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How four vice officers served as judge and jury on the streets
of the MPD’s 6th District
Illustration By Paul Moch
Nothing ever seems to leave the East Capitol Dwellings housing project willingly. Not the trash, which crowds the community’s curbs and spills onto every available grassy corner. Not its low red-brick homes, which take their time falling apart, brick by brick, broken window by broken window. Not its residents, many of whom have lived there for decades. Not the officers of the 6th District Vice Unit, who have made the project their project for a decade. And not the small-time dopers who keep getting arrested, only to return the next morning, the next day, the next night.
Located at the east end of the District, just across from Prince George’s County, and split in half by East Capitol Street, the neighborhood offers a portrait of economic stalemate: a landscape given over to dope dealers, police, and anybody unlucky enough to be stuck in their midst. Residents say their lives have become dominated by the bad guys and the vice unit that haunts them. Listen to them long enough, and you’d think the vice officers set their social calender and controlled their daily movements. This is a neighborhood few residents defend.
Except John Makins.
Makins has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years, and at the corner of 58th and East Capitol Streets NE for half that time. He’s an old head, the closest thing the community has to a civic activist, having served on neighborhood boards up until the mid-’80s. At 69, Makins is known simply as “Poppa” to just about everyone under 60. It helps that he has raised eight children—and has as many relatives in law enforcement—has stayed married, and has held down a job as a private hauler. He is, in the context of his neighborhood, a civilizing force. And when he sees or hears about bad things, regardless of who is perpetrating them, he speaks up. He thinks nothing of testifying against the cops when he believes they’ve gotten the wrong man or made a bad bust.
In 1993, his court testimony helped neighbor Nathan Kirk beat a drug possession charge. Makins alleged from the witness stand in a hearing not only that the vice unit had collared the wrong guy, but that the officers had planted the drugs on Kirk. The U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped the case.
Makins again took the witness stand in the September 1995 trial of William Young. The vice unit had busted Young after a search of his mother’s house—a few doors down from Makins’ place—yielded three guns, ammunition, and drug paraphernalia. This time, Makins testified that the officers had failed to properly announce their presence before entering the residence. As a result, the evidence was suppressed, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office withdrew the case.
Makins saw what he saw, after all. Nothing wrong with telling the truth. Still, it was a huge blow to the vice unit, especially for a few officers whom residents say they know better than to cross. Although Makins concedes that the vice unit does have some decent, law-abiding officers, he and other residents allege that four officers in particular—Anthony McGee, Homer Littlejohn, Lonnie Moses Jr., and Efrain Soto—frequently bend the laws they are sworn to enforce.
A few weeks after his testimony in the Young case, Makins ended up in the crosshairs of 6D Vice.
On a mid-October evening, Makins stood leaning against the rusted chain-link fence bordering his back stoop, talking to a neighbor, when Officer Soto pulled up. “He said, ‘What I see you put in your pocket?’” Makins recalls. “It made me so angry. I said, ‘You ain’t see me put a damn thing in my pocket.’” Soto sped off.
The next time Makins spotted 6D vice officers, they stopped and got out of their car. On the night of Nov. 1, Makins had just crossed 58th Street heading home after talking to William Young’s mother, Sadie Young. McGee and Littlejohn pulled up and stopped their car in the alley bordering Makins’ yard. Makins says the two officers threw him against his own green Cadillac Seville, and Littlejohn ran his hand into Makins’ pants pocket.
“At the time his hand went into my pocket, McGee said, ‘How many you got, John?’” Makins alleges. “[Littlejohn] said, ‘Seven.’ His hand never hit the bottom of my pocket.” The “seven” referred to the number of crack bags—Makins claims the two officers planted crack on him.
According to police reports, Makins was charged with simple possession at 9:50 p.m. McGee and Littlejohn contend that upon arriving in two cruisers, they saw drugs “falling from” Makins’ “coat pocket,” stopped him, and found five bags of cocaine on the ground, plus two still in his coat, according to a pretrial document from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
After being transported back to the 6th District station for processing, Makins immediately complained about chest pains. He says the officers took their time taking him to D.C. General Hospital where he was treated for high blood pressure and hypertension. He didn’t get to the emergency room until 12:45 a.m., almost three hours after his arrest, medical records show.
According to Makins and his lawyer, Todd Edelman, the officers’ account of the arrest changed several times. The U.S. Attorney’s document shows the officers’ claim that Makins attempted to discard the drugs when he saw their cruiser approach. During Makins’ trial, however, in the fall of 1996, McGee testified that he was on foot when he stumbled upon a startled Makins, who then dropped the drugs, according to Edelman.
On the witness stand, Littlejohn told a completely different story, saying that when he cruised onto the scene, Makins and McGee were locked in a struggle, Edelman says. It was during the scuffle that Littlejohn said he had observed drugs falling out of Makins’ pocket, according to Edelman.
Makins testified that he had been set up and that the officers had stolen $100 from him: McGee reported that Makins had only $35 on him when he was arrested; Makins says he had $135. Although there were no eyewitnesses to corroborate Makins’ story, Judge Ronna Beck rendered a not-guilty verdict. In making her decision, Edelman says, she cited Makins’ character and found that the officers’ differing versions of events led to reasonable doubt.
“All they want to do is get a charge on you so you have a record,” Makins says.
Imagine, for a moment, that you are a vice cop in the 6th District, a part of the city where civil society is frequently trumped by thuggery and drug commerce. Imagine that it’s your job to reclaim the streets. You find the bad guy, you make the arrest, you do the paperwork, and then…
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declines to prosecute. The trial is delayed. The defendant is sent into treatment. The paperwork gets lost. The judge kicks the case out. And, in that rare instance when someone actually does go to trial, the defendant skates, right back to your jurisdiction, right into the middle of your beat. It’s like every day is Groundhog Day. Wake up, make a bust, and then nothing.
Inside the 6th District station, located at the corner of 42nd Street and Benning Road NE, the 19-member vice unit occupies two cramped, harshly lit basement rooms that look like something out of Barney Miller. In the hallway leading to the office, Hilda Mason’s image smiles out from an out-of-date D.C. Council picture housed in a glass cabinet. Officers work from Formica-topped desks that look like thrift-store rejects. Chairs creak and tilt. Amid ongoing renovations, the entire basement has become a depository for soot, dust, and peeling paint. The whole office feels like a bunker. It’s not a fun place to work.
If you make a lot of arrests, you will end up spending much of your day here filling out paperwork. A basic drug bust means writing at least nine separate pieces of paper—from incident report (PD-251) to entry of evidence into the property book (PD-82). Filing the reports can take up to four hours.
The arrests and paperwork usually mean spending most mornings in court, where your cases constantly disappear. “It’s absolutely retarded,” says one 6th District vice investigator, who declined to have his name published. “There is no incentive for people to work [in 6D].”
What do you do? Aren’t you the least bit tempted to send a message that you, a sworn officer of the law—and not the knuckleheads on the corner—own those streets? Aren’t you tempted to come up with your own rough approximation of justice right then and there, on the beat?
Now imagine that nobody is looking. Imagine that civilian review of police behavior is no more than a distant memory and a vague promise. For the time being, everybody who investigates a citizen complaint is wearing blue, just like you. And that when an investigation is completed, nobody other than somebody wearing blue can look at the report. Absent any meaningful oversight, you may start to slip, do some things you probably shouldn’t, because life beyond consequence will do that to you.
Perhaps you become more aggressive—and, to your mind, more effective. The jump-out, in which hordes of cops swarm known drug areas, is an occasional tool of social control in 6D. So what if the bad guys will be back tomorrow? Today, the bad guys belong to you. And if you want them to drop their pants in front of friends and neighbors so you can look for drugs, well, you are the law. If you want to arrest them in a manner that makes them want to never, ever get arrested by you again, well, that’s to the good, isn’t it? Done with that kind of gusto, law enforcement becomes a form of civic hygiene.
One former officer, who declined to have his name published, says that the 6th District vice unit had a reputation for rough police work as far back as the early ’90s. The officer doubts that the unit’s exploits ever came to the attention of the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) top brass. “Everybody knows who the bad ones are. Their [complaint] jackets look like phone books,” the officer says. “Even when you investigate them, you find the officer did fault, it’s Monty Hall—Let’s Make a Deal. It’s gone.”
Some community members call it “6th District law.” They suggest that certain members of 6D Vice have become self-appointed vending machines of justice. Walk the streets of 6D, and you will hear four names over and over: McGee, Littlejohn, Moses, and Soto.
And in 6D, their reputation gets out of the squad car before them. In dozens of interviews, people who live in the 6th District say that Littlejohn, 31, McGee, 30, Moses, 34, and Soto, 34, act with impunity precisely because they possess a kind of ad hoc immunity.
A lack of openness in the complaint process makes it difficult to get to the bottom of the stories—many of which come from people with significant criminal backgrounds. For several months, the Washington City Paper endeavored to track complaints against the officers. Some of the information is missing, inaccurate, or being withheld by the MPD.
On the basis of the limited data provided by the MPD and others, we can tell you that together, McGee, Littlejohn, Moses, and Soto amassed 49 complaints over the past 10 years.
Before civilian review was abolished in 1995, the four officers had picked up 26 Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) complaints in a six-year period: McGee had 13, Littlejohn had five, Moses had five, and Soto had three. But such complaints are rarely sustained. Of the 26 complaints, only one—against McGee—was upheld, according to police documents.
Since civilian review went by the wayside, it is other cops who have investigated complaints. No records of those internal investigations were produced, other than a breakdown of the numbers: McGee received seven complaints, Soto had six, Littlejohn had five, and Moses had three.
Executive Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer says that there are two more complaints currently pending. But Gainer refuses to say which officers were accused and will not provide details on those cases, or any of the other complaints investigated by the police.
Gainer says he believes police misconduct investigations should be open to public scrutiny, but claims that the department is bound by union contracts to keep the information private. MPD officers claim that the PD-99s, as the complaints are called, are exempt from disclosure even though they represent the citizens’ only avenue for redress for police misconduct.
“While I respect the contractual and legal right of the officers to have those shielded [from] the press, I believe there ought to be a little more daylight shed on how we all behave,” Gainer says. “Given that we are public servants, the public has a fundamental right to know what I’m doing and how I’m doing….If we’re talking about administrative matters for which I’m being disciplined, it strikes me as being in the public domain. If I had it within my power, I would share that information.”
Although Gainer will not go into specifics, he states that all four officers in question have been picked up by the Early Warning Tracking System, an internal MPD tool designed to spot problem officers.
By any objective standard, the four officers are repeaters, cops whose names show up again and again in citizen complaints.
For most of the past decade, Littlejohn, McGee, Moses, and Soto have worked as 6D Vice’s lead street-level prosecutors, usually in plain clothes. They have worked many corners of their district—which borders the Anacostia River to the northwest, Southern Avenue to the southeast, Eastern Avenue to the northeast, and Good Hope and Naylor Roads to the southwest. They cruise constantly in the projects of East Capitol Dwellings, Lincoln Heights, and Benning Terrace—busting hundreds of street-corner dealers and stoop-side hustlers.
All four came on the police force in 1989 and quickly became part of 6D. Moses joined 6D in July of that year. McGee and Soto signed on in October, with Littlejohn joining them the following month. Littlejohn, Soto, and McGee all were promoted to the vice unit on Nov. 14, 1993. Moses joined the following February. They took to Vice with gusto, according to cops who worked with them: “[They] knew how to find drugs,” says one.
In 1998, McGee was voted Vice Officer of the Year by his peers. He was promoted to detective and now works with both the Drug Enforcement Agency and the vice unit. Littlejohn remains on Vice. Soto and Moses were recently shifted off the unit, but while they were together, the four had an almost mythical reputation in the neighborhoods they policed. That legend lingers.
“We all know they use methods that are unconstitutional to make their cases,” says Bruce M. Cooper, a defense attorney in D.C. who formerly worked as a special assistant to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria and an assistant general counsel at the CIA. “They think nothing of exaggerating and lying….The community is so afraid of them. Way too many people have stories about these guys.”
“I found them, as a group—they seem to act as a group,” says Doug Wood, a criminal defense attorney. “When you see one, you see them all, in terms of a drug arrest. You hear commonly from the clients that they get roughed up by these guys, and [the cops] aren’t very believable when they testify.”
Working Vice, the four made many, many busts. But they made their share of messes as well:
* On Sept. 18, 1990, McGee allegedly beat up Jonathan Akers, a bystander to a vice-unit jump-out, according to CCRB documents. The CCRB sustained the allegation three years later, recommending that McGee receive a five-day suspension. No records were produced on whether he served the suspension.
* On Sept. 29, 1995, McGee and Soto allegedly beat up and falsely arrested Kennith Edmond, according to a complaint, court documents, and witness testimony. D.C.’s Office of Corporation Counsel settled Edmond’s lawsuit, awarding him $6,000.
* On Oct. 23, 1997, Moses allegedly performed an illegal search on Davon Williams as Williams was walking by an arrest, according to court documents. At the conclusion of a hearing regarding Moses’ search, Judge A. Franklin Burgess Jr. ruled that the search had been improper. Moses’ conduct in Williams’ arrest is currently the subject of a grand jury investigation, according to sources close to the case.
* On April 15, 1997, Soto allegedly roughed up and made an improper search of Tyrone Phillips as he sat in a parked car. Midway through the Sept. 21, 1999 jury trial, Judge Harold Cushenberry halted the prosecution’s case, accusing Soto of lying on the witness stand. According to a transcript of the proceeding, Cushenberry then granted a defense motion to dismiss the case.
* On Nov. 6, 1995, Moses allegedly used excessive force when he shot Rodney Gordon in the neck, according to Gordon’s complaint and court documents. Gordon later filed a civil suit, and on Dec. 3, 1999, he settled with Corporation Counsel for $12,000.
Three of the four 6D officers have also been in trouble outside of their jobs:
On Dec. 5, 1993, McGee’s girlfriend filed a criminal complaint alleging that McGee had assaulted her with his 9 mm Glock handgun, putting the weapon to her head several times and threatening to kill her. In the complaint, she stated that he had forced her to have sex. The charges were dropped the next day, but she filed a temporary civil protection order against McGee stemming from the incident, which was granted.
On Oct. 16, 1998, Soto’s wife was granted a temporary protection order against the officer after she alleged that he had choked her and punched her in the back and ribs. According to court documents stemming from the order, as well as two similar orders from Maryland District Court in 1996, the abuse had been ongoing. Soto was referred by the MPD’s Employee Assistance Program for counseling on domestic violence issues in that same year.
On Jan. 31, 1998, Littlejohn was charged with driving while intoxicated in the city of Washington. The case was dropped in April. In March of that same year, Littlejohn was picked up in Prince George’s County for another drunk-driving offense after he allegedly hit a parked car and drove off, according to county traffic court records. In mid-December of 1999, prosecutors dismissed the case.
There are other cops on 6D Vice, some with good reputations in and out of the department. But Littlejohn, McGee, Moses, and Soto have significant credibility problems in the community, back at the station house, and within the criminal defense bar.
Ed Shacklee, a supervising attorney for the nonprofit legal clinic D.C. Law Students in Court, says the officers’ names come up again and again.
“They are the most consistent,” Shacklee says of the four. “I think, unfortunately, Vice is aptly named. Any time you have huge wads of cash, life-threatening situations, extremes happen. Any weaknesses that an officer has, it will be exposed. Police officers are as human as everybody else.”
One officer from 6D, who refused to be identified in print, is not impressed by the police work of the four officers. “I’m saying sometimes you have bad apples and good apples,” the officer says. “Some of [6D Vice] are bad apples. That’s all I have to say.”
Gainer says a new review of the officers’ conduct might be warranted, but he cautions that mere numbers of complaints aren’t enough. “A conscientious decision about them needs to be made,” Gainer says. “On first blush, there are a lot of complaints….We need to look to see if there’s a pattern of conduct that requires retraining or different assignments.”
Vice units are very insular places, according to people who work that beat. They are investigative units that hang together and are designed to operate independently. “It’s like little intelligence rings,” one former vice officer says. “It’s almost like being in a world of your own.” In this world, officers are expected to become perp vacuums: to locate, penetrate, and dominate known drug areas by going on jump-outs, setting up undercover purchases, and executing search warrants.
In return, vice units get a long leash. They don’t have to answer to radio calls or write up traffic tickets. One former vice officer says that anyone who stays in the life longer than a few years runs the risk of falling to the temptations of the street. “You become too friendly, or you get to know the game too good,” says the vice vet. “Like the word is ‘vice,’ it is a vice, and you got to be careful.”
A vice vet who works in another district says that the number of civilian complaints kicked up by Littlejohn, McGee, Moses, and Soto seems out of line. The officer says that no one in the units he has worked even came close to the numbers the 6th District officers have received. According to a 1991 Washington Post article, only 44 officers at that time had three or more civilian complaints.
Other officers suggest that any hard-working, dedicated cop is going to pick up a share of complaints. Cops who work roving units like vice or the new mobile force insist that the worlds in which they operate are willfully violent. And violence sometimes goes both ways. McGee, for example, has his admirers.
“He is not afraid to approach suspects. Some people don’t have the heart to do what needs to be done….You have to deal with these people aggressively. If they see that you are weak in any way, they will take advantage of it. For McGee’s size, he has a lot of heart,” says Officer Timothy Hennigan, a 6th District cop who has spent time on Vice.
All of the four officers refused to comment on specifics for this story. Littlejohn denies having any complaints—and says that if he does, they came from “thugs.” “Anybody can make a complaint against anybody,” he says. “You probably talked to the thugs.”
And he’s right, to an extent. Most of the people against whom the four officers are accused of using excessive force have significant arrest records. But even 6D residents who don’t spend a lot of time in the backs of squad cars have serious reservations about the officers’ approach to police work.
Edward Harris, a Lincoln Heights resident who has no record, sees the officers as unaccountable. “They’re just totally disrespectful,” he says. “They whomp people, stomp them. They tell you to ‘get the fuck away.’ They’ve been doing this for so long.”
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Sadie Young, Harris’ grandmother, agrees. Although she has never been arrested, she knows the officers well. “People are afraid to go outside,” says Young, 58. “They come out here like there’s a war on the streets.”
Lt. James Boteler, the 6th District unit’s supervisor, agrees with the metaphor, but not the accusations that go with it.
As of Nov. 17, his unit had served 150 search warrants for the year, Boteler says. In the previous 10 months, he adds, his unit had made 561 arrests, recovering 70 guns, $99,575, and a lot of drugs: 6,842 bags of marijuana, 4,756 bags of crack, 3,422 bags of heroin, and 80 bags of PCP.
But those numbers don’t mean that the drug dealers ended up in jail. Over the last three years, more than half of the 6th District’s drug cases have either been “no-papered” (not pursued) or dismissed: In 1997, out of 499 cases, 272 were not prosecuted. In 1998, 340 out of 606 cases didn’t make the cut, and 311 out of 600 cases were dropped in 1999, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The conventional wisdom among cops suggests that it is the most active officers in the most active districts who pick up the most complaints. But the 6th District produced the second-lowest number of drug arrests among the city’s seven districts over the course of the last three years—even though it hosts some of the city’s most significant drug activity, according to police sources. The only district with fewer drug arrests is the 2nd District, which covers the mostly tranquil upper Northwest.
Even though its level of arrests was relatively low, from 1995 through 1998 6D had the third-highest number of citizen complaints among the districts.
There may be a connection between 6D Vice’s inability to make cases that stay made and its lack of respect in the community. Witnesses, always a rare commodity in Washington, become even scarcer when they hate cops more then they hate criminals. And jurors who have grown up in a city where police misconduct is rarely punished are increasingly willing to believe the worst about the cops who are testifying in trials.
At home, no one bothers Richard Pearson. Tucked away in the basement of his mother’s house on Sheriff Road, just beyond the Prince George’s County border, Pearson, 30, soaks up the day slowly. His mornings and afternoons are filled up watching Jenny Jones, besting his scores on his PlayStation, and thumbing through hiphop magazines.
Pearson hasn’t led an ambitious life—or an easy one. He never knew his father, who died in the Vietnam War. He started smoking pot and dropped out of Spingarn Senior High School in the District before his senior year. He’s been arrested 13 times, mostly for drugs, with two assault charges and one robbery charge. He has never been convicted of anything, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t felt the strong hand of justice. Pearson grew up along Ely Place SE, in a neighborhood that falls under the jurisdiction of the 6th District Vice Unit.
Pearson may have escaped convictions, but walking away is no longer a possibility. In 1994, he was shot in the back—as the result of a mugging, he says—and he has since been paralyzed from the waist down, according to his medical records. His criminal record indicates that his disability hasn’t prevented him from getting arrested. Pearson claims he’s no criminal, just one of 6D Vice’s favorite punching bags. “Each officer here targets who they want to jump out and harass,” Pearson says. “I guess I am one of those targets.”
On June 19, 1997, the vice unit—known in the neighborhood as the “jump-out squad”—rolled up in unmarked cars to 33rd Street and Ely Place SE. Pearson knew some of the officers by name—including Littlejohn and McGee. And the officers knew him, too.
Pearson says he had come back to his old neighborhood that night to pay some workers who were remodeling the house where his mother was then living. After locking up the place, he met up with a few friends and his stepbrother on 33rd Street. Pearson says he was sitting in his wheelchair when the police on the jump-out squad detained him, patting him down twice but finding nothing. Littlejohn and McGee then allegedly came back to his chair, picked him up, and dropped him on the ground, say two witnesses, Cynthia Thompson and a Maryland resident who refused to have his name published, fearing retribution.
According to Pearson and the other witness, McGee placed his boot into Pearson’s back while Littlejohn conducted a streetside strip search—pulling down Pearson’s pants while he lay prostrate—in a procedure known commonly in the neighborhood as “butt-checking,” according to Pearson and the witnesses.
The butt check produced nothing.
Pearson was later charged with disorderly conduct and eventually with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute—Littlejohn later testified that the officers discovered 31 mini-bags of rock cocaine upon conducting a cellblock strip search. In mid-December 1999, prosecutors offered a bargain: one year of probation, and if the year went without incident, the case would be effectively dismissed and expunged from Pearson’s record. Pearson decided to take the plea agreement. He says he is still considering filing a civil suit over the incident. It wouldn’t be his first.
On April 15, 1994, two weeks after Pearson was released from the National Rehabilitation Hospital after being shot, he ran into the 6D’s vice unit during one of his first trips out of the house. His friend Lafayette Davis was wheeling him around, on the way to an ice cream truck at the corner of 33rd and D Streets SE. Pearson was fishing a pickle out of a plastic bag when the vice unit jumped out. Officers Michael Tucker and Ronald Royster thought the pickle bag might contain drugs. Moses, according to two witnesses, watched over the scene.
According to Davis, 28, and Sylvester Williams, 37, both Ely Place residents, Tucker threw Pearson out of his chair. According to Davis and Williams, Tucker and Royster continued to work him over, telling him that they knew he could walk, that he was hiding drugs. Pearson says he suffered a dislocated shoulder and broken collarbone as a result of the incident. Eventually, the officers said they found drugs, and he was charged with possession of cocaine, but the case was dropped two months later. In 1995, Pearson sued the officers, and Corporation Counsel settled the lawsuit for $7,500.
As he did at the end of every month, on Sept. 29, 1995, Kennith Edmond went to his mother’s place at 4319 Brooks St. NE, to pick up a Social Security check so he could pay his rent. As Edmond walked out of his mom’s small white house to catch a lift with his cousin, he noticed the vice unit pulling up to the corner. There were more than a dozen officers filling cruisers and unmarked cars.
Edmond, 33, admits that at a prior point in his life he had been a small-time drug dealer; he had been arrested eight times without a single conviction. But by 1995, he says, he had stopped dealing; he hadn’t been arrested in two years. After suffering two bulging discs and one herniated disc while working in the kitchen of a hotel on Connecticut Avenue NW, Edmond says, he was still trying to recuperate, to learn how to steady his huge, 360-pound frame with a cane.
As he and his cousin shuffled to the cousin’s green Dodge station wagon, the vice unit moved on them. Edmond says he remembers the exact time—8:37 p.m.
More than a dozen officers rushed up to Edmond and his cousin and ordered them to put their hands up. They patted down his cousin and found PCP and marijuana. And then they searched Edmond. The officers found nothing. Edmond says he wasn’t worried until he saw McGee. Soto and Royster were on the scene as well.
Edmond, who says he had protested the vice unit’s harassment tactics at the 6th District station house, says the cops were about to leave when McGee told the other officers, “Hold up.” McGee searched under the car with a flashlight. “Don’t let him go,” McGee ordered. The officer said he had found cocaine.
“Get on the ground!,” McGee hollered.
“I thought, Something goin’ down,” says Edmond. “In my mind, [I thought], I’m about to get it.”
Edmond says that McGee didn’t waste time waiting for him to get down on the ground. He alleges that the officer kicked him in the legs, knocking him face-down on the street. “You going to get it now, big boy,” McGee said, according to Edmond. “We going to get your big fat ass now.”
Edmond says that Soto took his arms and McGee held down his legs. He claims that four officers had their guns drawn while Royster kicked him in the head. Two witnesses—Edmond’s mother, Emma Munn, and another relative, who declined to be identified for fear of retribution—describe the same scenario. When Edmond complained about his back injuries, another officer jumped on his back as Soto and McGee bent his arms and legs behind him, say Edmond and both witnesses. At this point, Edmond says, he was receiving steady blows to his back, ribs, and face. He started crying and screaming for his mother. In a civil suit subsequently filed, Edmond alleges that the officers “suddenly, without provocation, without justification and intentionally and with force that was excessive under the circumstances hit, kicked and beat Plaintiff about his head, and body.”
“That’s what your fat ass gets,” Soto and McGee kept telling him, according to Edmond’s account. “You think you’re bad. This is what you get.”
Two sisters, his mother, and other residents say they were pleading with the cops to stop beating Edmond. But, the witnesses allege, the beat-down continued. “They was kicking him, hitting him,” Munn says. “I could see everything.”
According to Edmond, the beating continued for about five minutes before he was transported down to the 6th District station house. He says that after he was handcuffed and in a squad car, another officer punched him in the eye.
Edmond was hospitalized overnight at D.C. General and taken to the Washington Hospital Center the next day. Pictures show his face swollen, and his right eye black-and-blue. After leaving the hospital, Edmond says he couldn’t walk for six weeks.
The charge, of cocaine possession with intent to distribute, was eventually dropped. Later, Edmond filed a civil suit that named McGee, two other officers, and other “John Doe Officers, Identities Presently Unknown,” along with the MPD and the city. In the summer of 1998, Corporation Counsel settled the case for $6,000. The amount was low, one of his lawyers claims, because with Edmond’s pre-existing back injury, it was difficult to demonstrate further damage.
“I can’t forget that night, for the simple fact that I thought I was really going to die that night,” Edmond says.
On Sept. 18, 1990, Jonathan Akers sat on his bicycle in the 1500 block of Fort Davis Street SE, leaning against a fence as he talked to his friend Aaron Long. The vice unit—McGee was present, but not Moses, Littlejohn, or Soto—was conducting a jump-out along the block. The officers told Akers to move on. Akers says he told Officer John Dunston that he lived on the block and wasn’t about to leave. As Dunston approached, he said, “Motherfucker, didn’t I tell you to move on? Didn’t I tell your ass to move on?” according to a CCRB report.
Akers had started to pedal away when Dunston grabbed him, slapped handcuffs on his right wrist, and tried to rip him off the bicycle, according to the report. During his efforts to gain control of Akers, Dunston hit him on the wrist and in the head with his radio—Akers then fell to the ground on one knee, the report states.
McGee and another officer, Mark Hodge, ran up to Akers. One of the officers allegedly pinned Akers’ head to the pavement while the other two allegedly kicked him repeatedly in the “backside of his legs, sides, back, and stomach area,” according to the account—which included three witnesses’ testimony. One witness, Rose Mahoney, who lived across the street, stated that Akers did not fight back during the incident but was “holding his hands over his face and head.”
Akers says McGee taunted him during the beating. “You a smartass, aren’t you?” McGee asked, the report states.
The officers eventually transported Akers to the 6th District station house. He was charged with assaulting a police officer and then taken to D.C. General. According to CCRB documents, Akers suffered lacerations to his forehead. “He was treated with medication, staples in the head to close the wound and returned to police custody,” the record states.
The charges against Akers were dismissed the next day. Akers’ CCRB complaint against the three officers alleging excessive force was sustained three years later.
In the late evening of Oct. 23, 1997, Officers Moses, Littlejohn, and Soto were in the process of arresting Clarence Jones for possession of marijuana and cocaine. A friend of Jones’, Davon Williams, says that when he saw Jones getting busted in the middle of the 1900 block of 14th Street SE, the cops were having a hard time of it, because Jones wouldn’t lie still long enough for them to cuff him. Moses later testified that Williams was upset that they were using more force than the situation merited and made comments about their style of policing.
Moses told Williams to leave “four or five times,” according to Moses’ court testimony. Still, Williams wouldn’t budge. “[Williams] started saying, ‘Fuck that shit. That’s my boy. I ain’t going to stand by while y’all harass him and take advantage of him.’ Or something to that effect,” Moses testified.
Williams stood his ground and kept protesting, according to Moses’ testimony, and the officer placed him under arrest for obstruction of justice. Upon searching Williams, the officer found a single rock of crack in his watch pocket and charged him with possession.
The account that Williams and four witnesses gave during Williams’ January 1998 motion-to-suppress hearing was far different. Williams testified that he knew better than to mess with Moses—the officer had busted him before. Williams furthermore stated that he had a sentencing hearing coming up in November 1997 and had no interest in having a beef with any cop.
According to his version of events, Williams and a friend, Raymond Brown, saw Jones lying face down on the pavement but kept walking.
“Do you see what they are doing to me?” Jones asked Williams, according to Jones’ testimony.
Williams asked back: “Are you all right?” Still, he kept on walking, according to his testimony.
Williams later testified that Moses then jumped up and ran after him and grabbed him from behind and asked, snidely, “Are you OK?” He then threw Williams against his unmarked car and slapped handcuffs on his wrists, Williams stated.
Brown testified that the officers were still hitting Jones after he was cuffed. Moses and Littlejohn both denied the allegations in their testimony, but said that they had not taken any notes on the case.
At the motion-to-suppress hearing, Judge Burgess ruled that Moses’ search and arrest procedures had been improper. “Now, that is obviously saying the police officer did something unlawful here, and that is, I understand, a comment and a conclusion that the police officer should take as quite a comment on what he did,” Burgess stated, adding that he was making his remarks on the basis of witness testimony and could not say for sure what had happened that night on 14th Street SE.
At the hearing, Brown alleged that Moses was known in the neighborhood for beating up suspects and claimed that Moses had stolen $300 from him on another occasion, according to the transcript.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office investigated Moses’ conduct in the incident. The case is currently the subject of a grand jury investigation, according to sources close to the case. According to a Court of Appeals decision in another matter, “Moses became the subject of an investigation into the truthfulness of his testimony in the Williams case on February 27, 1998. His name was added to the Lewis list…” That list, according to the same decision, is “a computerized list of police officers who are under investigation.”
Cops all over the city complain about the lack of justice in the judicial system, but some of the police officers aren’t helping the cases they make. Last May 13, Judge Rhonda Reid Winston raised questions about the credibility of Littlejohn, Soto, and Moses. During a preliminary hearing, Judge Reid Winston heard testimony from Littlejohn that he, along with Soto and Moses, had stopped Arthur Hightower after they spotted him from a block away driving without a seat belt. After learning that Hightower didn’t have a driver’s license, they arrested and searched him and found drugs.
While Reid Winston denied Hightower’s motion to suppress, she questioned the veracity of Littlejohn’s testimony. “I’m sure that three officers didn’t approach him because they thought that he wasn’t wearing a seat belt,” Reid Winston stated, according to the hearing transcript. “I really don’t credit the testimony that three police officers approached one person driving into a block because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt, whether they saw it or not.”
Judge Harold Cushenberry had similar problems with the veracity of Soto. On April 15, 1997, Tyrone Phillips walked across the 4300 block of Gault Place NE to talk to a friend, he says, just as an unmarked vice car pulled up.
Soto and three other officers got of their car and approached Phillips, who was by then sitting in the passenger seat of a truck parked on the street. Soto edged into the driver’s seat, next to the suspect. Soto stated that he noticed that underneath a bag of chips Phillips was eating, he was clutching minibags of crack. The officer quickly told the others. “I said, ‘Get him out the car,’” Soto testified in a trial before Cushenberry. “‘Take him out the car—he’s locked up.’”
Soto said that Phillips had refused to get out of the car and that he had attempted to get Phillips to move. “I had struck him in the face in attempt to force him out,” Soto testified. Soto observed Phillips placing the drugs underneath his seat, according to Soto’s testimony, despite the fact that the suspect was allegedly fending off the officer at the time. After questioning by Phillips’ defense attorney, Soto changed his testimony, saying that Phillips had simply dropped the drugs on the truck’s floor.
After Phillips was finally taken out of the car, Soto stated, Officer LaTonya Latson-Falwell retrieved the drugs. Phillips was then charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
In the police reports and the preliminary hearing concerning Phillips’ arrest, Soto had failed to mention the potato chip bag. Soto had also testified that not only could he see the drugs balled up in Phillips’ hand, but he could also see the thin blue lines from the baggies within the bag.
Unfortunately for Soto, the other officers who testified during Phillips’ Sept. 21, 1999, trial—Officers Latson-Falwell and Jonathan Jackson—diverged from his story. Latson-Falwell stated that, although she had been no more than 5 feet from the truck at the time, she had not seen any struggle involving Phillips; nor had she seen the suspect forcibly removed from the car.
After Latson-Falwell’s testimony, Jackson took the witness stand. Jackson testified that Soto, not Latson-Falwell, had retrieved the drugs and that Phillips had asked Jackson why Soto had to punch him in the face.
Just as prosecutor William Gould began his re-direct examination of Jackson, Cushenberry stopped the trial. The defense attorney had yet to present his client’s case to the jury, but Cushenberry had heard enough. After a short recess, Cushenberry lashed out at Soto.
“His testimony on—that he could see a thin blue line, I don’t think anybody could possibly believe that,” Cushenberry stated, according to the hearing transcript. “Nobody would believe that.” The judge went on to say that he believed Soto had coached Latson-Falwell on what to say.
“I think Officer Soto lied,” Cushenberry said. “I think he lied. And I don’t think any reasonable fact finder could credit his version of this offense beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Cushenberry granted the defense counsel’s motion for acquittal. According to Channing Phillips, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Gould could not comment on the case because it is currently the subject of an internal review.
Judges say some of them are untruthful and many civilians say they are brutal, but Littlejohn, McGee, Moses, and Soto are still working in 6D.
Gainer admits that records of civilian complaints have been neither well-kept nor properly catalogued. Until last year, complaint files never made it to headquarters. Many simply disappeared from station houses. “I don’t think we know the extent of what’s missing,” Gainer says. “You don’t know what you’re missing because you don’t know what you have.”
Gainer says that when he came to the MPD from his post as director of the Illinois State Police Department in 1998, allegations of police misconduct were not a high priority within the department. “The past practice of investigations of those complaints was weak and incomplete,” Gainer says.
Gainer adds that the Early Warning Tracking System is not as comprehensive as it should be. Most notably, it charts neither officers’ own arrest records nor their civil suits. “Our early warning system as it is set up now does not have that information,” Gainer says. He says he has no idea if Littlejohn, Moses, McGee, and Soto have been sued. “I can’t tell if any of these officers also were the subject of a civil suit.” (He later notes that MPD records indicate that the officers have been only involved in two lawsuits, although the City Paper found six cases alleging excessive force in which at least one of the officers was named.)
In the wake of the Washington Post’s series on police shootings, Chief Charles Ramsey called in the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate allegations of excessive force.
“We thought we had a problem with use of force and how we conducted investigations,” Gainer says. He adds that the Justice Department is helping the MPD facilitate and implement a more effective tracking system.
A review may be in order, given the costs that are accruing to the city. According to Martin Grossman, deputy corporation counsel, 68 civil suits against the MPD were either settled or lost, to the tune of $1,821,013, in fiscal year 1999.
A new version of civilian review is slated to come on line next year, but the head of the five-member panel has yet to be appointed. For the time being, police misconduct investigations are closed to the public and the press.
The citizens who pay close attention to police conduct in the 6th District—the ones who attend every patrol service area and citizens advisory council meeting, who fill the Orange Hat ranks—aren’t much concerned about excessive force. They want arrests, and lots of them.
At a recent 6th District Citizens Advisory Council meeting, Cmdr. Rodney Monroe handed the heavily senior-citizen audience copies of the vice unit’s monthly arrest reports. Each month contained a list of defendants’ names, dates of birth, locations of offense, and charges. More than a few in the crowd clamored for Monroe’s handouts.
No one questioned whether the busts had been legit, which cases had been no-papered or dismissed outright. “It hasn’t come up,” reports Linda Jo Smith, the council’s chair. “To me, it hasn’t come up.”
They’ve heard the talk about 6D Vice dishing out its own version of justice, but that’s not on their list of concerns.
“I hear complaints all the time,” says James Foreman, coordinator for the Metro Orange Coalition, the umbrella group for the Orange Hat patrols. “They are usually from the drug dealers….I’ve been out with vice units all around town. Some of them bend the line—there’s no question about it. But I’ve seen very few cases where they cross the line. They usually stretch the line.”
He says he knows McGee and Moses firsthand. They are both outstanding officers, he says. “People always complain about officers doing the job they are supposed to be doing,” Foreman says. “There is always complaints. Even a priest in a church is going to get complaints.”
On Nov. 6, 1995, at a little past 8 p.m., the 6D vice unit performed a jump-out along the 5000 block of H Street SE. Everyone scattered. Rodney Gordon ran toward his friend’s gold Buick LeSabre. As Gordon was running, Moses noticed him putting his hand in his jacket. Moses drew his Glock, shouted, “Police!” and gave chase, according to police documents.
Moses and other officers at the scene—including Soto and Littlejohn—allege that Gordon got into the car and that the driver, a juvenile, attempted to run Moses over. The officer stated that the car’s bumper hit his legs and he fell on top of the hood. He then fired two shots, striking the driver in the right arm and Gordon in the neck.
“As I was falling off the car, I fired two shots into the window, then I fell to the ground,” Moses said in a statement to investigators. The Buick didn’t stop rolling until it hit a tree at the edge of a parking lot, according to his testimony. And, according to police documents, a large bag containing eight bags of marijuana, two 4-inch knives, and $20 were recovered from the car.
Gordon and the juvenile were transported to D.C. General. The juvenile was released that night; Gordon went through two operations to remove the bullet from his neck. He remained in the hospital for 10 days.
Moses’ story about the shooting unraveled as the incident was investigated. Moses had failed to mention that Officer William Riddle had been in the Buick wrestling with Gordon as Moses was drawing his gun.
Riddle stated that as he held on to Gordon, Moses had “fired his first round from the area around the front driver’s side tire.” Riddle didn’t recall seeing Moses on top of the hood. “I observed Moses go back from the vehicle with his arms flaying [sic],” Riddle stated, according to police documents.
Riddle then exited the car, and Moses fired the second shot, according to Riddle. Detective George Kucik, who interviewed Riddle, never asked the officer how far Moses had been from the car. Moses had stated that he had been “about 10 feet” from the vehicle.
Moses claimed that his knees, legs, and wrist were injured as a result of the incident. Homicide Detective Carl Gregory, who took Moses’ initial statement, testified that he hadn’t interviewed any eyewitnesses other than Moses.
Despite Moses’ allegations and the weapons and drugs found in the car, Gordon was never charged in connection to the incident. The juvenile was charged with assaulting a police officer. During the juvenile’s trial, Moses failed to provide evidence of any injuries he had sustained. Before the defense had a chance to put on its case, the judge found the juvenile not guilty. Gordon sued the officers involved a year later.
On July 8, 1999, Moses was deposed in Gordon’s lawsuit. Last month, the city settled the suit for $12,000. CP