City Desk

What’s The Real News In The Post’s Rawlings Story?

On Sunday, the Washington Post dropped a huge A1 investigative look at the DeOnte Rawlings shooting written by Cheryl Thompson. The Rawlings case has rightly consumed the paper. Two off-duty cops–James Haskel and Anthony Clay–went looking for a stolen minibike that resulted in the shooting death of 14-year-old Rawlings. In the immediate aftermath of that fatal September day in 2007, transparency and accountability were promised by city officials. They have yet to fulfill those promises.

The Post devoted more than 3,700 words to yesterday's Rawlings story. And before that piece, the paper had produced more than two dozen stories on the Rawlings saga, noting every twist and turn in the case—from the autopsy findings to a feature on the neighborhood where Rawlings was shot and everything in between. Their stories aren't just sourced by angry family members either. Their stories appear sourced by well-meaning cops as well. [It's not just the family who wants the answers out there, it might just be the rank and file, too].

What made yesterday's story such a stunner was how little news was in there. It was a testament to the stubbornness of police officials–Chief Cathy Lanier, in particular–who continue to refuse to release their investigative documents and findings.

The article's author, Thompson, rarely gets in print. She had to have been on the Rawlings story for at least a year. And yet, I can't seem to find one revelation or new detail that sheds new light on either the shooter (Officer Haskel) or Rawlings.

If you want a good summation of those 3700 words, read the Post's Dec. 1, 2008 editorial pleading for the city to cough up answers on the shooting. It is the best thing written so far about the case. [Haskel's prior shootings, the bullet hole on the SUV, etc. are in that editorial]. If you thought that eyewitness sounded familiar, he was. The Post wrote about him and his alleged claims on October 19, 2007.

After all those words from the Post, there are still too many questions left unanswered. Here are a few:

1) Haskel had been involved in two other shootings while he was off duty. What exactly was his involvement and what were the circumstances of those shootings? Those shootings had been ruled justified–why were they ruled justified?

2) Immediately after the shootings, police brass spoke highly of Haskel and Clay. Why did they fail to mention that he had been involved in those other shootings?

3) Not mentioned in the the Post story was the fact that Chief Lanier had promised Councilmember Phil Mendelson a copy of the police's investigation into the Rawlings shooting. She made this promise under oath roughly a month ago at a council hearing. She has yet to turn over the Rawlings report. Why?

4) Were Haskel and Clay reprimanded for their failure to follow police procedure? The officers admitted to not securing the crime scene, to fleeing the crime scene, and to failing to announce themselves as police officers when they allegedly found Rawlings and the stolen minibike.

5) Who was DeOnte Rawlings? We know he was a 14-year-old kid who was slipping into trouble. What was his family history? We know he sought the counsel of a social worker. We know that the family had been troubled prior to the shooting. Not in the Post story: Did CFSA have a case file on Rawlings' family?

6) What was Rawlings doing the day before the shooting? Hours before the shooting? Minutes before the officers pulled up? If Rawlings did have a .38, what attempts have the police made to find the gun and find the person who gave him the gun?

7) Rawlings did not have any gunshot residue on his arms and hands following the incident. What medical attention did he receive on the scene and at the hospital? Is it possible that the residue would have been  wiped off? If not, then how do the police explain this?

8) Aside from the ShotSpotter and the two cops, what evidence does law enforcement have that corroborates the police version of events?

9) Alleged eyewitness Clifton Coleman claims he was there and saw Rawlings fire a .38. Did the Post attempt to interview him and if so why did they not include his statements? If he refused to comment, why did he refuse to comment? If he was deposed, why not quote his deposition? Rawlings family attorney Gregory L. Lattimer claimed he has questioned Coleman.

10) Lanier claims that she can't talk about the case because of grand jury secrecy rules. The officers were cleared. Why not share the case file now?

11) Haskel said in his recorded statement that he fired two shots and the kid with the minibike ran off. Why didn't he then call for back up?

12) What is the physical evidence that backs up their claim of a running gun battle–that Rawlings continued to fire his weapon as he was running. Let's face it: A 14-year-old kid running and firing a gun backwards is scary but isn't the safest place behind the SUV? Rawlings allegedly fired his gun nine feet away from the officers' SUV and missed. He then took off running–how far away was he when he fired off more rounds? Twenty feet? More? Less?  Clay claims that he snuck behind the SUV. Why didn't Haskel? Why did he give chase and put himself in danger?

13) Investigators found no gunshot residue on Rawlings shirt. How do investigators explains this?

14) Rawlings body was found roughly 100 feet from the original confrontation. That is a long distance. How did Haskel explain that he feared for his life?

15) The Post reported that two residents called 911. What did they see? What efforts did the Post make to find these residents?

16) The Post reported that three people gathered around Rawlings. Who are these people? What did they see? Did they see a gun next to Rawlings? Did any of them admit to taking the gun?

17) The scene around Rawlings did not appear dangerous. Why did the police say that the scene appeared hostile and that's why the officers fled?

18) Is there anybody who went to police or the family's attorney and claimed they saw Rawlings running without that .38?

19) And finally, is there anything meaningful the police can say about why this case seems so messed up?

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  • Simon

    This is pretty typical of internal affairs investigations -- they're not about justice, they're about covering up what happened if at all possible.

    Once the parties enter litigation, they'll likely try to enter into a stipulated protective order. The public has the right to object; if you really want answers to your questions, that's the time to start getting them.

  • Grumpy

    Like it or not, PD's cover 'shooters'. Rarely are they discplined for fear that it will inhibit other officers ability to fire.

    Now had one of the officers been a whistleblower, then he would have been fed to the wolves or kept in a demeaning job to show the 'others' what will happen if they step forward.

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