Police chief Robert Contee standing masked flanked by two officers in foreground
Reformers say MPD Chief Robert Contee has failed to make many changes to the department, and lawmakers haven't forced the issue. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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A D.C. police officer punched a man 12 times in the face and body while he and other officers tried to arrest the man. The officers’ police powers have been revoked and they are on “non-contact” status pending criminal and administrative investigations, Chief Robert Contee says. The chief declined to identify the officers, but says they were assigned to the Seventh District.

A viral video posted online, including on Snoop Dogg‘s Instagram, shows three officers struggling to handcuff a man, who they suspected of possessing a gun. Two officers stood on the man’s sides while the third started throwing punches at the man’s face and body Sunday in Southeast D.C. A fourth officer attempts to contain the crowd that has gathered. The strikes appear to escalate the situation. Bystanders started throwing trash at the officers, one video posted to social media shows.

During a press conference Monday afternoon, Contee said officers watched a “hand-to-hand gun exchange,” stopped the individual, and felt a gun concealed in his waistband.

“I have watched this video,” Contee says. “I am embarrassed, disturbed, disheartened, and ashamed at what I’ve seen.” Contee says the strikes to the man’s head and face are inconsistent with MPD’s training. He says MPD will wait until the U.S. Attorney’s office has decided whether to bring criminal charges before the department begins its internal investigation.

At-Large Councilmember Robert White tells Loose Lips that he spoke with Contee this morning after watching a video of the incident circulating online.

“They are still in an internal review process, so I don’t want to get too far ahead of the chief,” White says. “But there seems to be quick movement to accountability, which I think is incredibly important.”

White says officers have a duty to intervene when they see another officer acting inappropriately. Contee, during his confirmation hearing earlier this year, said he had started implementing new training measures that teach officers how to intervene when these events occur. At Monday’s press conference, the chief reemphasized officers’ responsibility to step in when they see their fellow cops misbehaving.

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety and has oversight of MPD, says via text that he has requested body camera footage of the incident.

“What I saw in the video posted online is outrageous, and I’d hope anyone would come to the same conclusion after watching the officer punch the restrained person repeatedly in the face,” Allen says in the text message. He says the officer “must be held accountable,” and wants to get a better understanding of whether other officers attempted to intervene.

“This type of assault sets all of us back,” Allen says. “Including every single officer.”

For White, the “disturbing” incident demands accountability, but it also speaks to the culture and perception of the department.

“What I articulated to the chief, and I think he already knows this, is for every incident like this, it undoes dozens of good things officers do,” White says. “It’s so important that we change perception and culture. That’s how we create the type of relationship we need between the police department and the community. It’s a difficult but important moment for the chief.”

This story was updated with comments from MPD Chief Robert Contee and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen.