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A group of police officers huddled behind a parked car just before 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 18, as they prepared to approach a stolen vehicle with a young man asleep in the driver’s seat, recently released body camera footage shows. A sergeant and an officer with the U.S. Park Police joined the group of mostly Metropolitan Police Department officers.
“So here’s the plan,” an unidentified MPD officer begins. “He’s knocked out. The back window is just plastic. I’m going to try to cut that out quietly. I’ll unlock the door. If he doesn’t get startled, doesn’t wake up, then we’re gonna try to get in there, grab him before he puts that car in gear.”
The MPD officer emphasizes: “If he takes off, just let him go. But don’t get inside that car until we know.”
Within minutes, the driver, 17-year-old Dalaneo Martin, was shot in the back and killed by the Park Police officer who had jumped in the back seat. Body camera footage from MPD and USPP, released Tuesday, shows officers successfully unlock the car and then try and fail to subdue Martin. He ignores their commands to stop moving and drives off with the Park Police officer still in the back seat.
The officer, who has not been identified, struggles briefly with Martin before leaning back into the seat, body camera footage shows. “Stop, man, just let me out,” the officer says as he takes off his gloves.
“Let me out. Stop! Stop or I’ll shoot!” the officers says while simultaneously firing five times into Martin’s back, causing the vehicle to crash into a house on the 300 block of 36th Street NE. Martin was pronounced dead at the scene and leaves behind an infant son.
MPD and USPP released footage of the fatal shooting after members of Martin’s family watched it for the first time. Jade Mathis, an attorney representing Martin’s family, says she watched the footage along with Dalaneo’s mother, Terra Martin, and two of his sisters. Mathis says two moments stand out most: When the MPD officer says not to get in the vehicle, and when the officer fires in the same breath that he gave commands to stop the vehicle.
“The officer told him to stop and let him out and then proceeded to shoot him before giving him an opportunity to process the command,” Mathis says. After watching that scene, she recalls Terra Martin saying, “They murdered my baby. He murdered my baby.”
Mathis declined to say whether the family intends to file a lawsuit. Instead, she says, they are focusing on Dalaneo’s burial (they’ve started a GoFundMe to help with the cost) and Terra Martin wants the officer who shot her son to be publicly identified, terminated, and criminally prosecuted. “That’s our primary concern,” Mathis says. “For him to be held accountable.”
Carl Messineo, a civil rights attorney and legal director for the national civil rights org the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, calls the encounter a “grotesque killing by police who feel empowered to take lives with such ease.”
Messineo echoes Mathis’ view, saying that the USPP officer’s decision to get into the vehicle was questionable, considering they were aware of the possibility that Martin could drive off.
“But the critical moment is the 13 seconds or so when the vehicle is in motion, and where he shoots to kill,” Messineo says. “The focus at that time should be to secure control and compliance not to use deadly force.”
Messineo adds: “And consider the nature of the crime. This is property theft. This is not a crime where someone is actively engaging in interpersonal violence.”
A USPP spokesperson says via email that the department cannot not release the officers’ names “due to privacy protections afforded to federal employees.” The spokesperson also would not give the status of either officer and said the Department of the Interior is conducting an administrative investigation to determine whether the officers violated USPP policy. The department has said a firearm was found in the vehicle, but one does not appear in the body camera footage and it does not appear as if Dalaneo reached for anything before the officer shot him in the back.
MPD’s internal affairs division is also investigating. Officer Hugh Carew says via email that IAD’s preliminary investigation has been forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for review. He could not say whether the USPP officers cooperated with MPD’s investigators.
Update: This article has been updated with comments from Carl Messineo.