On a Thursday night in mid-July, William Kelly and Sylvester Jackson went to the Mirage nightclub at 1st and K Streets SE for a few drinks. They stayed until about 2:30 a.m., then walked to Jackson’s Toyota Corolla. The two leaned on the car, chilling out and making plans for another night on the town.
As they were winding things up, 1st District Police Officer Raymond Adams pulled up alongside the Corolla and ordered them to “move on.” They exchanged some words, and Adams waved them off. Kelly didn’t think much of it until another officer showed up seconds later.
According to Kelly, Officer Michael Terrell reissued the command to “move on.” Kelly protested: “This is some bullshit.” He said he wasn’t blocking the roadway or disturbing the peace and insisted on staying put. With that, Sgt. Mark Moore was called to the scene and promptly arrested Kelly.
Anti-loitering arrests are a common ploy for D.C. cops to uproot troublemakers from crime-ridden areas like the Mirage’s environs. Kelly, however, didn’t quite fit the Metropolitan Police Department’s profile of a street-corner thug: He was a D.C. police officer.
Until his arrest, that is. By 5 a.m. that day, Kelly was forced to turn in his weapon; he was placed on paid administrative leave. He went home and told his wife he was out of a job indefinitely. By October, he was informed that Assistant Chief Sonya Proctor had proposed termination for his offense. “We just don’t allow people to stand around down here,” Terrell told Kelly.
Kelly knew that the words “move on” were an essential part of any officer’s street vocabulary. He and other rank-and-file officers often used them to keep gangs of kids off street corners and out of open-air drug markets. However, arrests for failure to move on were rare except among prostitutes, Kelly argues.
Kelly says the move-on order hinges on police profiling tactics. He believes he was busted because he’s black and was hanging outside a nightclub on the wrong side of town. It didn’t help that the Mirage has a rough reputation among cops. “We don’t do that on U Street,” Kelly explains. “Over in Southeast, it’s just working-class,” meaning that folks try to avoid police confrontation and don’t question an order to move on. “A lot of folks don’t want the harassment. A lot of folks don’t follow through on complaints,” he adds.
Since he wasn’t causing any trouble, Kelly insists, he had no obligation to move on. And he even informed Officer Adams that he was a cop. “These are my rights,” Kelly says. “I can’t believe this happened. The next morning, my partner called me [and asked], ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I’m at home.’”
Frank Tracy, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police, says charging someone with a move-on beef is rare. “I don’t recall another case,” Tracy asserts. He calls Kelly’s dismissal “very harsh” and “unfortunate.” “We will be defending him, of course,” Tracy adds. Although the case appears straightforward, Kelly won’t be the most sympathetic character that the police union has defended: In his eight years on the force, Kelly has received three official reprimands.
On Oct. 28, Kelly went to traffic court for his trial. The case was delayed and is now set for February. Kelly wasn’t pleased. Since being placed on leave, he has had to get another job to make up for the lost overtime pay and off-duty security gigs. He now part-times as a toll-booth operator on the Dulles Airport access road.
Standing outside Room 201 in D.C. Superior Court, Kelly’s wife showed her agitation with sharp fits of screaming. She couldn’t believe leaning up against a car could cause this much trouble. She couldn’t believe the department is busting one of its own. Sgt. Moore walked by her and was displeased, too. “She needs to be cool before she gets locked up for being disorderly,” he boasted.
“It’s a game. It’s a game,” Kelly said, leaving the courthouse. “We’ll go home.”CP