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The owner of Morgan’s Seafood in Petworth says he had a harrowing experience Friday afternoon. Romeo Morgan says he was outside his Georgia Avenue restaurant when a police officer lost it during a traffic altercation. Morgan says he was helping direct a tractor trailer that wanted to pull out of traffic and into a spot near his restaurant, when a Mercedes Benz came roaring up. The impatient driver told Morgan to get out of the way. When he didn’t, Morgan says, the driver hit him with his vehicle. He says he was “pushed back three to four feet.”
The driver then got out and identified himself as a police officer, says Morgan. Morgan still refused to move. He says the cop got back in his car and “bumped” him about six more times. Morgan says he wasn’t hurt, just jostled. That’s when other cops showed up. Morgan says both he and the Benz-driving cop had put in calls to police. Morgan told the officers he’d been assaulted: “They asked what I wanted to be done. I said I want him locked up.”
But that didn’t happen. Morgan says he was given the last name of his alleged assailant—Epps—and told that he was from internal affairs. A man who said he was Epps’ superior tried to broker a peace, says Morgan. The owner told the official he wouldn’t press charges if Epps apologized. But Epps absolutely refused, and even though Morgan asked that he be charged, the official let him drive off. “If I did that as a citizen I’d be in jail,” says Morgan. Morgan and two of his neighbors say they were asked to fill out 119s (witness statements). That’s as far as things went. The proprietor says police left without providing him with a police report number.
One witness, who asked to remain anonymous, tells City Desk she saw the incident clearly—”He was pushing him with his car” — and says that there are plenty of others who saw the same thing. “The weather was absolutely gorgeous,” she says. “Everyone was out.” The witness noted that she saw investigating cops laughing about the incident as they pulled off.
WitnessTerry Wheless backsup Morgan‘s story, and says he was alarmed when he saw the car lurch forward: “I said, ‘Romeo, you need to get out of the way, he’s going to run you over!'”
Police Chief Cathy Lanier hasn’t responded to requests for comment. Fraternal Order of Police boss Kris Baumann says if Morgan’s account is correct, investigators broke the rules. “You have a citizen that wants to report a crime,” Baumann says. “We have to take a report, bottom line. Interfering with an investigation and an arrest is a crime in the District. This is improper and creates a distrust for the police.”
Morgan says he was just trying to help keep traffic moving on a narrow one-way street. He’s particularly sensitive to traffic issues outside his soul food eatery, because it was closed down for ten years after being accidentally rammed into by cars on four separate occasions.
Morgan may also be sensitive about cops. In 2008, he was arrested by a transit cop who, Morgan says, hit him in the head with a metal baton. Court records show Morgan was charged with possession of an open container, disorderly conduct, and assault on a police officer in connection with the alleged clubbing. A judge threw out everything but the open container charge. Though Morgan was found guilty of that misdemeanor, his case is being appealed.
If Morgan’s road rage story checks out, there’s likely to be some controversy. MPD had been cleaning house using Internal Affairs Division stings. So far they’ve netted four allegedly dirty cops. If one of IAD’s own assaulted a citizen, that would hurt their credibility.
UPDATE: MPD officials say the department is investigating the allegations made by Morgan, and the officer’s full name is Leon Epps. MPD has yet to confirm his rank and position, though, or reveal exactly who’s handling the inquiry. Morgan says he received a call from police just this afternoon, asking him to come in and provide a statement. (He thought that might be in part because the incident was made public.) He says he now has a meeting scheduled with an MPD official at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. “They should have given me something,” Morgan growls—he still can’t believe police left the scene without giving him a copy of a report.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery