On the night of Saturday, June 27, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Officer Gerald Anderson was pulling his normal duty on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. As he sat in his car watching for traffic violations, Anderson spotted Andrew C. Davis Jr. speeding by him on a shiny red 1998 Suzuki motorcycle. In a hurry to make it to the Safeway on Naylor Road SE, Davis was clearly exceeding the 30 mph speed limit. Anderson, an officer with MPD’s 7th District, flashed his lights to try to get him to slow down, but Davis instead accelerated.
Davis, who was driving without a permit, took the extreme step of veering left, over the yellow lines and into the oncoming lane of traffic, in order to pass a police car in front of him driven by Officer Lisa Nesbit.
Before Davis could pass Nesbit’s cruiser, however, Nesbit turned left, and the motorcycle crashed into the driver’s door. Davis flew off the cycle and was hurled into a cement wall. Both Nesbit and Davis were rushed to D.C. General. Nesbit was injured and is on leave from MPD. Davis wasn’t so lucky: At 2:09 a.m., he was pronounced dead.
An investigation into the incident is under way, as is standard policy for every vehicular death, according to Capt. Charles Moore, head of traffic enforcement. But although the police may not have been at fault in Davis’ death, MPD has had trouble containing its repercussions.
At around 6 p.m. that same day, 7D officers James “Hammer” Thomas and Tammy Whittington were patrolling their beat when they spotted 35 or so young men and women clustered both in the front yard of 212 Newcomb St. SE and at the corner of 2nd and Newcomb. Some of the people were drinking, and music was blasting from a car stereo.
Officers in the local Patrol Service Area (PSA) had heard complaints before about the noise and partying at 212 Newcomb. According to police sources in 7D familiar with the officers’ accounts of what happened, Thomas saw that some individuals were clearly violating District open container laws, so he got on his cruiser’s PA and told the crowd to disperse and take the drinks inside. Neither officer was reportedly aware of the incident with Davis in the wee hours of that morning. They certainly didn’t know that the group they were addressing consisted almost entirely of the friends and family of Davis who had just received the bad news.
According to police sources, Thomas’ requests to break it up went unheeded, and his insistence soon backfired. The crowd approached Thomas and Whittington’s cruiser, surrounded it, and began cursing and threatening the officers. Another police cruiser from the PSA showed up, and one of the officers got on the radio and made a “1033” call, a request for backup because an officer is in trouble. The four officers got out of their vehicles, according to police, and members of the the crowd started shoving them. To protect themselves, officers reportedly maced the crowd.
The 7D officers then attempted to arrest one of the individuals who was “real aggressive and inciting the crowd,” according to an MPD officer familiar with the officers’ account of the story. “Upon trying to arrest him,” one officer says, “the crowd became violent and pushed and shoved the officers even more.” Within minutes, the 200 block of Newcomb Street SE was teeming with officers from both MPD and the Park Police. “At one point there were 60 [nonpolice] people out there,” says an officer. “And [the cops on the scene] perceived it as a full-fledged riot.”
The Davis family gives a different account. William Davis, 29, brother of the accident victim, says the group had collected on Newcomb Street that evening to mourn. “A lot of family was outside grieving,” says William. The officers immediately set a belligerent tone, William says, as they told everybody at the corner to go inside.
“Someone tried to approach [the police] to tell them what happened” with Andrew Jr., says Andrew Davis Sr. “But they didn’t want to hear it.” Andrew Sr. had expected a more conciliatory approach from the officers. “They’re the ones who caused the accident,” he says. “They’re the ones who killed him.”
“They approached us,” William continues. “They started saying, ‘Go into the house, go into the house.’ They said they were going to lock people up.” So the crowd moved from the corner to the Davis family lawn. “We said, ‘We’re on our property. Y’all can leave now,’” William says. By then, at least 20 cops were on the scene. “The whole street was the 7th District, 6th District, Park Police. Even a helicopter was over here.”
The cops started arresting them for no reason, William says. He admits that he “was in an upset mood” because of his brother’s death. But the police weren’t even remotely interested in the reason for the gathering. Then the mace flew. “Police got maced, too,” William says. “That’s the way they were doing it, spraying everybody.”
MPD officers ended up arresting 11 people involved in the altercation, nine of whom were relatives of Andrew Davis Jr., charging most of them with disorderly conduct, and releasing them that day. However, two of the family members, William Davis and his cousin Jimmy Parker, were arrested for assaulting an officer and spent Saturday night at the central cellblock.
By Sunday morning, the two were free to go, their charges dropped. Seventh District brass, it seemed, were trying to purge all memories and records of the episode, a decision that has rankled 7D rank-and-file officers.
MPD leadership “told [the arresting officers], ‘We didn’t see any bruises on you, and you were only shoved and pushed,’” says an MPD officer. “That’s what [7D officers] were really upset about, [that] they were told by the white shirts that they should have been susceptible to being shoved and pushed and not arrest the individuals.”
“We heard that they were let go, and we all just went, ‘What the hell?’” says another 7D officer.
Patrol officers resorted to more profane expressions of outrage when they read a memo from 7D Commander Winston Robinson regarding the mini-riot. The memo instructed them to avoid patrolling the Davis’ block for two weeks “in order to prevent any future incidents and to ensure officer safety.” Furthermore, Robinson ordered every officer in Newcomb Street’s PSA to spend Wednesday, July 15, undergoing “sensitivity training” with University of the District of Columbia psychology professor Dr. Angela Flowers. Robinson met with the Davis family on Sunday, July 5, to discuss its concerns.
In an interview last week, Robinson said that his subordinates may have mishandled the Newcomb Street flare-up. “[The Davis family’s account] could be true,” says the commander. “If you get a lot of negative all the time, then you can get negative yourself.”
That sort of talk has convinced some 7D officers that the boss isn’t watching their backs. “They’re acting as if the officers are wrong,” says a 7D officer, repeating the complaints of many others in the district who perceive that their leadership isn’t backing them. “It’s just ridiculous….What message does that send to the community? All thugs have to do is start a riot, and we won’t [patrol] their block anymore?”
Says another officer, “We went out there to do our jobs….Now the officers feel like it looks like they went up there to beat up some people, and [7D brass] just took the side of the citizens….How can you make unlawful arrests in a riot situation?”
On Tuesday of this week, the Davis family filed its official complaint against MPD.
Officers Thomas and Whittington are also reportedly writing a complaint on the matter. “They feel that they will not get a fair hearing or review of their appeal without sending a letter directly to [MPD] Chief [Charles] Ramsey,” says a 7D officer. “[Robinson] is saying that an injustice occurred before a trial has gone through,” says this officer. “It was a bad judgment call by him. He had no need to make that call.”
Although Robinson says he’s “confident that the officers didn’t intend to cause anyone any harm,” he defends the decision to mandate sensitivity training as a departmentwide effort to improve community policing. “It’s very easy for officers on tough streets to become tough-minded,” he says. “[There are complaints] being made about officers patrolling this area, and we don’t want them to lose their tempers….Not only that PSA, but all officers.”
“I feel bad for the whole matter,” Robinson says. Some officers are quick to point out that Andrew Davis Jr. had a substantial police record, with arrests for possession of marijuana, cocaine, guns, and dangerous weapons, as well as for making threats to injure others, for violating his bail, and for being a fugitive from justice. But Robinson says that’s all irrelevant: “He may have been the worst person in the world, but he’s a human being and he’s gone.”