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Attorney: Report Justifying D.C. Police Use of Force a ‘Whitewash'

A police investigation found officers used appropriate force in detaining two men on a sidewalk in the Capitol Hill neighborhood last month, Police Chief Cathy Lanier said, but an attorney for those men called the report a "whitewash."

No one who was stopped was charged, but cellphone video of the incident led to protests on Capitol Hill. The 30-second video clip posted on social media showed 18-year-old Jason Goolsby face down on the sidewalk as two officers tried to handcuff him. 

According to an investigative report released by police, the officers were responding to a call about three suspicious men near an ATM at the Citibank in the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE on Oct. 12.

The dispatcher made a mistake, Lanier said, saying the teens may have been trying to rob people rather than acting suspicious.

"I think the confusion in the radio transmissions doesn't help but I don't think it alone is a factor in this at all," Lanier said.

Goolsby's attorney, Peter C. Grenier, said that mistake is inexcusable and made the officers believe Goolsby was a suspect.

"They were 'suspicious' for no other reason than that they are black," Grenier's statement reads.

One of the officers pulled his police cruiser onto the sidewalk and ordered two men matching the description to stop. One stopped, but the other ran, police said. 

When an officer caught up with him, he appeared to reach into his backpack and didn't comply with orders to make his hands visible, police said.

"Understand that's an important thing for us, to be able to see your hands," Lanier said. "We never know who we are walking up on or if somebody might have a weapon, and we want to go home at the end of he day."

The officer, fearing for his life, threatened the man with pepper spray and forced him to the ground, according to the report.

"We feel that the officer's actions, given the entirety of the circumstances were appropriate, and within department policy," Lanier said.

The report does not name Goolsby as the man who was forced onto the sidewalk. 

"Not surprisingly, the MPD report is nothing more than a whitewash, and I mean that in literally every sense of the word," Grenier's statement reads.

Grenier doubts an officer fearing for his life would pull pepper spray instead of a service weapon and said in the statement that his client never reached for his backpack.

Grenier's statement also suggests police responding to an attempted robbery wouldn't have been so calm in addressing the suspects.

At a news conference last month, Goolsby said he ran because he was scared. 

"I seen the gun and the pepper spray, and I nearly got hit by a car, so my first instinct was to run, because I didn't want to die," Goolsby said. "I feared for my life."

Goolsby, a freshman at the University of the District of Columbia, said he stopped at the bank after leaving a volunteer program with two of his friends. 

Goolsby, a musician, was about to withdraw money to pay for a studio session that night when he received a text postponing the session, Grenier said. He then held the door open for a white man and woman with a baby in a stroller, at which point the woman said she forgot something in the car and the family left.

Goolsby was on his way to a bus stop when police stopped him a few blocks away from the bank, according to Grenier. 

Grenier said Goolsby and his friend were detained in handcuffs by several police officers for almost two hours. But Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the two were not held for that long, 15 to 20 minutes, and neither complained of injuries before being released. 

No one was arrested or charged, and no complaint was filed, police said, but the incident was investigated because of the video on social media.

Statement From Jason Goolsby's Attorney:

Understanding that I have not given the report a truly detailed read, here are my initial responses:

Not surprisingly, the MPD report is nothing more than a whitewash, and I mean that in literally every sense of the word.

While I have yet to see any MPD self-investigation result in a finding of by an MPD investigator’s colleagues, fortunately juries are smart enough to figure out the truth.

Do you truly believe that an MPD officer, confronting whom he thought had committed a robbery at a bank, and claiming that he feared Jason Goolsby was “reaching for a weapon” (see page 2 of report), would not have pulled his service weapon on Jason? It is undisputed that the officer never actually pulled his service weapon from its holster, yet the MPD wants the public to believe that Jason reached into his backpack, potentially “reaching for a weapon,” which placed the officer in “fear….” And the officer says he only had his OC Spray out…. The reason this makes no sense is because it is pure fabrication – none of the supposed “uninvolved witnesses” say a thing about Jason reaching into his backpack. The reality? Jason’s backpack contained the following items:

His school laptop computer
His headphones case
His schoolwork
Pens and a pencil
His keys

Which of these items does the MPD consider to be a “weapon?” Where in the report does the investigator tell the public what was actually FOUND in the backpack?

Please be very clear – Jason never reached for his backpack, which remained on his back. How could he supposedly be fleeing the officer, while also unzipping his backpack on his back?

It is shameful and inexcusable that the MPD dispatcher reported the 911 call – the transcript of which is appended to the report – as an attempted robbery. The responding officers reflect this in their individual reports, and it is reflected in the second bullet of the Discrepancies and Clarifications section, on page 13. Perhaps even more shameful is that supposed “clarification” to the officers that “these subjects were just suspicious and not wanted for robbery.” Again, they were “suspicious” for no other reason than that they are black. NOTHING in the 911 call justified nor warranted what happened to these two fine young men, and the MPD as a whole has LOT of explaining to do. We trust and assume that the involved dispatchers have been severely disciplined – the report is very noticeably silent on that issue.

The investigator’s bias is self-evident, and the internal inconsistencies are legion. By way of example but not limitation, in his Summary and Conclusions (page 15), he soft-pedals the initial encounter between Jason and the MPD officer, stating that the officer said “Hey, I need to talk to you both for a minute.” In numerous other sections of the report, including notably the “uninvolved witnesses”” statements, they all characterize the officer’s voice as loud and commanding. Does the public truly believe that a police officer, pursuing someone he claims to have believed may have been attempting robbery at a bank, calmly says “Hey, I need to talk to you both for a minute”?

On page 15 of the report, the MPD investigator states, after acknowledging the dispatcher’s gross misstatement about there being a “robbery,”: “Officers responding were aware that this call was of suspicion only.” That is false – multiple officers stated in their reports that they believed they were responding for an “attempted robbery” (See, e.g., Attachment 4)

I have to wonder why the MPD did not discuss in the report their findings about these young men’s activities immediately prior to this horrific incident – why not tell the public about the altruistic volunteer work these young men had been doing minutes earlier? Why not tell the public that they checked Jason’s cell phone and corroborated that in fact, while at the ATM machine, he had received a text postponing his recording session that evening, for which he was initially going to withdraw money?

The one word most noticeably missing from the report is the word “innocent.” It is beyond dispute that Mr. Goolsby and Mr. Brown were innocent. Why doesn’t the MPD simply come out and say, “These two young men committed no crime”?

I can only say that it continues to be a sad day for the citizens of the District of Columbia, when the threat of a lawsuit over an individual’s deprivation of his civil rights causes the MPD to abandon ITS moral compass and write a narrative to excuse their egregious behavior. Shame on them.

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