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The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to prosecute Officer Frederick Friday for the shooting death of David Kerstetter in early November of last year. Friday had shot and killed Kerstetter in the Logan Circle resident’s bathroom entrance. Friday, and his partner Officer Christian Glynn, had responded to the home after a report of an open door. Kerstetter suffered from a mental illness and had pleaded for the police to leave him alone. The police went in anyway to investigate. Officer Friday claimed Kerstetter came at him with a knife before he opened fire. Kerstetter was shot multiple times.
“We’ve closed it out,” wrote Channing Phillips, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, an e-mail. “After a thorough review of the matter, we declined to bring charges after determining that it was a justifiable shooting. We have since sent the matter back to MPD for whatever action it deems appropriate.”
Phillips went on to state: “There was no evidence that the officer violated the law when he used deadly force in this case. Beyond that, I can’t comment.”
Today, Phillips wrote another e-mail explaining further the office’s decision.
“Our decision not to file charges in this matter was the result of a thorough investigation, which included an examination of the autopsy report, all available forensic evidence, radio communications, and witness interviews. In this tragic incident, the officers arrived at Mr. Kerstetter’s home and discovered that his door had been kicked in and that nobody was responding from the residence. The officers worked with Mr. Kerstetter’s neighbors and attempted to contact several third parties in order to resolve the situation peacefully. When these efforts failed, and the officers reluctantly entered his residence, Mr. Kerstetter threatened to take his own life and held a knife to his own throat. Despite reasonable efforts to avoid taking Mr. Kerstetter’s life by repeatedly telling him to drop the knife, Mr. Kerstetter instead lunged toward the officers with the knife and ultimately left the officer who had his weapon drawn with no choice but to use deadly force to protect himself and others from death or serious bodily injury.”
The Kerstetter shooting may have played a role in the D.C. Police Department’s recent decision to change how they train officers on dealing with residents in crisis. The prosecutor’s decision is not all that shocking.
In the last 10 years, according to Phillips, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has not prosecuted a single cop for shooting a citizen.
Last week, the Washington Post wrote an editorial asking why it took a civil suit to reveal new facts in the Rawlings shooting. Maybe it’s because prosecutors just don’t go after cop shooters. The bar is significantly higher to get a conviction in a criminal court.
In a cover story, a very, very old cover story, prosecutor Deb Sines broke it down: “All the cop has to do is take the stand and cry and look at a jury with tears in his eyes, and say, ‘I lost it. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m trying to be a good cop. People spit on us. People shoot us. They have no respect. I lost it. I’m so sorry.’ Not one juror will convict him.”
I went on to write of one example of some seriously bad policing:
D.C. cops have offered far worse testimonials. After getting stabbed by an unknown assailant on June 20, 1998, at the intersection of 14th Street and Park Road NW, Officer Edward Miller fired his Glock, hitting unarmed suspect Jose Joya several times. When later asked why he fired his weapon, Miller told a prosecutor: “I knew I had to get a shot off because I would get teased back at the station by the guys at 4D for not getting a shot off.” Joya won a $500,000 civil-suit settlement in 2000.
Kerstetter’s family has hired veteran attorney Doug Sparks. “On behalf of the family, we have conducted an investigation at least and likely far more thorough than the investigation described in the U.S. Attorney’s statement,” Sparks says in an interview this afternoon. “The results of our investigation paint a far different picture of the events leading to David’s death. In particular, I haven’t heard a word from law enforcement authorities about any ballistics tests in terms of bullet trajectories or any analysis of blood spatter patterns. In my view, that’s probably because they didn’t conduct these forensic analyses. We did. They show at least eight rounds were fired at David and five hit him. Our expert forensic analysis shows that the officers fired downward….Most if not all of the rounds were fired while David was down and incompacitated.”
Sparks goes on to say: “At the end of the day, the issue for the Kerstetters is far more about police training when responding to matters of this nature than they are about whether the police officers should face criminal charges. That’s the difference between the role of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the civil justice system.”