City Paper is not for tourists
Maybe you are sick of hearing about the DeOnte Rawlings case. The 14-year-old was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer on September 17, 2007. That’s a long time ago. By now, the off-duty cops have been cleared by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the D.C. Police Department. Law enforcement contends that Rawlings had fired on the officers—-James Haskel and Anthony Clay—-first and was riding Haskel’s stolen minibike. Officer Haskel only returned fire in self defense.
In this series, City Desk has set out to chronicle the case’s oddities and various headscratchers. You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here. In this latest installment, we focus on Haskel’s explanation of why he fled the scene. Immediately following his shooting of Rawlings in the back of the head, Haskel contends a hostile crowd formed.
Haskel’s contention is not backed up by his fellow cops.
In his deposition with Rawlings’ family attorney Gregory Lattimer, Sgt. Ralph Wax tries to make the case for Haskel. But after lengthy questioning, Wax must concede that the crowd may not have been hostile at all.
Wax: [Haskel] did not know the whereabouts of DeOnte Rawlings’ firearm at that point. So there’s a inherent danger when the subject is down, and he observes three people over top of him. There’s an inherent danger, not knowing where that weapon is, knowing that there is a firearm in that immediate area. Yes, I think he could reasonably conclude that there is a danger.
Lattimer: So if he had immediately gone to DeOnte Rawlings and secured him, there wouldn’t have been three people over him, would there?
Wax: I can’t answer that.
Lattimer then reads back what Wax wrote in his investigative report.
Lattimer: Second, the shooting prompted an immediate and negative response from the community, whose ire was directed towards Officer Haskel, based on what Haskel told you.
Wax: I think that, coupled with all the officers’ statements in this instance.
Lattimer: None of the other officers were attacked.
Wax: The officers talked about the hostility in the area. They weren’t the ones identified as the shooter who just shot somebody, but they all were talking about the hostility when they got there.
Lattimer: What hostility? What did they say? Go to somebody who talked about hostility?
Wax: OK. Based upon 6(e), I can’t talk about what officers said. There is other statements from Officers Egbert, Cilla, and Bank.
Lattimer: In your initial report, you talk about Officer Bank, and you don’t talk about any hostility that he talks about.
Wax: I didn’t cite it….He said there was a hostile crowd there that night.
Lattimer: OK. I’m looking at it. Once on the scene, Officer Banks, he observed a juvenile lying on the ground bleeding from the head. Officer Banks said that he and Officer Egbert were joined by Officer Cilla, and the three of them secured the scene and attempted to keep the crowd under control….
Wax: If you have to keep the crowd under control, there’s a reason to control the crowd.
They go on to talk about what the crowd was saying. They were talking about how the police had shot Rawlings. They knew Haskel was a cop. Lattimer goes through the statements from the cops on the scene and then finally returns to the hostility question.
Lattimer: But none of that talks about hostility?
Wax: I can’t talk about hostility. I guess I shouldn’t have referenced that.
Lattimer: What is the reason?
Wax: I spoke out of turn….
Lattimer: Nobody was throwing anything, right, that you know of?
Wax: I have no evidence that anybody threw anything at anybody.
Lattimer: Nobody was threatening anybody, that you know of, right? At least not from these three guys, what they say, right?
Wax: I can’t answer that fully. I know Haskel felt threatened, he stated, by an individual who beckoned him towards the scene.
Let’s stop right here. The evidence Haskel has to back up his hostility claim is that a citizen standing by Rawlings waved him over. That’s it. Haskel doesn’t describe the citizen as angry. The citizen just waved him over. He thought that was unusual. Really? A 14-year-old is shot in the head. Maybe it’s possible that the citizen wanted Haskel’s help. There’s no evidence that this citizen’s motives or actions were hostile.
It was just a wave.
Lattimer: We’re talking about the three officers, is what I’m asking you about. None of them indicated that—-
Wax: The context of those interviews, no one said anybody was threatening them in those statements that I just read from.
Lattimer: And when they got there, they got there within moments, seconds of teh shooting, right?
Wax: Couple minutes after the shooting, approximately two minutes.
Lattimer: And Clay doesn’t talk about any hostility, right?
Wax: That’s correct.
Lattimer: So of the five people that I understand now from you that the first five people, MPD-related people, who were on that scene after the shooting, were Haskel, Clay, Egbert, Bank, and Cilla, right?
Lattimer: Of those five people, only Haskel told you on the 18th or 17th that there was crowd hostility?
Wax: That would be a correct statement.