City Desk

Peter Nickles Bars Public On Police Shooting Facts

Shooting, Columbia Heights

On April 23, 2008, Larry Rice Jr. had made the mistake of visiting a home on the 5800 block of Fields Place NE. D.C. Police soon raided the home on suspicion of drug activity; the officers did not have a warrant and found no drugs or any weapons. Rice tried to flee, according to court records, by attempting to crawl through a back-room window.

Rice managed to get his head out the window when Officer John Stathers found him.

Rice did not have a history of violent crimes. He had not been committing any crimes that day nor did he make any violent moves toward the officer. He was unarmed.

Stathers drew his weapon and grabbed Rice's leg. According to a civil complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Stathers then fired his weapon striking Rice in the gut.

Rice was then lowered to the floor.  The complaint then states:

"While on the ground, Officer Stathers and Officer Derek Starliper began hitting Plaintiff in the head and screaming at Plaintiff, demanding that Plaintiff provide his name. Plaintiff continuously indicated to the officers that he had been shot and was bleeding. The officers continuously yelled profanities at Plaintiff, demanding that he keep his mouth shut."

According to the complaint, Rice was then dragged to the front of the house where he remained for at least 30 minutes. No officers administered first aid or treated his gunshot wound. Eventually, 911 was called. Rice sustained a gunshot wound to his abdomen, a lacerated right liver, a lacerated diaphragm, a gastric injury, and respiratory failure. During his hospital stay, he had emergency surgery. Later during his stay, he got pneumonia.

For several weeks, Rice remained in the intensive care unit at Prince George's Hospital. He was hospitalized for more than a month. Since then, he's had a subsequent surgery on his lungs.

Rice was charged with "intimidating, impeding, interfering with and retaliating against a government official." The case was quickly tossed out. The lawsuit was filed in February.

The D. C. Police Department appears to have cleared the officers. As is typical, a lawsuit seems required to get the facts out and objectively analyzed.

But AG Peter Nickles has moved to bar the public from seeing a significant chunk of this case. Nickles and Co. at the Office of the Attorney General filed for a protective order that would cover the officers' personnel files and the department's training manuals.

In other words, Nickles doesn't want you to know if these officers had previously fired their weapons or had been accused of excessive force in the past. He also doesn't want you to know how the police department actually trains its officers on when they can draw their guns. The order was granted.

Nickles has requested a very broad protective order in the Pershing Park case. That request is still pending.

*photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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  • Former Staffer

    Nickles, as an attorney, you are a blight on the profession and on the DC Government. Please do the right thing and resign before you get disbarred.

  • Simon

    As a plaintiff's lawyer, I've done a fair number of cop cases. This type of protective order is 100% par for the course. Plaintiffs and their lawyers agree because they still get to see everything they want under the protective order. If you, as a reporter, want to do something about it, instead of just writing news stories ("Today, something happened in a case that happens routinely in pretty much every such case"), you need to timely file an objection to the entry of the protective order. Don't expect the plaintiff's lawyer to do your work for you; you and the plaintiff have very different interests (you want to air all the facts in public; he wants to win the case).

  • Jason Cherkis

    Simon: You make a good point. But I don't think the protective order is par for the course. Granted, I can think of a few examples where there was no such order.

  • Nacim

    How often does a police department actually finds their officers at fault? It's almost like a police officer can do anything, up to giving a speeding ticket to the mayor's son, and get away with it. Why are they deemed more qualified to carry firearms compared to regular citizens?

  • Krusty

    My question is: what was so important on the other side of the window? After all, the police are there to protect and to serve. Did Rice not want fries with that order?

  • Truth Hurts

    @ Simon: Plaintiffs' attys cave in to overly broad motions for protective orders involving public entities (eg,MPD) when they're too lazy, too selfish, or too dumb to oppose them. It may be "100% par for the course" in your world, but it reflects poor lawyering in my world.

  • Learned Hand Job

    @Truth Hurts: Everything Simon and his ilk touch is poor lawyering

  • Danny Internets

    @Simon: Why wouldn't airing the case's facts to sway public opinion be in the interests of the prosecution? If the case goes before a grand jury then the jury will most definitely get wind of the information regardless of what kind of media blackout they impose (and the media will most definitely favor the victim, as it does here). If the case is decided by a judge then public opinion weighs even more heavily, especially if the case is tried close to election time.