Soon after 14-year-old DeOntĂ© Rawlings was shot in the head by an off-duty cop on Sept. 17, 2007, it was clear this case would require serious scrutiny. Too many pieces of the narrative didnât add up. Outrage over the incident wasnât just voiced by the usual police watchdogs; it lingered beyond the candlelight vigils and pulpit speechifying.
By now the basic facts are not in dispute. On the evening of the shooting, two off-duty D.C. officersâJames Haskel and Anthony Clayâwent looking for Haskelâs stolen minibike. After driving around for a bit, they creeped down an alley between 8th and Atlantic Avenue SE in the Highland Dwellings neighborhood.
It was there among the Dumpsters and rows of sagging backyard clothes lines that they spotted a boy riding the stolen bike. Haskel revved his champagne-colored Chevy Tahoe into reverse.
They then came face-to-face with the boy. Haskel and Clay did not introduce themselves as police officers. They did not brandish their badges. They did not get on their police radio for assistance.
The boy dropped the bike and then allegedly took out a pistol, firing off two rounds at the Tahoe. Haskel returned fire. The boy darted off, Haskel insists, while continuing to fire his weapon. Haskel got out of the Tahoe and soon got off several more shotsâeight in total.
The two cops fled the scene. The minibike disappeared. The gun that the boy was supposed to have fired has not been recovered. No physical evidence has emerged corroborating Haskelâs story that the boy fired multiple shots as he ran from the alley.
The cops ran from their responsibilities to the dying boy. The U.S. Attorneyâs Office, following a seven-month investigation, declined to prosecute Haskel and Clay. The following September, the D.C. Police Department cleared the two cops of wrongdoing as well. It continues to stonewall on releasing the full investigative record.
Law enforcement insists that the boy who stole the minibike and fired on those cops was the one Haskel shot in the back of the head. Thatâs where the official narrators would like to end this case. But the Rawlings family attorney, Gregory Lattimer, refuses to go along.
Lattimer took the case a few weeks after Rawlingsâ funeral. He hasnât stopped investigating sinceâporing over police records, interviewing witnesses in the neighborhood, and taking depositions. Police officials may have put the Rawlings file in storage. But Lattimerâs file is active and has turned out to be a significant archive of conflicting evidence and sloppy police work.
Lattimer still isnât convinced that Rawlings was on that minibike and that he fired at the cops. Although he has a financial stake in proving his theoryâhe has filed a $100 million lawsuit in federal courtâhe continues to uncover evidence and talk openly about his findings, much to the dismay of Attorney General Peter Nickles. Attorneys representing the city recently requested in U.S. District Court that Lattimer be held in contempt for allegedly disclosing grand jury materials. The lawyer characterizes the move as frivolous and a crude attempt to get this case out of the headlines. âIâm not intimidated by them,â Lattimer says. âIâll fight that battle every single day.â
Among the finds in the lawyerâs files:
âą In the initial police account of the shooting, a detectives reported he arrived shortly after the incident and spotted a cluster of kids around a red minibike. He saw the kids pushing the bike away from the area. The detective did not know the minibike was important. After conferring with another official on the case, he immediately went back to the porch where he first saw the bike. He knocked on the door, and a kid he recognized answered and then promptly closed the door. It is unclear whether police ever followed up with this kid. Lattimer says there is no evidence police ever obtained a warrant for that home.
âą In a deposition with the police officer who picked up Haskel and drove him away from the scene, the officer admitted that a dispatcher directed him to do so. He also admitted he might have been the first officer to arrive at the shooting. Instead of attending to Rawlings, his orders were to take care of Haskel.
âą Perhaps most alarming is the discovery of Haskelâs minibike the day after the shooting. In a deposition taken in March of this year, Haskelâs friend Bobby E. McNair stated that he found the minibike and that a boy turned it over. When the boy got off the bike, a gun fell out of his pocket. McNair stated that he told police the same story. Lattimer says there is no mention of the gun in any police report.
Lattimer says he has interviewed close to a dozen witnesses who contend Rawlings was not on that minibike and did not shoot at the two cops. That night, he believes, Rawlings had visited a nearby rec center and then hung out with friends on a patch of grass a few feet from the incident. Rawlings, he believes, got caught in the crossfire trying to run away through a narrow cut between two housing units.
At this point in his investigation, Lattimer says heâs close to the most important detail of allâthe real identity of the minibike thief. That person, he says, is not DeOntĂ© Rawlings.
After all his investigative work, Lattimer is surprised that the U.S. Attorneyâs Office stuck behind the faulty, official narrative and failed to file charges. âThey know everything I know,â he says. âThey know just what I know.â
Below, in their own words and under oath, several of the players in the shooting death of DeOntĂ© Rawlings explain their histories and what happened. Lattimer conducted these depositions from fall 2008 through spring 2009.
The Personnel File
At the beginning of their depositions, Officers Anthony Clay and James Haskel were asked to provide their history with the D.C. Police Department. They had very little, if any, recent patrol experience.
Lattimer: How long have you been a police officer?
Clay: 21 years.
Lattimer: Where are you currently assigned?
Clay: The Police Training Academy.
Lattimer: When did you start with MPD?
Clay: Upon graduation, I was assigned to the first district substation, at which time I spent five years as a patrol officer. In â92 I was transferred to the Police Academy and currently Iâm at the Police Academy.âŠIâm a certified instructor, but I no longer teach a class.âŠI went to the Academy to be a â to work in the media production unit.
Lattimer: What is that, media production unit?
Clay: We make the training videos.
Lattimer: So did you ever teach any classes while you were at the Academy?
Clay: I assisted with the motorcycle class, the scooter class.
Lattimer: How are you employed, sir?
Haskel: By the Metropolitan Police Department.
Lattimer: How long have you been so employed?
Haskel: 23 yearsâŠ
Lattimer: All right. And starting with your graduation from the Academy, where have your assignments been?
Haskel: Patrol in the first district, auto theft in the first district, assigned to information technology at headquarters and currently SOD, air support unit.
Lattimer: What are you doing with SOD air support?
Haskel: Iâm the technical flight officer.
Lattimer: Does that mean you fly?
Haskel: No, Iâm the officer that gives communications to the ground unitsâŠ
Lattimer: Now, with SOD as a technical flight officer, do you still perform the duties of a patrol officer as well?
Haskel: I donât understand your question.
Lattimer: In other words, are you in uniform?
Haskel: A flight suit.
Lattimer: A flight suit.
Lattimer: Now, before the SOD assignment, where were you?
Haskel: Information technology.
Lattimer: And what did you do there?
Haskel: Installed computers and helped people with logging on to the computer system with the Metropolitan Police Department.âŠ
Before he shot Rawlings, Haskel, while off-duty, fired on two teenagers in separate incidents. Both shootings took place around a Chinese carryout on Southern Avenue SE. In one, he fired and missed. In another, he struck a 15-year-old three times in the back, the buttocks, and in the shoulder. Lattimer says in both cases, Haskel fired on his subject when they had their backs turned away.
In both cases, Haskel stated in his deposition that the teens had guns. In one incident, according police records, Lattimer says, Haskel claimed he was fired upon. Lattimer says the guns and shells casings were never found. Both shootings were ruled justified. During his deposition, Haskel was asked about the shootings.
Lattimer: Prior to Sept. 17, 2007, other than at the range, had you had to use your service weapon?
Lattimer: And when was that?
Haskel: You want the dates?
Lattimer: Yes. The best you can recall.
Haskel: I canât recall dates at all.
Lattimer: Well, whatâs the approximate dates? Well,
letâs do it this way. How many times did you use your service weapon?
Lattimer: Twice. OK. And when you used your weapon on the first time, when was that?
Haskel: February of â04, â05, I think.
Lattimer: And whatâwhat reason did you use your weapon at that time?
Haskel: [W]itnessed a guy chasing someone shooting. As he was chasing the guy, I pulled my weapon, told him I was a police officer, he turned on me, I fired one round.
Lattimer: And did that round take effect?
Lattimer: So you told him you were a police officer?
Lattimer: Why was that?
Haskel: Why was that?
Haskel: Because Iâm a police officer.âŠHe was running away from me, and I got his attention by yelling police officer.
Lattimer: OK. Was itâwas that man eventually captured?
Lattimer: By you or someone else?
Haskel: By someone else.
Lattimer: And when was the next time you used your weapon?
Haskel: Uncandidly in the same location.
Lattimer: 7th Avenue?
Haskel: Yes, 7th Avenue, I was at the restaurant there, and when I came out someone attempted to carjack me.
Lattimer: What happened?
Haskel: I was asked to surrender my keys and he told me to run off. I started to run, I turned and I fired
Lattimer: Did he have a weapon pointed at you;?
Haskel: Yes, in my back.
Lattimer: So he told you to leave and then you turned and started shooting at him?
Lattimer: How many times did you shoot?
Haskel: I donât remember.
Lattimer: Did any of the rounds take effect?
Lattimer: How many?
Haskel: Three.âŠIn the shoulder and the sideâŠ
Lattimer: So he wasnât facing you at the time you shot him?
Lattimer: Was he running away?
Haskel: He was on the fence.
Lattimer: What do you mean?
Haskel: He was on a fence, he was climbing over a fence.âŠI was behind him.
Lattimer: You were chasing him?
Lattimer: How did the chase come about?
Haskel: OK. I fired, but none of the rounds took effect, the first couple rounds, so he ran off.
Lattimer: And as he was trying to climb over a fence, you shot him three times?
Haskel: As he turned to fire at me.
Lattimer: OK. Did he ever fire at you?
The Day of the Shooting: Police Respond to Haskelâs Home
Clay had just finished his day shift and was home in the Walter E. Washington Estates, where Haskel also lives. Haskel had the day off. He spent much of that day taking care of his newborn son. In the early evening, he drove him to Clinton, Md., for a swim lesson. A neighbor, whom Haskel remembers as âFred,â called him on his cell phone with the bad news. Haskel had left his garage open and someone had stolen his minibike.
The neighbors called the police to report the robbery. By the time Haskel arrived back at his home, a police officer had pulled up.
The officer was from the Emergency Response Team and had heard the call over the radio.
Lattimer: All right. And when you got home, what happened?
Haskel: The neighbors were all out. There was an officer there.âŠThe neighbors called about the burglary and 7D dispatched it. He heard the run dispatch and he respondedâŠ
Lattimer: You didnât take down his name?
Haskel: Didnât feel the need to.
Lattimer: I thought he was investigating the burglary?
Haskel: I said he responded.
Lattimer: OK, so what was he just doing, just standing around?
Haskel: Yes, basically when I got there, he was sitting in his cruiser.
Lattimer: So he just came there and just sit and looked around?
Haskel: If you want to know exactly what he done, you may have to get him here and ask him some questionsâŠ
Lattimer: So when you got there, did you have any communication with 7D?
Haskel: He told me that 7D had the call and would respond and was coming out to the call.
Lattimer: So he told you that 7D was coming out to the call.
Lattimer: Did you wait for them to get there?
Haskel: I was in the neighborhood, I just figured Iâd just go out and see if I could find the minibikeâŠ.
Lattimer: You werenât going to wait for the police to come and take the report, right?
Haskel: Well, they were coming.
Lattimer: I know.
Lattimer: But you werenât going to wait for them. Right?
Lattimer: And you sort of figured you had an idea where it might be, right?
Haskel: Kind of an idea.
Lattimer: But you didnât tell none of the police about that, right?
Lattimer: Because you were going to go get it yourself. Correct?
Lattimer: Now, did you take your radio?
Haskel: Did I take my radio?
Lattimer: Did you take your badge?
Lattimer: Where was your badge?
Haskel: In my pocket.
The Search for the Minibike
Haskel had grown up in the neighborhood and stated in his deposition that he had an idea of where the minibike might have ended up. Clay got into the passenger seat with his police radio as well as his police-issued Glock. The two would eventually end up in the Highland Dwellings neighborhood a few blocks away from their homes.
Lattimer: Did you go alone?
Haskel: I started out alone.
Lattimer: You started out from your house alone?
Lattimer: And did that change?
Lattimer: How did that change?
Haskel: Officer Clay said he would go with me.
Lattimer: How did that happen? If youâre driving, how did Officer Clay say anything to you?
Haskel: When Iâm driving out the lot where I live and he sees me leaving and he said, âhold on, Iâll go with you.â
Clay: Oh, like I say, I heard him talking to the neighbors. I was there with the neighbors. He wasnât directly talking to me. I justâI canât recall exactly what part, what got my attention, but I knew he was going to go look for his minibike.
Lattimer: So you decided to get in the truck with him?
Clay: I told him Iâd ride along with him.
Clay: Weâre both police officers. Iâm a neighbor. I help out other neighbors if anything is needed.
Lattimer: What were you going to help him do?
Clay: You know, find it. Something thatâsomething was taken from my house not too long ago. I figured we would ride around and find it.
Lattimer: OK. Did you know the police had been notified already?
Clay: No, I didnât.
Lattimer: He didnât tell you that?
Clay: No, he didnât.
Lattimer: Nobody told you they called the police?
Lattimer: All right. Now, did you all discuss where you all were going?
Lattimer: Did you discuss what you were going to do?
Lattimer: Did you discuss any plan?
Lattimer: So you all just ride?
Lattimer: For what?
Clay: His minibike.
Lattimer: OK. And do you know what his minibike looked like?
Lattimer: So what are you looking for?
Clay: Iâm just riding with him, waiting for him to
Lattimer: So if 50 minibikes ride by you, you wouldnât have no idea whether it was his or not?
Lattimer: Youâre just riding.
Lattimer: What route did you take to get to this alley?
Haskel: Came down Yuma Street, then turned left on to 8th Street and then made a right into the alley.
Lattimer: Yuma to 8th and then the alley.
Lattimer: And thereâs some residential buildings there?
Haskel: Yes.âŠLike I said before, you see a lot of bikes being ridden in that area and I just figured I might have a chance that my bike was over there as well.
The Rawlings File
- The D.C. Police Department's preliminary investigative report on the Rawlings shooting
- The U.S. Attorney's Office's statement on the Rawlings case
- 9/18/2007 D.C. Police Department Letter Clearing Officer James Haskel For Full Duty Status
- 9/18/2007 D.C. Police Department Letter Clearing Officer Anthony Clay For Full Duty Status
- Depositions for Clay and Haskel
- Depositions of James Haskel's wife and Officer Anthony Fucci
- Deposition of Sgt. Ralph Wax
- Deposition of Bobby E. McNair