One day after D.C.’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled the death of 27-year-old father and teacher’s assistant Alonzo Smith a homicide, Mayor Muriel Bowser released—for the first time during her administration—footage from a police body-worn camera that shows Smith pinned to a stairwell by a private special police officer seconds before a Metropolitan Police Department officer (one of two on scene) helps roll Smith over onto his back and begins to administer CPR.
The video’s release follows calls by Smith’s family to learn more details surrounding his death as well as the D.C. Council’s final approval of a police body-worn camera bill earlier today that will allow the District to equip roughly 2,800 MPD officers with the technology throughout next year. At a press conference held this afternoon, Bowser began to articulate the circumstances under which she, in consultation with other agencies, would release body-camera footage that is not subject to public-records requests under the Council’s approved legislation.
“We will weigh the benefits of disclosure against possible harms of disclosure,” Bowser said of her authority to rule what footage is “of significant public interest,” such as in-custody deaths and cases involving serious bodily injury.
The video released today—one of two that were taken in the early hours of Nov. 1 at the Marbury Plaza Apartments at 2300 Good Hope Road SE by responding MPD officers (the second is being redacted and will be released in the coming days, Bowser said)—depicts a D.C. officer approaching a man with “Special Police” written on a shirt-sleeve badge (seen above). About one minute after MPD arrives, the officer with the camera becomes aware that Smith isn’t breathing.
Shortly thereafter, the officer begins chest compressions.
“Come on, brother!” a man’s voice, apparently belonging to the MPD officer, says. “Wake up!”
The officer continues compressions until paramedics arrive about five minutes later. (D.C. Chief Medical Examiner Roger Mitchell clarified at the press conference that “compressions” of Smith’s torso did not stem from the CPR.)
Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the video “does not answer every question” about the incident, but added that the responding MPD officers followed protocol in immediately calling an ambulance to the building and in applying “additional restraints” to Smith because the special police had indicated he was high on PCP. The District’s autopsy report for Smith, according to the Post, listed internal hemorrhaging, chest contusions, and abrasions to his body; a spokesperson for the agency told the paper that “sudden cardiac arrest” in addition to “acute cocaine toxicity while restrained” led to his death. Bowser confirmed those details this afternoon, adding that the U.S. Attorney’s Office continues to conduct an investigation into the incident. (The mayor also noted that the ongoing investigation would prevent the disclosure of the footage through a Freedom of Information Act request.)
While Smith’s death has been determined to be a homicide, prosecutors haven’t yet said whether there was criminal intent behind it. The faces of the Blackout Investigations special police officers in the video were redacted to protect their identities.
Ward 8 Councilmember LaRuby May, who attended a rally for Smith this past Sunday, said she wanted to again express her sympathy for his family and friends. “The loss of life of African Americans in Ward 8” is too common, May said, calling for the District to investigate the practices of the more than 120 private security companies that conduct business here. “We must address the treatment of black [and] poor people in this city,” May continued.
Screen shot via MPD video