We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
A few days ago, I called David Kerstetter‘s parents in Arizona. I wanted to know what they thought about the D.C. Police Department’s sudden change in policy in how it handles mentally-ill residents. Their son had been suffering from mental-illness and was shot and killed by a police officer on Nov. 6 inside his home. The department’s investigation into the shooting is “still ongoing,” according to its Internal Affairs bureau.
After hearing the awful news on Nov. 6, the Kerstetters immediately flew from their Phoenix-area home to D.C.
They had to identify their son’s body in the morgue. They had to bury him in Rock Creek Cemetery. And they went to his apartment to try and make sense of the scene the police left behind. They saw David’s blood on his bathroom floor. They saw multiple bullet holes.
The family wanted answers so they asked to meet with Chief Cathy Lanier. They had read her statements in the Washington Post that seemed to quickly exonerate her officers. They never got to talk to her. Instead they got Assistant Chief Peter Newsham, who heads up Internal Affairs.
David’s parents, Carl and Susan Kerstetter, returned to D.C. a second time—-from Jan, 10 through Feb. 6. They had come to close out David’s townhouse, which involved arranging for biohazard people to clean the blood—-splatters and congealed matter in David’s upstairs bathroom. There were also bullet holes in the bathroom door frame. “Sue wouldn’t go upstairs unless I was with her,” Carl remembers.
They spent very little time outside of David’s apartment. Carl recalls taking one five-hour break to visit a museum. They watched the Super Bowl at their lawyer, Doug Sparks‘ home. Sometimes they would go out for lunch or dinner around Logan Circle. There was just too much to do.
They spent a lot of time figuring out what to give away to charity and what to keep. The Kerstetters took home their son’s military medals from his time fighting in the first Gulf War. Susan wanted David’s bed and they arranged to bring it back.
They didn’t call police brass to ask about the investigation into their son’s death. “I knew that they wouldn’t talk to me,” Carl explains. “It was like the first time we were down there….I would like to sit down with the Assistant Chief [Peter Newsham] and the Chief of Police.”
At the press conference regarding the arrest in the Chandra Levy murder, Lanier denied the Post‘s initial reporting on the Kerstetter case where she is quoted giving a favorable opinion on the officers’ shooting. “Do you believe everything you read in the Post?” she asked. But she went on to defend her cops.
Early on, one of the most powerful things Lanier brought to the top cop job was her ability to empathize with family members who have lost loved ones to violence. It showed when she pushed to get the Chandra Levy and Shaquita Bell cold cases solved. I’ve seen her comfort a family at their worst moment. Her ability to feel your pain had not gone unnoticed.
But Lanier never reached out to the Kerstetter family, never held their hands.
“I am disappointed in her,” Susan says. “She never talked to us. She would never talk to us….We didn’t get an apology, nothing from her. I just felt like she didn’t really care, like it was another day at the office. If she has compassion for victim’s families, we didn’t see it.”
Susan is suspicious that the police department’s sudden policy shift in how they treat mentally-ill residents will actually happen. “I don’t have a lot of faith in it,” she says.
Carl had this to say: “I’m glad to see they’ve finally done something. But it’s a little too late to help David.”
*photo courtesy of the Kerstetter family.