killed Smith. A dark-red pool of blood surrounded the suspect’s head. It looked as if the blood were squirting out of his mouth and scalp. Smith didn’t say anything, didn’t move. But he was alive, and pretty soon he was in handcuffs.
Smith, 36, was taken to D.C. General Hospital. After an inch-wide gash in his head was closed, he was arrested by Regan for assaulting a police officer. The charges would be dropped the next day, and Smith would eventually sue the police department over them. Crone found no drugs on Smith or any of his friends.
The whole situation made Crone and Regan fearful. Perry had put them in this situation. His superiors had ordered Regan to arrest Smith. What would happen to them? What would happen to Perry? What would Perry do to them?
“We needed to talk to someone about the whole situation, and we knew we were going to talk to someonewe didn’t know who,” Crone says.
Just before Smith left in the ambulance, Officer Eric Beale approached Crone. He muttered to the rookie that Perry’s conduct wasn’t news: This had happened before. Only then, Beale said, the suspect Perry had slugged was already in handcuffs.
The District’s crack era can count many victims. Along with its relatives heroin and PCP, the drug burned through residents, turning them into stick figures and then ghosts. It razed neighborhoods and left housing projects boarded up. Its spoils included automatic weapons, which ensured a lot of early deaths. And recording it all were the cops. Cops were crack’s last victims, the eventual byproduct of a never-ending, unwinnable war. And some of them eventually became very dangerous cops.
As a patrol officer in the ’80s, you took roughly 15 service calls every shift. That’s 15 times when your heart raced, your adrenaline pumped, your eyes widened, and you sucked a little harder on that Marlboro Red. You patrolled the hellholes that crack and PCP produced, the open-air drug markets. You marveled at Superior Court’s revolving door. You watched addicts waste away in the middle of a summer day. It hardened you.
“There’s no doubt it had to have an effect on police officers,” says Sgt. John Brennan, a veteran with the Major Narcotics Branch. “[Beat cops] see things day in and day out, and if they are in one area, they see these people die. And saw the fact that they can’t do anything about it. That’s everything.”
Of course, there were some officers who lived through the crack era and became wiser, not meaner. There were others who just burned outthe stay-in-the-cruiser guys, the ones who made their own coffee at the 7-Eleven. But there were a few who simply became tuned up and charged. It didn’t help that the Supreme Court and then President Bill Clinton eviscerated search-and-seizure protections. The officers turned traffic stops into legal patdowns, and jump-outs became widely used as an intimidation tool. Within the department, cops talked a lot about how you could police different “across the river.” It meant that in Anacostia, in the city’s poorest and most drug-riddled neighborhoods, you could get away with working rough.
“You just did,” remembers one 7th District officer. “You had to kick motherfuckers in the ass. Sometimes you got to thump them. Once you pull it, you better use it. Don’t be playing, man. You look for the hoopdee with the bullet holes in the side, you look for the hoopdee that you don’t know how it’s running. You look for the guy that’s real slick, real comfortable, like ‘If you want it, come and get it.’ Especially at night. Yeah, you were violating people’s rights.”
If you were a cop on the drug beat, you first stepped to the corners. They were the easiest of targets, teenage compass points where everyone seemed to gravitate. Some of the corners were home to real, serious criminal enterprises. Others were just hang-out spots. Inevitably, corners became the settings for lawsuits alleging police brutality, questionable patdowns, and false arrests.
So many sets of eyes let the beatings and false arrests go: a cadre of white shirts craving arrests no questions asked, a public swallowing cop-brand violence a lot easier than the prospect of coming nose-to-AK-47 with a carjacker, and a Civilian Complaint Review Board sitting on hundreds of allegations of abuse. Arresting someone you had just beaten down became practically standard procedure. So did looking the other way when an incident fell in your lap.
As crime declined, some officers stayed tuned up. Perry was one of those guys.
Charles H. Ramsey took the top cop job in the spring of 1998, as the crack wave was receding. He was given a mandate to do whatever was necessary to root out the bad cops and promote the honest, hardworking ones. He gave accountability and community relations top billing in a department that had long had a reputation for neither. He instituted new training programs and a strong bias toward “community policing.”
In the wake of a decade of bad shootingscostly in terms of both money and moraleRamsey gave his 3,600-member force over to the Justice Department, letting it microscope the missteps and dysfunction. In June of this year, the Justice Department finished its study and concluded that the MPD had an excessive-force problemthat 15 percent of the 1,400 instances of force used by cops on civilians from 1994 to 1999 were excessive. Justice announced that an independent monitor would be selected to review the department’s efforts in fixing that problem.
Aside from making friends with the feds, Ramsey instituted new programs, including mandatory firearms training sessions and new use-of-force guidelines. This past year, Ramsey created the Force Investigation Team, a 12-member unit that’s charged with investigating police shootings. And by some measures, those programs appear to be working. At the beginning of this year, Ramsey announced that shootings resulting in death or injury to civilians had dropped 78 percent since 1998, with deaths falling from 12 to 1.
All the training was supposed to trickle down to day-to-day police worknamely, what to do with the corners, the crack era’s trading posts. The approach now is much more touchy-feely. The MPD has slowly developed a “Policing for Prevention” strategy that includes working with other city agencies, clergy, and volunteer groups to help ease some of the systemic problemsunemployment, poor living conditionsthat cause crime.
This new focus represents an attempt to ease the MPD out of a lot of nasty headlines, expensive civil suits, and cops with credibility problems. No department wants to turn into L.A.’s notorious Rampart Division or become the focus of riots, as happened in Cincinnati.
So now, if you’re a cop and you see a bunch of guys hanging out, “get out of your car and start talking to them,” explains Terrance Gainer, executive assistant chief. “Try to get through why they are on the corner. Locking them up is no solution.”
And covering up other cops’ misdeeds is officially also no solution.
At the very least, Regan’s actionshis attempt to shield a suspect from a beating, his willingness to speak out about Perrymark a cultural shift. Regan and Crone didn’t hesitate to come forward and tell the truth to their supervisor, to officials investigating the night’s incident, to a prosecutor, to a grand jury, and to a civil attorney. When anyone asked, “Do you think Lt. Perry used excessive force?” they didn’t hesitate to say yes, this is not what we learned at the training academy.
But more than two years later, the two have not been awarded medals for their honesty and bravery. They have not been trotted out before cameras next to one proud chief. And Perry is still collecting a paycheck. None of their efforts mattered.
The department’s culture can change only so fast.
Perry never changed at all. When asked about the lieutenant, his colleagues struggle to find the right words. Many dealt with Perry by ignoring him, distancing him from the rest of 6D. It was easier that way.
Perry was like lightningyou never wanted to come in contact with him. You weren’t like him, and you were never going to be. You may have hated the dealers as much as he did, but the lieutenant handled them differently.
To the young officers, Perry was shockingly out-of-context. “He is old-school,” quips one. “They had, back then, the crack epidemic.”
“He was not politically correct,” adds another.
After growing up in the District and graduating from Eastern High School, Perry joined the police department on Aug. 1, 1977. According to police documents and interviews, he was a dedicated officer, one who was soft-spoken and congenial with his supervisors and partners. He was also an aggressive cop who happened to work his rookie year in one of the worst open-air drug markets the city had to offernamely, the 900 block of Varney Street SE. He worked patrols when PCP and then crack hit.
“The first thing you want to do is you protect yourself,” says Sgt. G.G. Neill, the chair of the Fraternal Order of Police and Perry’s former partner. “With PCP, you are dealing with people who have the strength of 20 guys, who feel no pain. You are dealing with people who are irrational in their thought. You have a job to do, and there isn’t always somebody who wants you to do it. Ninety-nine percent of them are going to want to fight and run. You have to be prepared.”
Anything could happen, and you had to be aggressive.
This was the attitude Perry brought to his supervisory positions, when he was promoted to sergeant in 1985 and assigned to the 1st District, and when he was moved to the 6th District as a lieutenant, on Dec. 12, 1991. Only at first, he aimed his aggression at his own officers. According to several officers who were present, as well as an account in the Washington Times, a little more than a month into the 6D job, Perry ordered three officers strip-searched after a suspect complained of having money stolen at the station house. Of the three, only one female officer was ordered to strip completely. The others were given a cursory search.
The incident yielded no money, but it set a tone: Perry wouldn’t trust his own cops any more than the drug dealers. Everyone was fair game. But the attitude would backfire on Perry: After his first year and a half as a lieutenant, his abilities to command a staff with respect became an issue for debate. In an evaluation for the period of April 1, 1992, to March 31, 1993, Capt. James Kalbacher gave him just competent marks in every category from leadership to interpersonal relationships. He scored below competent in one categoryprofessionalism. His overall rating: “Needs Improvement.”
“Lt. Perry seems to have difficulty in his position as a mid-level manager,” Kalbacher wrote. “Lt. Perry seems to lack the leadership qualities which are essential to effectively supervise a patrol section. The lieutenant has been counseled concerning these deficiencies, and it is hoped that improvement will be observed.”
More to the point, officers under Perry’s command say he was “a thug” who didn’t hesitate to pin nicknames like “dummy” and “motherfucker” on his subordinates. “He was the most abusive person I ever met in life. In life,” says one official.
And in April 1999, Lt. Paula Edmiston testified under oath, during an Internal Affairs Division interrogation related to Perry’s drinking: “There was allegations before, when I was a sergeant at 6D, that [Perry] had a drinking problem. And there were times that he appeared to, you know, not be quite right.”
A 6th District sergeant recalls writing a memo to his captain in the mid-’90s. The memo, he says, detailed Perry’s abuses and mused prophetically that someday the lieutenant was going to mess up big. “I told them he was a liability to the police department,” remembers the sergeant, speaking on condition of anonymity. “He was going to cost the police department a lot of money.”
But mostly Perry’s abuse and potential for liability centered on his own officers. One day in the late spring of 1998, Perry radioed his officers for assistance on a traffic stop. When none of them showedthey were all on their own priority calls, including a report of a woman with a gun at 305 Anacostia Road SEPerry ordered all to report to him immediately, according to two officers who worked under Perry at the time.
That evening, Perry lined up his officers on a sidewalk along the 1600 block of Q Street SE, according to an officer who was present. He walked the line, smacking a slapjack against his hand in perfect drill-instructor mode. “You motherfuckers didn’t back me up,” he bellowed, according to an officer present. “I wouldn’t do you like that!”
Perry bore down harder on that slapjack. “I’ll kick all y’all’s asses!” he screamed.
The next morning, several officers in his unit wrote up the incident. Sixth District Cmdr. Stanly Wigenton reviewed the report and recommended that Perry face “adverse action,” which meant anything from a few days’ suspension to termination. But officials at headquarters rejected the commander’s findings. Wigenton says he couldn’t and didn’t challenge the officials.
Instead, Wigenton transferred Perry into another unit. This move was met with protests from the officers and at least one supervisor who now had to work under him, according to a police source. “I didn’t know anyone that liked him,” says the supervisor.
Regan and Crone heard all the rumors. “Any time somebody brings up Perry’s nameI mean, I don’t know, it just came up,” Crone stated, concerning the lieutenant’s alleged drinking habits and short temper, in Smith’s civil case. “I tried staying away from [Perry].”
And it didn’t help that Regan and Crone both witnessed standard Perry freakouts leading up to the March 2 incident. One morning, Crone says, he watched Perry scream at a church keyboardist double-parked in front of his house of worship. Crone stated in his deposition that he went and apologized to the musician after Perry left the scene.
Regan testified that he had once watched Perry take down a suspect just for giving a fake name. He was adamant that Perry’s abuse was not provoked. “Just because the guy lied,” Regan explained in his deposition in Smith’s case. “You know, that’s, that’s what you deal with, especially in some of the rougher areas, and there was, there was a bunch of officers standing around. There was no need, in my opinion, to lay [the suspect] on the ground.”
During crack’s heyday, Perry’s actions might have raised few eyebrows in either his department or the community he patrolled. But now, his own troops questioned and analyzed his every move. There were other things, day-to-day things, that they thought were just ridiculous, too. For example, Perry ordered all scout cars to cruise with their light bars onbetter to increase police presence, his theory went. Beat officers say it just created traffic jams. He would regularly jump out of his own cruiser with a shotgun. Some saw it as a sign that he was just afraid.
“I wasn’t very popular,” Perry admits, speaking on the phone from his Fort Washington home, where he spends much of his time lately. His house is big and made of gray stone and equipped with a small, incessantly barking dog. Perry must have been quite a tough cop at one point. He’s about 6 feet tall and thick. Now, his hair has receded, and he answers the door in a tank-top undershirt.
Perry is so soft-spoken, he has to repeat himself several times just to be heard correctly. He comes across less like a thug than a ghost. “To get beat cops to do the work, you are going to run into friction.”
Perry characterizes his police philosophy as zero tolerance. Those were buzz words during crack’s heyday, when police departments tried to emulate New York City’s successful approach. No slack for any dealer, any perp. “That was the scheme at the 6th District,” he explains. “That was what the community wanted. People were tired of seeing every drug dealer peeling through their neighborhood. People were tired of seeing young female addicts turn to prostitution. They were tired of everything.”
So was Perry.
“Perry fucked up,” Crone muttered to the first sergeant, David Whidden, on the scene at 49th and Ayers Place. That night, Perry had a civilian ride-along, a private security guard who had evolved into a constant work companion, according to several officers. The ride-along had witnessed the incident and taken it upon himself to incorrectly radio in a “10-33,” meaning an officer was down. Several cops had rushed to the scene, including Whidden. Crone just blurted out his thoughts to Whidden, like a confession.
Whidden nodded empathetically. He surveyed the scene and saw what he had to see. The sergeant, a big, sturdy guy with a sharp wit and the easy respect of his officers, knew what Perry was capable of.
Then Regan came to Crone’s side. He told Whidden they would need to talk to him later. They had a story to tell. This was bad.
A few feet away, Perry complained about a bruised hand to other officers. And he watched as the threeCrone, Regan, and Whiddenhad their little meeting. After Whidden drifted off, the lieutenant approached the two young cops. What were you guys talking about? he asked, according to court records. Regan shrugged off the question, saying nothing.
“‘This is not his business. This is my investigation!’” Crone remembers Perry saying, according to his deposition testimony. “‘I am the lieutenant.’”
But this was no longer Perry’s investigation. This was now a use-of-force incident, and because Perry was the one involved, he would be the one investigated. Still, the lieutenant’s attitude got Regan and Crone worried. What would they get for snitching on the lieutenant?
Regan did the math: He had five years on. Perry had 25. Which one would the higher-ups believe? What would he tell his younger brother, who was a cop in Portland, Maine? How could he explain what had happened to his father and mother, who worked in a Boston-area school system? And he thought of his own wife and daughter. “I felt sick to my stomach,” Regan remembers. “I was just worried….I still have 17 or 18 years to do.”
Crone, for his part, would call his mother and grandfather the next day to tell them about the incident; all were shocked and upset. Later, in his deposition about the incident, Crone stated his feelings during those early moments and days: He wouldn’t ever lie, for anybody.
In the Wrangler on the ride back to the station house that night, Regan and Crone finally got to talk openly and privately about all their fears.
“I’m not losing my fucking job over this,” Crone said.
Regan shared his concern. “I’m not, either.”
At about 8:30 that same night, Regan and Crone and several other officers who had been present at 49th and Ayers were ordered to write up statements about the incident. They then waited their turn to take questions.
According to police records, 6th District Lt. Sheila Hutchins asked Regan, “Why did you feel the need to place your body between the suspect and Lt. Perry?” Regan stated the following: “Once the suspect was on the ground, I felt the suspect did not need to be struck anymore with the baton. I could hear sirens coming and we were two trained officers and he wasn’t as much of a threat.”
Lt. Allan L. Thomas took the interview with Crone. He asked the officer if he thought excessive force had been used on Smith. Crone said yes. “Due to the number of strikes, the numbers I heard and what I saw and the lack of resistance. Also from academy trainingwhat I saw was not consistent with what I was taught.”
Several civilian witnesses and another officer claimed Perry had used excessive force to one degree or another.
The only one not questioned was Perry. He had been taken to the Police & Fire Clinic with his badly bruised hand. Cullen drove him to the hospital. “Can you believe what happened?” Perry asked. Cullen said nothing.
Perry’s interpretation of the incident was that he had merely been helping a fellow officer. “While attempting to bring [Smith] under control, I sustained injuries during this incident. Later that evening, after receiving medical attention, I learned that accusations of excessive force were wrong fully circulated about me,” he stated later in an injury report.
Perry had nothing to worry about. Because of Perry’s rank, Cmdr. Wigenton, who had left the 6th District by this time, was brought in that night to write up the preliminary report on the incident. He believed that there were still questions concerning Smith’s own aggressiveness, noting that Smith had refused to give a statement.
“The critical question that I faced is at what point did the subject stop resisting and at what point did Lieutenant Perry stop striking him with the baton,” Wigenton wrote. “Consequently, upon reviewing all of the supplemental statements this answer was not clarified at a level that warranted the immediate revocation of police powers of the lieutenant at this point.”
Wigenton recommended that after Perry met with a doctor, on March 8, the lieutenant return to 6D with full police powers. The district commander, Rodney Monroe, disagreed, ordering Perry on paid administrative leave until the U.S. Attorney’s Office could determine whether the allegations against him warranted criminal charges.
In the end, the 6th District still needed a lieutenant. Perry came back to work on March 12 on “non-contact” status. He could not police the streets, but he could still supervise his officers.
Sgt. Whidden was furious. At 5:36 p.m. the day Perry returned, Whidden fired off a memo to Monroe. “What message does this send to the officers that gave statements as to what happened on the date in question? It raises serious doubts in their minds as to whether they should have said anything in the first place,” he wrote. “These doubts should not exist. They fought a long tradition of keeping silent when a fellow officer crosses the line, and now he is back to supervise them before the U.S. Attorney’s Office has completed its investigation. They are also in fear that he is going to fuck them at his earliest opportunity.”
Perry had already started lashing out. According to Whidden, on Perry’s first day back, he “started messing with the officers.” He ordered that all the officers working in scout cars had to cruise alone; everyone else was detailed to foot beats. This despite the statistics 6th District officials had recently releasedshowing that patrol officers who worked alone were more likely to get assaulted or killed. “They are wondering if he is intentionally trying to get them hurt, or even worse,” Whidden wrote. “I feel it would be in the officer’s and the department’s best interest if Lt. Perry was not at 6D.”
Crone and Regan were luckythey didn’t work under Perry. But Regan still faced a few loyal only to the uniform, according to his deposition in Smith’s case. At least two copsincluding a lieutenantgrumbled to Regan’s colleagues that the reporting of the March 2 incident had been racially motivated. Perry is black; Crone and Regan are white.
During one shift a few months later, Regan walked into a common area in 6D and a veteran officer warned everyone milling about: “He’s got the IAD tape recorder with him.”
Hyung Moon was appointed to the MPD on Nov. 24, 1997. As a young officer just sprung from the academy, he was placed on the standard 18-month probationary review period. He was diligent and followed orders without hesitation. With just a few weeks left on his probation, he was facedlike Crone and Reganwith a choice.
On the afternoon of April 10, 1999, a little more than a month after Perry’s beating of Smith, the off-duty lieutenant smashed his white Nissan Pathfinder into a tree along the 1500 block of Morris Road SE. The truck flipped over on its side. Moon, patrolling alone in the 7th District, was one of the first on the scene and charged with writing the accident report.
According to Internal Affairs records documenting the accident, Perry staggered out of the truck, his pants soaked with urine. Moon noticed that he reeked of alcohol. Moon asked the lieutenant if he had been drinking. Perry said yes, he had downed a couple of beers about an hour earlier. Other officers arriving on the scene informed Moon that Perry wasn’t just anybodyhe was an MPD official.
Perry was put in an ambulance, waiting to depart for D.C. General Hospital. Before he left, two other lieutenants, Paula Edmiston and Gregory Stroud, joined him for further questioning.
“It was apparent to me that Lieutenant Perry was under the influence of alcohol,” Edmiston stated later to Internal Affairs agents. “I advised Lieutenant Stroud that.”
Stroud told her he would take care of the situation. “I was really, really upset,” Edmiston stated. “As far as I’m concerned, I felt Lieutenant Perry should have been placed under arrest….Every time I tried to talk to Lieutenant Stroud, you know, he didn’t want to hear it.”
Stroud, who was in charge of the situation, conferred with another official, Sgt. Buddy Smallwood. Smallwood was of the opinion that arresting Perry didn’t have to happen on the scene. If Perry had really been driving drunk, lab tests needed to be done, anyway. “I told [Lt. Stroud] what I believed and he went along with itthat an arrest wasn’t necessary at that particular point in time….If an arrest needs to be made we can get a warrant.”
There would be no arrest warrant signed for Perry. From the beginning, no official on the scene treated him like your average citizen who crashed his car into a tree. It’s not every day that high-ranking cops rush to a traffic accident. The district commander, Monroe, and the field commander, Abraham Parks, were notified. Parks even rushed to D.C. General. They all knew about Perry’s drinking that night, according to the Internal Affairs report.
And all the cops seemed willing to let the incident wash over onto somebody else’s desk. Even within the new Ramsey culture, rank still held weightas well as the sting of having to arrest a fellow cop.
In the middle of the action was Moon. This was his first drunk-driving accident. He asked for advice from one high-ranking officer after another. According to Moon’s testimony to Internal Affairs, no one told him to whitewash the incident, but no one helped him, either. Moon interpreted this as a messageit was OK to let Perry off the hook.
After sitting for two hours at D.C. General, Moon went back to 7D to file his accident report without running any blood tests. He would write up Perry as sober. “I didn’t want to lock him up because he didn’t really hit nobody,” Moon told Internal Affairs agents. “He just hit the tree and the only thing damaged was his car that he was driving….I thought that was like one of those situations, you know, you don’t give a ticket to a police officer for speeding and stuff like that.”
According to Internal Affairs documents, Lt. Edmiston and Sgt. Joanne Craig reviewed Moon’s report and promptly let it pass. They both admitted to Internal Affairs that they knew about Perry’s drinking. But they didn’t say anything. The report remained as Moon had written it.
Internal Affairs investigated only after receiving an anonymous tip four days later. After reviewing the incident and interviewing all involveda process that took monthsthey recommended that Moon be fired. On Feb. 23, 2000, Ramsey wrote Moon informing him of his termination. Only after intense wrangling from the police union did Moon get his sentence commuted to a month’s suspension, on Nov. 24, 2000.
“It is apparent that these officials made a concerted effort to ignore the fact that Lieutenant Perry was driving while inebriated,” Internal Affairs agents wrote in their final report, dated Feb. 10, 2000. “With no definitive direction and guidance, Officer Moon was left to fend for himself, believing his omission on the accident report that Lieutenant Perry was intoxicated was an accepted means of taking care of our own.”
Moon believed he had made the right choice. He never apologized during his Internal Affairs interview. “Like I said he’s a lieutenant…” he explained. “I didn’t want to jeopardize his, his job.” Moon is still working as a patrol officer in the 7th District.
Perry’s accident was a simple act of a cop, some beers, and a very innocent tree. No one got hurt. In the end, it had almost no consequences. But the incident is telling: It shows how readily many cops unburden themselves of any responsibility for their fellow cops’ actions. Rank-and-file officers will talk shit about their supervisorsswap stories like so many baseball statisticsbut in the end they know that some things are best left ignored. If it doesn’t happen in front of me, I can forget it. If the white shirts look the other way, I can, too.
Ramsey may have made good on his promise to open up the department to the feds. He even opened it up to its own members, the Force Investigation Unit, as well as the tried-and-true Internal Affairs Division. The old blue wall of silence may really be crumbling, a little.
But paradoxically, Ramsey’s emphasis on clean cops, his urging that the good guys step to up the microphone and rat out their bad brethren, has also caused many rank-and-file officers to hunker down in protectionist mode, to cling to a thousand tiny excuses and allegiances. They’re scared of these incidents popping up on their watch.
If you’re a cop, the last thing you want is to become a blip on Internal Affairs’ radar, a pronoun in some official’s press conference. So if, faced with a tense moment and an unruly perp, you hit him, you promptly make a disorderly conduct arrestit gets you off the hook. The alleged victim of your bad day becomes a defendant. And who gives a shit about defendants? Not cops. Not supervisors.
After a while your own little incidents pile up, and you learn to look the other way when Officer No Neck turns a dealer into a pretzel. Or when he comes up and arrests a guy just for blowing steam. That guy ain’t human, as one cop sayshe’s “Johnny Dope Boy.” And he’s resisting arrest.
Alan Smith’s civil attorney, William Claiborne, sums up the “unholy trinity of arrests”: assaulting a police officer, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. “It becomes a credibility contest,” Claiborne says. “That’s the greatest weapon the police havewhen they charge someone, suddenly he’s not a person, he’s a defendant. They can change a person’s credibility just by pointing a finger at him.”
He argues that his client was charged with assaulting a police officer just so that Perry could explain Smith’s bruises.
If someone does get wise, arguments over an arrest come down to discretion. “At the outset, it’s not as if you can say at the beginning, ‘Here is the definite, black-letter rule,’” explains John Fisher, chief of the Appellate Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “There are general guidelines, and the facts of each case vary quite a bit. We frequently disagree with the police assessment….I think there’s several factors to ituncertainty is inherent in the whole process. No. 2, there’s always a constant need for training both our attorneys and for the police.”
And the police department’s track record still suggests that more training is in order. False-arrest cases continue to be regular features on the desks of the department’s lawyers over at Corporation Counsel. In 2000, 87 lawsuits were filed claiming false arrest at the hands of an MPD officer. So far this year, 82 lawsuits have been filed. In 2000, the city paid out more than $3.3 million in false-arrest-based settlements and judgments, not including tens of thousands of dollars in court costs.
Aside from the money and time drain, false arrests are also tied to use-of-force complaints. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is currently investigating 60 allegations of MPD-brand excessive force. Of these cases, Justice Department officials are investigating 17 that involve allegations of civil-rights violations tied to force issues.
When such cases make it to court, the police do sometimes win. Many cases get thrown out because they are frivolous. But many more do not:
•On the evening of Aug. 14, 1995, Yvonne Lesesne arrived at the 7th District police station with her daughter and other relatives to ask about several other relatives who had been arrested earlier that evening. According to court records, when officers refused to help her, she began to leave, unsatisfied. A shouting match ensued, which was carried outside the station. Several officers, the civil complaint says, kicked Lesesne to the ground, kneeled on her, and bent her arms back. The officers screamed: “Get the big bitch up!” Lesesne was brought to her feet and promptly arrested for disorderly conduct. She was awarded $20,000 for her false-arrest claim in 2000.
•On Aug. 18, 1995, police raided the Galloway’s liquor store, arresting its owner, Gloria Cunningham, for crack and heroin distribution, according to court records. On Oct. 6 of that year, the charges were dropped. Cunningham had spent 23 hours in jail. A jury awarded her $300,000 in October 2000 for her false-arrest claim.
•In April 1997, while then-Mayor Marion Barry was giving his State of the District address, Vernon Humbles shouted the following: “You’re lying!” Although few heard his scream, and Barry didn’t stop his speech, a nearby police officer arrested Humbles for disorderly conduct, according to court records. Humbles, a cabdriver, filed a false-arrest suit in August 1997. In December 1999, a jury awarded him $102 for his troubles. It was the lawyers who got the big money: Their fees cost the city $62,337.
•On Sept. 23, 1997, Carlton Johnson was arrested for disorderly conduct while hanging out along 16th Street SE. According to court records, Johnson alleged that once he was brought to the 7th District, he was punched in the face by the arresting officer, Ralph Richardson. Johnson was then charged with assaulting a police officer. Both charges would later be dropped. Johnson filed a lawsuit charging false arrest and excessive force, which was settled in 2000 for $223,000.
•On June 20, 1998, Officers Kenneth Lesher and Edward Miller were working a plainclothes foot patrol along 14th Street and Park Road NW. According to police records, they saw about a dozen Hispanic males standing under the canopy of a carryout. It was about 2 a.m. The officers thought they heard loud noises coming from the group; they approached and ordered everyone against a fence. Despite the fact that they were extremely outnumbered, they didn’t call for backup. Several of the men jumped Lesher and Miller, and in the ensuing melee, Miller was stabbed in the arm. Two suspects fledone with a knife, the other with no weapon in hand. Miller fired his Glock several times, hitting the unarmed suspect, Jose Joya. Joya was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer. The charges were eventually dropped. Although Miller claims it was Joya who stabbed him, he gave a curious reason why he fired his Glock: According to court records, Miller explained, “I knew I had to get a shot off because I would get teased back at the station by the guys at 4D for not getting a shot off.” Joya sued and in 2000 was awarded $500,000 in a settlement. Miller is currently assigned to the 4th District.
•On Dec. 12, 1999, Alvin Maurice Headspeth II was confronted by several police officers while he was standing in front of his mother’s apartment, on the 1600 block of Euclid Street NW, banging on her door in an attempt to get his bike. According to court records, the officers thought he was being disorderly. They asked him to drop the bike lock in his hand. According to witness accounts, he did. He had no other weapon. The civil complaint alleges that 3rd District police officers beat him “about his head and body with hands, fists, and metal batons.” Headspeth was arrested and taken to Howard University Hospital, where he later died. The D.C. Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his death cocaine-related. In December 2000, less than four days into the trial for Headspeth’s family’s civil suit charging wrongful death, deprivation of civil rights, and excessive forcein which they claimed they had scientific evidence that it was the beating that had caused their loved one’s deaththe police department settled the case for $700,000.
Alan Smith’s case, claiming both false arrest and excessive force, was settled for $195,000 this past January.
Regan testified in his deposition in Smith’s civil case that he knew arresting Smith was wrong but couldn’t do anything about ithe had been given the order. Both Regan and Crone say that they thought that arresting Smith bordered on the ridiculous.
“I think the arrest was just a slap in the face,” Crone stated in his deposition.
And Smith wasn’t the only person arrested from that scene on the corner of 49th and Ayers Place. While Crone and Regan stood stunned and reeling from what they had just witnessed, talking to other cops at the scene, Perry was still working that group of men.
As Smith lay on the ground, Perry asked each of Smith’s buddies what they thought about their friend’s conduct. The four men still stood with their hands against the fence. At least one was on his knees. Perry paced the sidewalk, demanding whether they thought it was wrong for Smith to hit an officer with a nightstick, according to witnesses and court records. Most claimed ignorancethey didn’t see nothing, didn’t know nothing.
Only one man spoke up. Archibald Carter told Perry that Perry was the one who had resorted to unprovoked violence. Perry spotted an empty McDonald’s cup lying on the grass. He dropped it at Carter’s feet and ordered an officer to arrest Carter for drinking in public.
Carter was booked at 6D, choosing to pay a $25 fine and be released. Even though, he insists, he was falsely arrested, he didn’t want to spend the night in jail. Carter currently has a lawsuit pending, which claims Perry falsely arrested him.
“If I wouldn’t have paid the fine, I would have had to go to court the next day,” Carter, 24, says. “I wanted to do something about it, but it would have just made matters worse.”
Crone disapproves of Carter’s arrest. “It was astonishing,” he stated in his deposition. “I think it was kind of insulting after what Perry did. I don’t recall seeing anyone drinking.”
What is perhaps the least astonishing fact about the MPD’s growing pains is that they have created a lot of anger. Perry is angry. Smith is angry. And Crone and Regan are angry.
More than two years later, the matter of the Smith arrest is still before the U.S. Attorney’s Office. On May 27, 1999, Perry went on administrative leave over the incident. He remained on leave until March 12, 2000, when he was finally transferred out of the 6th District, to the Communications Division at police headquarters.
Three days later, Perry took “optional sick leave attributed to severe headaches,” police records show. On March 20, he was placed on extended sick leave. He stated that the stress of the investigation into the Smith incident, which by then included a grand-jury review, was too much. “I am overcome with anxiety, severe headaches and having to cope with constant barrages of panic attacks. I am unable to perform my duties under these circumstances.”
“According to our records, he had a heart attack,” reports Assistant Chief Brian Jordan, at the time of this interview head of the Office of Professional Responsibility. “We cannot continue the investigative process until he’s well enough to go through it. It would be great if he was willing to come back and dispose of the matter.”
Perry denies suffering any heart attack. During a series of interviews, the lieutenant speaks of feeling betrayed and cooped up in his Fort Washington home. He still gets a salary that comes to more than $70,000 a year. But it doesn’t erase his feeling that his higher-ups ignored all his hard work over the years.
“This is a hard job,” Perry explains. “We are expected to make a quick decision, a split decision that could change our life. We do the best that we can. To put our whole livelihood on one incident is unfairwhether it was a bad call or a good call….This was no Rodney King incident.” Perry refused to answer questions at his deposition in Smith’s lawsuit, citing the Fifth Amendment.
But Perry, 45, is still a charged cop. He still wants to get back out there in 6D and make some arrests. Even if he has to wait in Fort Washington a little longer. “I have no intentions of retiring,” Perry says. “I’m a young man. What am I going to do for the rest of my life? I’ve been a police officer for 27 years.”
Twenty minutes away, the corner of 49th and Ayers Place has gone pretty quiet. Smith and his buddies, the ones who were with him that nightArchibald Carter, Jerome Mercer, Antonio Carter (Archibald’s uncle), Mo McCorydon’t hang there much anymore. It used to be a place to meet, after work, before drinks, between basketball games. It was a place, they say, not for drug dealing, but great debates over sports and women.
Now, Smith rarely comes to the neighborhood he lived in for 32 years. He moved to Suitland a month after the incident. He suffers from vision problems, back pain, and nightmares. The incident with Perry cost him more than $5,000 in medical bills, physical-therapy sessions, and visits to a neurologist.
He may have gained a small fortune in the civil-suit settlement$195,000but he lost months to pain and therapy. And he lost his corner. “This is my neighborhood,” Smith says. “They treat us as if we don’t deserve to live here. Where are we supposed to go?”
Crone and Regan haven’t left 6D. They were named in Smith’s lawsuit. They had to sit through depositions. They had to go before a grand jury and be made to feel as if they were the ones who had done something wrong. Why didn’t you do anything else to stop Perry? They still have to go back and patrol the corner of 49th and Ayers.
They are still waiting for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to decide whether to prosecute Perry for assaulting Smith. They are still waiting for the MPD to finish its own investigation of that March 2, 1999, incident. Even in the new culture, cop bureaucracy grinds slowly.
“Nobody wants to deal with this kind of stuff,” Crone says of the incident. “I think it’s a joke. Nothing happened to Perry. He’s still on the department collecting money.” He is more pointed in his deposition: “As far as, you know, Lt. Perry is concerned, they can feed him to the wolves for all I care.”
But when Crone and Regan think about the incident, they don’t dwell on Perry’s going unpunished. More than anything, they think about the fact that they told the truth and were ignored. They are still waiting for vindicationthe proof that all their efforts were not a waste.
A few months ago, Regan ran into Smith at the 6th District station house. Smith had come to complain about another officer, an officer he says cussed him out for no reason.
“What’s up?” Regan asked.
Smith explained his situation.
Regan quickly returned to his own: The officer wondered why he had been named as a defendant in Smith’s lawsuit. “Why you do me like that?” he asked. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Smith didn’t understand. He knew for sure that Perry was the one who had beaten him in the head with a baton on that March day in 1999. But the rest of that night was hazy. He didn’t know Regan had jumped in to protect him. He had named Regan because Regan had been there, too.
“OK. Well, thanks,” Smith said. The two then parted ways. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.