WASHINGTON – DC City Council’s Public Safety Committee held two public hearings Thursday about officer tactics after people demanded change to the way DC Police is policing the city.
The emotional public hearings came after a yearlong investigation by WUSA9 into the department’s use of Stop and Frisk.
In recent weeks, a series of cell phone videos showed questionable police tactics; Police walking uninvited into someone’s fenced in backyard and searching. Officers using a gun found in a man’s waistband as justification to frisk an entire group. And a confrontation between police and angry members of Northeast D.C.’s Deanwood community.
Now, the city council is demanding change.
DC Council Public Hearing
Thursday, DC Police Chief Newsham was grilled by DC Council members over his officer’s treatment of young African-American men and women in Wards 7 and 8.
Police Chief Peter Newsham watched an eight-minute cell phone video — showing some questionable tactics by his officers. And for the first time, the Chief says the officer in that video was wrong.
In the video from 2017, a DC police officer can be seen searching a man so intrusively that he claims the officer sticks his finger in the man’s behind.
“Come on man. Come on man. You can’t be fingering my a**,” the man said in the video.
The police officer claimed, in an incident report, that he was searching the man for drugs. But the officer did not find any.
Chief Newsham had refused to answer WUSA9’s questions about whether that search was appropriate and by the book. However, on Thursday under pressure from DC Council Member Trayon White, the Chief finally admitted the search not acceptable. He added that he had taken action against the officer.
“I have seen the video. I have not seen the kind of detail you are explaining. It looked like it was an inappropriate touching by the officer,” Chief Newsham said. “[The officer] has been removed from that particular unit and he has been disciplined for that matter.”
WUSA9 asked the ACLU District of Columbia about that video. They called it “just another example of the abusive interaction between D.C. police and residents.”
During the three-hour testimony, Chief Newsham also addressed a cell phone video that showed two officers searching a fenced-in backyard in Northeast, DC; no warrant, no announcement, no explanation. He made it clear that the video was just a snapshot of possible misconduct and that it doesn’t represent all of MPD.
Thursday, Council member Vince Gray of Ward 7 took the Chief to talk about the search.
“I felt very uncomfortable about what I saw on that video,” said the Chief at the council hearing.
“You should be angry,” responded Councilmember Gray.
“I was,” said the Newsham. “But I got to tell you that we don’t believe the officers has any knowledge that search of the property involved the Price family but that still doesn’t excuse the communication.”
Chief Newsham acknowledged that tensions remain high and said he will continue to talk to the community to try to improve relations.
Gray asked for an update on the investigation into the backyard search within 30 days. The family whose home was searched has filed a complaint with the ACLU.
WUSA9’s Delia Gonçalves questioned the Chief Newsham about the officers’ status. The officers are currently removed from the Gun Recovery Unit, but are back on patrol in the 6th and 7th Districts, which put them in direct contact with the same community who felt violated and threatened by them.
“When I have employees who have alleged misconduct like we believe we all saw in that video, we have to investigate and if it turns out to be true, they will be dealt with accordingly but I can’t make judgment beforehand and before getting all the facts,” he said.
Deanwood Community Hearing
A second hearing took place at Deanwood Recreation Center, in one of the communities most impacted. It gave people who live and work in Deanwoood a chance to share their personal stories and ask for change.
Some of D.C.’s younger residents made their voices heard at the Deanwood meeting. Shawday Cunningham, 16, grabbed the attention of city councilmembers and the audience when she described her interactions with police.
“There’s officers following (us), saying you can’t stand right here,” she said. “We move around, they’re (still) following us.”
Other teens also spoke out during the meeting like 15-year-old Antonio Thompson. He said kids in Southeast and Northeast need more activities to keep them off the streets.
“Give them programs, give them opportunities, give them events,” Thompson said.
The cell phone videos gave the public a glimpse of the anger and outrage some people in the Deanwood Community have toward DC Police. It also showed the force with which those same officers, are pushing back.
A cell phone video recorded on June 13 of a Stop and Frisk of a group of young black men many in the community called “unconstitutional.”
WARNING: The video contains strong language.
WUSA9 first brought videos like that one to light as part of its yearlong investigation into DC Police’s Stop and Frisk practices.
Our investigation revealed 8 out of 10 people stop and frisked by DC Police are black, even though African-Americans make up less than half the city’s population.
The investigation also revealed that the stops can be indiscriminate. Often based on vague descriptions of young African-American men and women.
WUSA9 found the DC Police department has failed to follow a critical part of the NEAR Act. The law was designed to better track stop and frisk in the district, to protect against racial bias by officers.
The ACLU DC, Black Lives Matter DC and Stop Police Terror Project DC filed a lawsuit against Police Chief Peter Newsham, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue to hold the city accountable.
However, less than two months after our first report aired, Newsham admitted to DC Council, the Police Department, was in fact, guilty of failing to follow that law requiring it to better track and monitor Stop and Frisk by its officers.
“So, to the extent, there has been a delay to this data piece and not a complete understanding of the necessary infrastructure changes that would be required, um, we’re guilty.” Chief Newsham said on March 29, 2018.
DC Council has now funded a half-million-dollar plan to finally collect comprehensive stop and frisk data for the first time. Though that system won’t be up and running until next summer. Meaning incidents like that Stop and Frisk July 13 in front of Nooks Barber Shop, still aren’t getting the comprehensive review as laid out under the NEAR Act.
Leaving tensions between the police and some parts of our community at a breaking point.