Memorial to Arthur P. Snyder
End of Watch: February 12, 1980
Rank: Officer Badge No. 265
Age: 31 Years of Service: 4 years
Location of Death: 14th and U Streets, NW
Duty Assignment: Third District
Officer Arthur Snyder was shot and killed after he and his partner observed a drug transaction at 14th Street and U Street, NW. Officer Snyder died the following day. As the officers approached the suspect from different sides the man opened fire, striking Officer Snyder. One of the rounds was stopped by his vest and the second hit his belt. The suspect then fired a third shot, striking him in the head after he had fallen to the ground.
The suspect fled the scene but was located several days later as he was attempting to flee the city. He had called a cab service to pick him up but the driver recognized him and alerted police. Officers swarmed the cab at which point the suspect opened fire on officers. The officers’ returned fire and the suspect was killed.
Officer Snyder had served with the Metropolitan Police Department for four years. He was survived by his wife Stella, parents, and sister.
Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.
THE SHOOTING DEATH OF OFFICER ARTHUR P. SNYDER ON FEBRUARY 12, 1980.
INCLUDED ARE, SOME EXCELLENT ARTICLES CONCERNING THE CONTROVERSY CAUSED BY THE MURDER, THE KILLERS DEATH AND THE STREET LOGIC OF 4,000 PEOPLE ATTENDING HIS WAKE, THE ABSENCE OF CHIEF JEFFERSON AT SNYDER’S FUNERAL, AND THE POLICE REACTION TO THE OVERALL SITUATION.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED FEBRUARY 12, 1980, PAGE A1
D.C. Policeman Shot by Drug Suspect
A D.C. policeman trying to arrest drug suspects near 14th and U streets NW was shot in the head and wounded critically last night setting in motion feverish attempts to save his life as a massive manhunt began for his assailant.
While 3rd District Officer Arthur P. Snyder, barely alive, was being flown by helicopter to a hospital, dozens of grim-faced detectives and uniformed officers began combing the area around the intersection, where the shooting occurred about 6:45 p.m.
Snyder’s partner, on a special anti-drug detail, fired six shots at the assailant, apparently wounding him. Tracking dogs were put on the scent of a trail of blood that may have been left by the fugitive.
The sudden flurry of gunfire began a night of tension, drama and anguish, in which a Howard University student attempted to resuscitate the fallen officer on the freezing pavement, persons were stopped for questioning for blocks around and a police chaplain attempted to comfort the victim’s grieving wife.
Snyder, 29, and Constant Pickett, both seasoned street veterans, were on patrol as part of a 3rd District unit assigned to suppress the drug traffic near 14th and U streets, long a thriving market for narcotics transactions.
Known on the force for their ability to observe drug suspects and then grab them quickly, the two officers saw a narcotics transaction in the 2000 block of 14th Street, between U and V streets, and swiftly devised a plan for seizing the participants.
While Pickett was to come down the block from the V Street end, Snyder, who had a reputation for zeal and aggressiveness, would approach from the south, trapping the suspects between them.
Something went wrong, police officials explained last night. Snyder got there first, alone. Two shots rang out.
Pickett ran to the scene and saw his partner prostrate on the sidewalk. Bleeding, while one of the suspects stood over him. Pickett fired four shots from his service revolver. The suspect fled.
Pickett reached his partner, took Snyder’s gun, and fired two more shots from it at the fleeing fugitive, and kept chasing until the man vanished.
Almost immediately, Thomas Smith, 23, a Howard University student who was riding in a patrol car in the area as part of an educational program, raced to the fallen officer.
Snyder had been shot once in the head and once in the lower abdomen, below a bullet-resistant vest he wore. Smith began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation—CPR.
For the first few minutes, Thomas could get no response. Snyder had no pulse. He could not breathe unaided. After a few minutes a faint pulse began, then died.
Police officers and rescue personnel arrived and took over. A Park Police helicopter landed on a patch of open ground nearby and took Snyder to the Washington Hospital Center, where the call went out for a brain surgeon.
Top police official’s and Snyder’s wife Stella gathered there as the doctors labored to keep the officer alive.
Meanwhile, officers filled the area around the scene of the shooting—homicide detectives, Snyder’s fellow 3rd District officers and volunteers from the Park Police.
“I want this put out on the streets,” said Officer Clarence J. Thomas, addressing a knot of bystanders at 14th and U. “I want you to go and rap to the people and find out who did it,” he said. “Do it for me.”
Officers moved from house to house along cordoned-off streets, while the dog teams—Park Police Officer J.T. Bartlett with
“Bosco” and D.C. police officer James L. Tarantella with “Blackie,” prowled for the suspect’s scent.
“We’ll have him” (the suspect), said Deputy Chief Alfonso D. Gibson, commanding officer of the 3rd Police District.
Gibson called Snyder “a damned good policeman…always on the street and (giving testimony against suspects) in court.”
Fellow officers in the 3rd District, visibly upset and angered by the shooting, voiced the same high opinion of Snyder.
Calling Snyder a “good officer,” Officer D.B. Jackson described him as fair and impartial, a man who “arrested anyone who was doing something wrong.”
Charley Williams, a former partner, said Snyder, a 4 ½ year veteran of the force, had begun working in September on a special crime prevention patrol, in which uniformed officers walked foot beats to combat drug traffic.
He and Snyder, an enthusiastic outdoors-man, often hunted together in off-duty hours, for deer and small game in southern Maryland.
Late last night, the wounded officer was being sustained at the hospital on life support systems, which maintain vital body functions. Doctors were preparing to carry out a brain scan to obtain a precise evaluation of any damage.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED FEBRUARY 13, 1980, PAGE A1
Manhunt Under Way for Slayer of District Policeman
Embittered and distraught D.C. police officers fanned out through the city yesterday in a hunt for the man who shot and killed Arthur P. Snyder when he attempted to make a drug arrest on 14th Street Monday night.
More than 100 police officers, many of them working voluntarily on overtime, conducted a series of unsuccessful raids around Washington as they looked for Bruce Wazon Griffith, 27, the man charged with the killing.
Griffith, known along 14th Street strip as “Red” because of his ruddy complexion, had been carried for months on the District’s “10 Most Wanted” list after he failed to appear in D.C. Superior Court for trial on heroin possession charges last June. He had been free on $1,000 bond.
Throughout the city yesterday, at every precinct house and substation, on every beat, policemen wore strips of black tape across their badges in mourning for their slain fellow officer. And leaders of police fraternal organizations, outraged over the first slaying of a policeman here in two years, announced that they were offering rewards totaling $4,000 for the arrest and conviction of his killer. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also offered $1,000.
Fraternal Order of Police president Thomas J. Tague called the shooting “an execution by a person who should have been in jail.”
“It is an outrage that a known felon, a dangerous felon, could be loose on the streets,” said International Brotherhood of Police Officers vice president Larry Melton.
Yesterday, the area around 14th and U streets NW, where the shooting occurred, was quiet and still. Normally the center of a carnival-like scene of street people, junkies and drug dealers plying their trade, the neighborhood was overrun by scores of officers who searched the streets with K-9 dogs. Police cruisers were in alleys and on sidewalks and residents kept their distance.
“Ain’t no wonder there ain’t nobody out here,” said Anthony Smith, a resident of U Street. “These people know when the police are mad. Anybody who makes a wrong move today…is going to get themselves locked up.”
Snyder, 29, a 4 ½year veteran of the police department, had been well known on the 14th Street strip since being assigned a year ago to a special eight-man squad to carry out Mayor Marion Barry’s Was on Heroin.
A slight, good-natured man off-duty, Snyder was said by fellow officers and persons around the strip to be aggressive in his work and intensely disliked by drug dealers and users. His colleagues often kidded him about his large ears. Around 14th Street, where virtually every habitué—drug dealer, policeman, and hanger-on—acquires a nickname, he was known as “Mickey Mouse.”
“He’s a rough and nasty policeman,” said one woman who was among the hundreds who poured into the area minutes after
In the crowd there was something of a festive air.
“Surely we’re happy he was shot,” said William Stevens. “He was cruel…he liked to see people run from him, to see people fear him. Live by the sword, die by the sword, I always say.”
But to his friends and co-workers, there was a different, gentler man, Charlie Williams, his partner of 3 ½ years, said Snyder was “a religious man whose wife even got him going to church. We were close, went hunting together every year in southern Maryland for small game and deer. He was a gun enthusiast.”
Williams said Snyder and his wife have no children.
On the streets, Griffith was known as a small-time operator. “He was not very discreet,” said a man who knew Griffith. “Here he is wanted by the police and he comes down to 14th Street last Sunday wearing a big ski goggles and a scarf so he wouldn’t get recognized. That was the first time I’d seen him, but people were saying he had some good quality stuff.”
Reached at her home on First Street NW, Griffith’s mother, Ada Griffith, said she hadn’t seen her son since September. She didn’t know if he had a job and was surprised to read in the paper that he was accused of being involved in drugs.
“He was an average boy, always with a gang and getting into trouble. The others would run away, and he would take the blame. I guess you could say he was police prone.”
Ada Griffith said her son had flunked out of Cardozo High School when he was 17, but, before then he had once been a medal-winning swimmer at Dunbar High.
Attorney William F. Gotschall, who represented Griffith in the June narcotics case, said, “I never got the sense that Bruce realized what he had done was against the law and he could be prosecuted for it.”
He remembers Griffith as being “very argumentative.”
Snyder was staking out the 14th Street drug trade with a pair of binoculars from a second story apartment on the west side of the strip shortly before 7 p.m. Monday.
Standing with partner Constant Pickett, 33, Snyder watched the 14th Street business as usual: junkies and cool-talking hustlers selling $50-dollar teaspoons of heroin, street people muttering and jibing and drinking, prostitutes working the crowd. A curb-side bazaar.
At about 6:30 p.m., Snyder and Pickett focused on a tall, slender man in the crowd of more than 100 who was wearing blue jeans, a gray sweatshirt, tan coat and construction boots. They watched him, for the third time that evening, pass something to another man on the street and receive something in return. One time it might have been a handshake or a message. But three times was probable cause for dealing drugs. They left their perch for the street.
Pickett walked north across the street and turned south toward the man. Snyder headed south, then north. The man was mid-way between U and V streets, in front of Pamela’s Grocery & Deli.
Snyder arrived first, the crowd parting for his blue uniform. Suddenly there was a shot; then three more in rapid succession. The first struck Snyder’s bulletproof vest and knocked him to the ground; the next three were leveled at
Snyder’s head by the man in the tan coat standing over him.
As Pickett raced to his partner’s aid, the man in the tan coat fired two shots at him, both missing, then dashed off toward a nearby alley. Pickett fired four shots at the fleeing man, then picked up Snyder’s fully loaded revolver and continued the chase.
The officer fired two more shots, but the man was gone, running through a vacant lot next to H & B Records, past a sign scrawled on a white wall: “America is S— cause the White Man’s got a God complex.”
Snyder lay under the only tree in front of Pamela’s Grocery & Deli; a bullet had entered his left temple and severed his spinal cord. Blood oozed on the pavement. A Howard University student administered first aid. He was rushed to the Washington Hospital Center by a Park Police helicopter, where he died eight hours later.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED FEBRUARY 14, 1980, PAGE A1Mistake Freed Suspect in Officer’s Slaying
The man being hunted for the slaying of a D.C. police officer Monday night had been free on bail since June because of a bureaucratic mistake, the director of the city’s bail services agency said yesterday.
Bruce Wazon Griffith, who is wanted for the slaying of Officer Arthur P. Snyder, had been arrested by 3rd District police on a heroin possession charge on June 6, according to Bruce Beaudin, the director of the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency.
Because he was already on parole as the result of a previous robbery conviction, he could have been kept in jail until a hearing could be held to determine whether parole should be revoked.
But when Griffith appeared in court to be arraigned on the new charge, the police computer system that would have provided the information that Griffith was out on parole was turned off, Beaudin said. In addition, the folder of information on Griffith’s prior record compiled by the agency the night before was not delivered to the courthouse.
As a result, Beaudin said, the bail agency staff member on duty in court that day had no record of Griffith and recommended that he be released on his personal recognizance, on the condition that he regularly report to the Pretrial Services Agency and agree to narcotics testing.
Judge Joseph M.F. Ryan, who had no information before him about Griffith’s background, agreed to his release, Beaudin said. Griffith failed to return to court on July 9 for his trial and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.
“We went in with a bad recommendation,” Beaudin said in a telephone interview late yesterday. “I hate to admit it… but that’s where it is,” Beaudin said.
“The fact that the computer was down was the key fact,” Beaudin said. The daily transfer of agency folders from a nearby office to the courthouse is “really a backup system,” Beaudin said.
But, Beaudin said, “Whether the (computer) system was up or not, that folder should have been “delivered to the court in time for Griffith’s appearance.
Judge Ryan said last night that he did not remember Griffith appearing in arraignment court, where 40 to 50 cases are handled each day. Ryan said, however, that he “certainly wouldn’t have put (Griffith) on personal recognizance” if he had known about the defendant’s background.
The judge said he probably would have agreed to a request from the prosecution that Griffith be held in jail pending a parole revocation hearing, if Griffith’s record had been available. Ryan said the least he would have done was order that Griffith be required to post a money bond or be released to one of several private groups in the city who supervise defendants prior to trial.
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and court records, Griffith was sentenced in July 1974 to serve 13 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to a bank robbery charge in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
Four years later, he was transferred from the federal correctional institution at Lewisburg, Pa., to a halfway house in Washington. He was released on parole in October 1978.
Beaudin said yesterday that when the agency staff member checked computer records the night Griffith was arrested on the heroin charge, she found information about the robbery and a 1992 parole date and recommended against his immediate release.
Later, after he failed to appear for trial, Griffith was put on the District’s 10 Most Wanted list.
He is also being sought by law enforcement authorities in northern New Jersey on another charge of possession of narcotics.
City police intensified their search for Griffith yesterday, conducting what authorities described as the most extensive manhunt here in decades. They leaned on prostitutes and drug dealers, bought information, searched suspected hideouts with K-9 dogs and, in one case Tuesday night, arrested and allegedly roughed up a man they mistakenly identified as Griffith.
Wearing black mourning tape over their badges, the embittered police officers patrolled the streets in squad cars, on scooters and on foot, looking for their suspect.
Acting on tips and hunches, police surrounded a number of city residences and buildings, guns trained, and sharpshooters positioned. But Griffith kept one step ahead in his flight; on several occasions, police said, residents told them that they had missed him by minutes.
In the 14th and U streets NW area, where Snyder was gunned down between U and V streets NW police arrested three men within 45 minutes yesterday on narcotics violations.
Police officials said that the total number of arrests in the city yesterday was not above the 80-a-day average, but homicide Lt. Kenneth A. Winters said yesterday that “the guys are upset. They’re not going out and manufacturing any laws or violations, but they aren’t overlooking anything either.
“We are going to keep the pressure up until we find him,” Winters said. “We’ve got out a nationwide teletype and we’ve even gotten calls from as far away as the Los Angeles Police Department wanting to know more information. If he runs, we’ll find him. The adrenaline is going when a policeman is shot. It’s not hard to get cooperation.”
In fact, a department spokesman said, several members of the homicide squad had not gone home since the slaying, choosing to stay and continue their dragnet around the clock.
On Tuesday night, a 29-year-old Northeast resident said, he was arrested and beaten by 5th District police officers who mistook him for Griffith as he sat talking to a friend in a van parked at the Brentwood Village Shopping Center at 13th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE.
Aaron Woolfolk said he had walked to a grocery store in the market to buy some food, met a friend, and then was sitting in the friend’s van at about 6:30 p.m. when two police officers approached and started harassing him.
“They came to the van and put a flashlight in my eyes. They said to get out of the van,” Woolfolk said. “I made no movement whatsoever. I simply asked, “Why are you shining that light in my eyes?”
Woolfolk said the officers then pulled him out of the van, took him behind the van, handcuffed him and hit him in the face with a flashlight, stepping on him and beat him up.
Later, he said, he was taken to the 5th District police station and, when they learned they had mistakenly identified him, charged him with disorderly conduct and released him after his sister and brother-in-law paid a $10 fine.
Woolfolk, an employee of the Government Printing Office, said he has bruises on his neck, a split nose, swollen lip and a badly bruised and cut hand.
Shirley Robeson, Woolfolk’s sister, said that when she went to pick her brother up, “his face was busted, and his hand was busted. He had blood all over him, they told him to go into the bathroom and wash up.”
Attempts to get a police comment on the incident were unsuccessful yesterday. One 5th District official said that no one in the station late yesterday knew any details of the incident. Woolfolk’s name and the disorderly charge were registered in the arrest book, however.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED FEBRUARY 15, 1980, PAGE A1
Suspected Killer Of Officer Slain By District Police
A small-time drug dealer hunted since Monday after the first murder of a D.C. policeman in two years was shot and killed by police yesterday afternoon after he leaped from a taxi on a quiet residential street near Howard University.
Two patrolmen, hunting for 29-year-old Bruce Wazon Griffith on their day off, spotted him shortly before 3 p.m. as he got into a taxi at First and S streets NW.
As the cab headed north on First Street, the two patrolmen, wearing street clothes, followed it in their private car, radioing at the same time for help.
They had only gone a couple of blocks when a police car swept up behind the taxi, signaling it to pull over with its roof-lights.
Police said the taxi at this point struck a parked car and came to a halt, and the driver fled from the cab with his hands up.
But Griffith, police said, began firing through the rear window at the three approaching officers.
The patrolmen—two white and one black—returned the fire, police said.
Residents who live in the neighborhood said Griffith then jumped from the taxi, rolled across the hood of a car onto the sidewalk and scrambled to his feet.
Police said Griffith continued firing, though witnesses said the fugitive at this point appeared to be trying to flee. He was struck in the chest by at least two police bullets, and fell to the ground, fatally wounded.
The three policemen and the cab driver were not injured.
An ambulance crew arrived at the scene minutes after the 3:15 p.m. shooting, administered first aid, and then rushed Griffith to the Washington Hospital Center. Despite feverish efforts by doctors there to keep him alive, Griffith died about 50 minutes later.
Moments after the shooting, hundreds of residents gathered on First Street NW, between W and Adams streets, as several dozen police roped off the area and a helicopter hovered overhead. Bits of shattered glass covered the asphalt near the W Street intersection. Fiberglass torn from the body of one of the cars struck by the taxi was scattered nearby.
The taxi, sitting 50 feet north, had six bullet holes in the rear window. And under a tree near the sidewalk were Griffith’s blue nylon boots, his blue knit scarf and a pair of sunglasses.
Griffith’s shooting ended a massive manhunt that began after 3rd District police officer Arthur P. Snyder was gunned down Monday night when he tried arrest Griffith for selling drugs in the 14th and U Streets NW area. Hundreds of junkies, drug dealers and street people had gathered at that scene expressing jubilation over the death of Snyder, who they disliked and feared because of his aggressive pursuit of lawbreakers.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, more than 100 embittered police officers, many of them volunteering their day off duty hours and working around the clock, intensified their search. They fanned out with dogs in a large area of the center city bounded by North Capitol, 16th Street NW, Irving Street and K Street, searching for Griffith, the convicted felon suspected of killing Snyder.
Acting on anonymous tips leaning on informants and offering $5,000 in reward money, police wearing flak jackets and carrying shotguns surrounded more than 100 residences and abandoned buildings at different times. But Griffith managed to elude police, sometimes by as few as 10 minutes.
As three days passed with Griffith still on the run, he became something of a legend in the alleys, door stoops and pool halls around the 14th Street strip. Street people marveled at his ability to elude police. A legend grew that he had changed his appearance by shaving his beard and wearing padding to appear fat and had been seen around town variously in a red Cadillac and silver Mercedes.
“That Reds, (Griffith’s nickname), he ain’t no dummy. He pretty smart man, said Slim Kennedy as he shot a rack of balls at a pool hall on 14th Street only hours before Griffith’s death. “He got the police running around like a bunch of chickens. He’s probably in South America by now.”
But Griffith apparently never left the area around the Northwest streets where he grew up and attended Cardozo High School. He was seen several times by police and residents, one of whom, Mark Divvers, a television repairman, saw him in a liquor store on First Street NE Wednesday night.
“I walked up to him and recognized him. I was shocked,” Divvers said. “As I looked up it was as though this 30 mile-an-hour wind came over me. I had this feeling that evil was present”.
Police said that callers also told them that Griffith had been seen several times in the vicinity of 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE. It was such tips, 5th District deputy police chief Carl V. Profather said that eventually lead to Griffith’s apprehension and shooting.
On Wednesday, two of the officers who shot Griffith, Robert L. Lanham, 30, and Adrian James, 25, were given permission to wear civilian clothes and begin an intensive search for Griffith. About 5 p.m., they spotted Griffith in the Edgewood Terrace apartment complex in Northeast Washington. Spotting him, they gave chase but lost him.
Yesterday morning, Lanham and James continued their search. Officer John Bonaccorsy, 24, joined them.
Cruising around First and S streets NW, they spotted Griffith in the back seat of a black and orange Capitol Cab, and quietly followed them north to W street. Minutes later, there was the rapid crackle of gunfire and Griffith was wounded fatally.
“It looked like a gangland killing, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” said Frank Barr, 30, who was visiting relatives on First Street in the quiet LeDroit Park neighborhood when the shooting occurred.
“One black plainclothes officer jumped out of the passenger side of the police car while a white uniformed officer jumped out the other side. They just started shooting and shooting,” said Shirley Lightfoot, who has lived on the street for 21 years.
Griffith was taken to the Washington Hospital Center where a team including some who had attended to Snyder on Monday night, worked to keep him alive. At 4:05 p.m., about an hour after the shooting, the doctors pronounced him dead.
A hospital spokesman said Griffith had been shot in the chest but they could not determine how many times.
“To think it had to come to this,” said Griffith’s mother, herself an employee in the hospital’s laundry room.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE “THE DISTRICT LINE” BY BILL GOLD, DATED FEBRUARY 15, 1980, PAGE C12
Casey Stengel Would Have Felt at Home
Police officer Arthur P. Snyder was shot Monday evening. He died eight hours later. Our report on the matter said the man being hunted for the shooting had been freed by the court system in June of 1979— “because of a bureaucratic mistake.”
When I read items of this kind, I come a little unhinged. Must policemen pay with their lives because public servants are so casual in the performance of their duty. What’s going on in our town? Do we do anything right?
Shortly after Snyder was gunned down, police began a massive search for Bruce Wazon Griffith. We assigned staff writer Mike Sager to that story. Two other reporters, Laura Kiernan and Joann Stevens, began to dig into Griffith’s background.
What they turned up took my mind back to the day Casey Stengel lost his temper with the New York Mets and shouted at them, “Can’t anybody here play this game?” It’s unfair to ask that question of city employees in general, because thousands of them are dedicated and diligent people. Nevertheless, the question must be asked.
Why do so many things get so fouled up in Washington? If everybody in the District government is doing such a great job, why is the end result so poor?
The information available as this column is written is mostly the result of Laura’s skillful and persistent work. It runs like this:
On June 6, Griffith was charged with the possession of heroin. Previously, he had pleaded guilty to a charge of robbery. At the time of his arrest on the drug offense, he was on parole on the robbery conviction.
When Griffith was brought into court on the drug charge, the District’s computer could have revealed within seconds that this guy was bad news; there was cause to revoke his parole on the robbery conviction.
Alas, the computer was “down” at that moment. Computers are often “down,” usually for a few minutes, sometimes for an hour or more.
But computers do not stay down for long. Most malfunctions are repaired quickly. Griffith should therefore have been held for another few minutes or hours until that “down” computer became an “up” computer capable of warning the judge of Griffith’s record. Instead, the prisoner was released.
Why? Laura learned that a folder containing Griffith’s police record had been compiled by the District’s Pretrial Services (bail) Agency the night before his appearance on the drug charge. That file should have been placed before the judge at the drug hearing. It should have been a “backup” to the computer. But the file was never delivered. Nobody could explain why it was not delivered.
With the computer down and the backup file missing, the bail agency knew nothing about Griffith. The agency had several choices.
It could ask the judge to hold Griffith until information became available. It could tell the judge that the computer was down, and that for this reason it was making no recommendation about bail. Or it could recommend that the prisoner be released.
The agency recommended that Griffith be released. The judge turned Griffith loose on condition that he appear on July 9 for a hearing.
The next development is just going to surprise the pants off you. Griffith did not appear on July 9!
When Griffith failed to appear in court, the judge issued a warrant for his arrest. It was never served.
Seven months later, Officer Snyder attempted to make a drug arrest near 14th and U and was fatally shot. Several witnesses told police what they had seen, and the manhunt for Griffith began.
Meanwhile Laura found out what had happened to the file that was never delivered to the judge. She also learned how the file had later been discovered, almost accidentally, at the bail agency. I’m sure you read the disheartening details.
When it was all over, I said to Mike Sager, “When I ask how a warrant can remain outstanding for seven months, they just shrug and say, “Man, we have thousands of warrants that ain’t been served. How can this be?”
“It’s true,” Mike said. “Everybody in town knows about it except you. They have a room filled with file cabinets of warrants that have been outstanding for years. But every time there’s a budget squeeze, they trim a few more jobs and add another file cabinet. Give Laura credit for digging up the background on this story, but what it boils down to is that this is the way the system works. Every so often an innocent person gets shot down by a guy who should have been locked up in jail, and the newspapers make a fuss about it. But the rest of the time, nobody seems to care much.” Many of us care, Mike, including thousands of employees of the District of Columbia. But the question remains: If so many of us think the system is not working well, why can’t we make it work better?
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL PAGE “LETTER TO THE EDITOR” ARTICLE DATED FEBRUARY 19, 1980, PAGE A18
The Death of Officer Snyder
The February 13 story on the slaying of Officer Arthur P. Snyder said that there was a “festive air” and a feeling of “happiness” over his death. This does not present the feeling of the majority of residents in the area.
We do not condone the wanton slaying of Officer Snyder and we abhor the blatant and arrogant takeover of our neighborhood by drug pushers and addicts. It cannot be tolerated. There must be more than an eight-man squad to fight the war on illegal drugs in this area.
It is hoped that his death was not in vain, and that the same efforts that have kept 14th Street free of drug traffic for the past few days will continue. It seems that would be a fitting monument to Officer Snyder.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED FEBRUARY 20, 1980, PAGE A1
More than six eyewitnesses have positively identified Bruce Wazon Griffith as the man who fatally shot D.C. police officer Arthur P. Snyder at 14th and U streets NW last week, District said yesterday.
Police also said yesterday that the handgun used to shoot Snyder was the same model as one found on Griffith’s body after his fatal shootout with three policemen three days later. But police said the bullets taken from Snyder’s body were too “mutilated” to be positively identified in ballistics tests.
That information along with findings that Griffith shot first during his gun battle with police, has been sent to a D.C. Superior Court grand jury to determine whether Griffith shot Snyder and whether police were justified in shooting him.
In an interview with a reporter yesterday, Capt. Capt. Charles Samarra, head of the District’s homicide squad, and detective Robert Chaney, who is investigating the shootings, said they are convinced, based on witness’s testimony, that Griffith shot Snyder and that it was premeditated.
Friends of Griffith dispute this, however, some saying that a man behind Griffith fired the shots that killed Snyder, others saying that Griffith was not in the area at the time of the shooting.
A witness statement, contained in the warrant issued for Griffith’s arrest before he was shot, said that “shortly before the shooting…the witness was on 14th Street in the 2000 block along with a male subject known to the witness as Elroy Jones (or) “Reds”.
“At approximately 6:40 p.m., the witness became aware that Officer Snyder was walking behind them. Elroy Jones told the witness prior to Officer Snyder approaching them, that if anything happened to move to his right—that everything to his left was getting wasted.”
When Snyder approached the two, the witness said, “Elroy turned, pulled a pistol from his pocket and shot Officer Snyder. Officer Snyder fell to the ground and Elroy stood over him and shot him in the chest and face.”
The affidavit states that the witness then viewed nine pictures and positively identified a picture of Bruce Griffith, whom he called “Jones,” as the person who shot Snyder.
Samarra said there were five other witnesses who said they were at the scene of the shooting and positively identified Griffith as the man who shot Snyder after seeing Griffith’s photograph.
Samarra also said that the gun used in both cases was a smith and Wesson small-barreled, five shot pistol, based on tests of gunpowder marks on Snyder’s clothes and on the empty cartridges found at the scenes of both shootings.
Ballistics experts could not positively identify the bullets, however, because they were too battered.
Though many of Griffith’s associates say they think he was never allowed by police to turn himself in alive. Samarra said police had tried to let Griffith know that he could give himself up safely.
“We asked him to surrender, we began to find relatives, friends and associates. We told them of the seriousness of the crime. We asked for their assistance in apprehending him and we asked that he surrender,” said Chaney.
Samarra and Chaney said that at no time did police receive a call from Griffith or one of his acquaintances indicating that Griffith wanted to surrender.
Samarra also asserted that when police spotted Griffith in a cab and followed him to the 2200 block of First Street NW, Griffith was given the chance to surrender.
“Griffith had three chances to surrender,” said Samarra. “One when the uniform (squad) car stopped the cab and the policeman in uniform approached him. Then the two other policemen in plainclothes, but with their badges showing, also approached and he was asked to put his hands up and get out and (Griffith) started shooting. The policemen then returned the fire.”
Samarra said that during the exchange, police fired 19 shots, Griffith seven. An autopsy of Griffith’s body showed he was hit six times.
Samarra said that by studying the way in which the rear window of the cab was shattered, police technicians have determined that Griffith shot first and that his fire was then returned by police.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED FEBRUARY 21, 1980, PAGE DC1
(NOTE: THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY POST STAFF WRITER JANET COOKE, WHO WAS LATER FOUND TO HAVE FALSIFIED FACTS FOR SOME OF HER STORIES)
Heroin and the War on 14th Street Northwest
You talkin’ about anxiety here, baby. ANXIETY, a 14th Street regular says of the atmosphere.
“It ain’t no game up here now.” He slams his fist into the linoleum-covered counter of the 14th Street chicken shack where he has reluctantly agreed to be interviewed. His eyes dart nervously about the room.
Behind the counter, a short, stout old woman rolls chicken wings in bread crumbs, and without looking up offers a muttered “Amen.”
Outside, it’s no better. A young man standing aimlessly on the corner of 14th and U backs away. “There’s nothing I can you, and you sure can’t take my picture,” he says.
“Because when you all are gone, the police will be back to talk to me, if you know what I mean.
“You’ll be sitting up there in your office, while me and my record are still out here in the cold.”
In an area where residents, regulars and hangers-on say anti-police sentiment normally runs high, recent events have shifted feelings from bad to worse.
On and off the street no one wants to talk. They all have their demons. Something or someone to keep them from speaking up. For the drug people, it’s the police and the dreaded bust. Business people see the slow death of their own struggling enterprises in the illicit street trade. And for the police—Arthur P. Snyder is a stark reminder that the worst can happen on these cold streets.
Fear is the common thread that links everyone—street people, businessmen and police—connected with 14th and U streets NW. Here tension hangs heavy in the air.
No one has forgotten that this is where life ebbed slowly from Police Officer Arthur P. Snyder as a crowd cheered. That
three hellish days later Bruce Wazon Griffith, Snyder’s accused killer, fell in a hail of police bullets 13 blocks to the east.
Inside the shops, pool halls and gathering places, away from the penetrating stares of the dozens of police officers outside, the air is volatile.
Her luminous hazel eyes kick into overdrive. Darting now to the left, now to the right. Penetrating, examining everything. Eyes front now, all senses on edge.
She is a police officer. Acutely aware of what’s out here. She feels what she cannot see. Drugs. Hostility. Tension. Her eyes never stop moving. They flash up and to the right at a man in a raised doorway.
“Hey baby,” a beady-eyed man sporting a wide-brimmed hat shouts as she walks by. “What the hell you lookin’ for up here anyway? Ants? Flies? Roaches?”
The eyes lock in on him. They tell him he is on the edge. One more word and he could go to jail.
A small crowd is gathering. Derisive laughter begins. Her male partner, who has been trailing behind, begins to move up.
“Yeah,” another voice snickers, “Let’s give the little lady a roach.”
Grim determination etched on her face, lips pursed, the police officer continues on her beat. Refusing to be intimidated.
Another jeer from the small crowd. The officer and her partner check out both the hassler and his ID.
You can still see where some of the old businesses were before the riots. Windowless, sometimes door-less storefronts. An item or two left on a random shelf. Almost as if someone had left in a hurry.
Next to one, a small deli remains. The woman behind the counter is asked if she thinks other businesses are likely to return to the area:
“Come back? What they gonna do, honey? Build on top of the junkies? I just hope don’t anybody else leave. Especially the police.”
The people in the 14th Street business community may not admire individual members of the D.C. Police force, but as an overall presence, the officers are enthusiastically welcomed. Without them, they say, they would have no business. Drug traffic along the corridor is usually so thick legitimate patrons take their business elsewhere.
“I have asked for extensive police protection,” said the owner of one small shop, who, like most of his colleagues, asked to remain anonymous.
“Look out there. It’s empty now, but before the officer was killed, they’d stand in front of the door 10 to 12 deep. Waving the stuff right out in the open. Passing it to kids. After a while, it got so that you were afraid to go out at night, afraid to come in the morning.”
Next door, store owner, Sandy Stanbeck says his establishment has been broken into twice recently. Police say both burglaries were drug related, and, in both cases, police picked up suspects. The owner believes the number of incidents would be much higher if 14th Street pushers were not on official notice from the police that an all-out war against drugs is on…Mayor Marion Barry’s War on Heroin.
Stanbeck’s Republic Market is reminiscent of an old-time general store. Rows of neatly stacked canned goods. Penny candy. Dog food, sodas, beer and Wild Irish Rose. Tucked behind the counter are a few bottles of Oil of Olay and one lone vial of perfume—Cardin de Pierce Cardin. The white linoleum floor is spotless.
“I try to keep it shipshape here, to run it like I did in the old days,” the middle-aged proprietor says. “But it’s hard. I remember when there were so many of us here. One by one, they’ve all moved away. Top-flight places, I mean. Used to know the people who ran them all. But now…” He shakes his head.
“It’s bad now,” he finally finishes, “but it was worse before the police beefed things up. I hope they don’t slack up now that they got the one who did the killing.”
Down the street, at the entrance to an alley sealed off at either end by police cars, stands Raymond Pena Jr., a tall, affable, boyish-looking police officer.
“You’ll always hear pros and cons about the police,” he says laconically. Then slowly the finely chiseled features and voice harden. He is remembering the moment he heard fellow officer Arthur Snyder had been shot.
His tone is official as he says the police will be unrelenting in their efforts to clean up the 14th Street corridor. The voice trails off.
“People laughed. They laughed at the officer who was shot. I thought…it could have been me. Any of us.”
He takes a quick inventory. Scanning the street scene, each of the squad cars. Good. They’re all there. Accounted for.
“Folks think the pressure will be off since we apprehended the suspect. But it’s not like that. The game is over. This is for real.”
His shoulder twitches. Been doing that since the shooting, he says.
The 14th Street cops aren’t out for revenge, he continues. “They want to act like professionals. But everything has its limits.
“I’m Puerto Rican. I come from New York. These people aren’t no different from me when I was growing up, but now, they’ve got to know what my role is.
“I’m only 22 and I’m not planning to die for nobody…This is a nightmare thing. You dream about it…can’t stop thinking about it. You come in to work and your buddy’s down. With people laughing. Wouldn’t nobody lift a finger to help you. I…I don’t know what to say.”
He said more than he meant to.
Not far from the spot where Snyder was shot, street vendors hawk a variety of the mundane—hats, scarves, gloves. One peddler, known as “Hat Man,” lives in the 14th Street storefront behind the spot where his stand is neatly arranged and closely watched.
He has watched it all through mesh-covered windows for the past few days. To sit in his darkened room for an hour, as neighborhood figures drift in and out and the pungent aroma of barbecue fills the air, is to be in the heart of the 14th Street corridor.
“I guess you could say that I got the ghetto version of an Old Country salon,” the articulate veteran of 60s strife says wryly. Everyone who comes in has something to say about the goings-on. To a person, they are unified in their dislike of the police in general, and Arthur Snyder in particular.
“I don’t have nothin’ to say about it except this,” a young woman interjects in staccato tones. “That sucker got what he deserved.”
Stories about Snyder are widely told by people who live in the neighborhood. Some say he indiscriminately roughed people up. Others tell worse tales, but tales that cannot be proven.
“He was cold-blooded. You know,” one on-looker offered. “He’d stop people for stupid things. Spitting on the street, jaywalking, carrying a ragged driver’s license…smalltime s—like that. Then he’d go back and brag about it.
“He’d be up there following people’s mothers, old ladies. Stopping them, patting them down, and going through their shopping bags. Got so you couldn’t stop outside the house to get a cup of coffee or a paper without a hassle.
“Everybody down here don’t mess with drugs, but you gonna start telling a person that he can’t hang in his own neighborhood? That’s BULL—Brothers and sisters ain’t gonna STAND for it.”
A man in his late 20’s steps into Hat Man’s room to pay for a gray knit cap he’d selected from the table outside. He stays listening, then adds, “A lot of us are sorry that we mess with drugs, but for those who do, well, we gotta have someplace to go–GOD-DAM. The police situation up here is getting really outrageous. They act like its guerrilla warfare.”
The conversation has fired up a junkie who has drifted in and slid silently to the back of the room.
“You don’t come talkin’ about cleaning up no place where people was born and raised. These niggers ain’t gonna stand for it. You see that corner out there? It’s like your living room, baby. It’s these people’s CORNER. It’s their life. It’s these brothers and sisters life, they home. This is all we know.”
At the Third District’s V Street station, known everywhere as 3-D, sadness is fused with anger and resentment.
They knew Art Snyder well. Their feelings vary, but the consensus is he was a good police officer. They admired him even when they didn’t like him.
“You had to hand it to him,” Officer Joseph Vanbloemen says, “He sure could haul those junkies in off the street. He hated drugs. Hated anything connected with drugs. So every time he busted one, it was like he felt as if he’d done this public service.”
“I didn’t always agree with the way he did things,” said another who asked not to be identified. “He was tough. He could be hardheaded. But he knew his job. Knew how to kick ass within the boundaries of the law. That’s what you’ve got to know to do a good job out there.”
The 3-D officers say those who feared Snyder did so with good reason. Only those with “no respect for the law,” Capt. Richard Simmons said, had anything to worry about.
“Unfortunately,” he added, “those are the type of people who mostly made up Snyder’s beat.”
“Those people down there have no regard for the law, for authority of any kind,” Simmons said. “And Art was one of those who demanded a proper respect for his authority.”
He attacked his work with a zest which was highly regarded, even by those incapable of duplicating it.
“I liked him because he always tried to challenge himself,” one officer recalled. “He always wanted one more bust before he could call it a night. Me, I’ve never been into a body count like that, but he had a way of doing it that turned it into good police work.”
“Have you ever been in a war zone?” Vanderbloemen asks, interrupting the conversation.
“Well, working on 14th Street is worse, because you never know what to expect or where it’s going to come from. But
Snyder could handle it. Sometimes, it was as if he could handle everything at once. A hell of a good cop.”
They speak of him almost reverently now. The careful teacher. The guy who’d teach a rookie cop to always watch his back. And a suspect’s hands. The one who’d observe a suspect carefully before apprehending him. Who never let the concept of probable cause slip from his mind.
They also talk about Snyder the Hot Dog. The Lone Ranger. The Cowboy. “He was a hustler. Hardheaded,” said one. “But he was so good on the streets.”
To a person, they vehemently deny that Snyder used brutality as an arrest technique. And, Simmons added, police have no record of any of the charges leveled by the people on 14th Street.
“There’s a lot of apprehension” in the neighborhood these days, Hat Man says. Everybody, he says, believed that when the police found Griffith, they’d kill him.
“It’s been looking like an armed camp up here,” he says. “People are scared to cross the street. Everybody’s trying to go about his business as if nothing happened, but with the police on every corner and all up and down the middle of the block.
“I know and you know what black people have to do to live up here. You got to write a few numbers, sell a little dope, and run a little whiskey. Sometimes, the women have to sell their bodies. But just because of that, it doesn’t write them out of the constitution.”
Out in the squad car, one-hour drifts slowly into the next. Traffic calls. Business checks at 14th Street establishments where the clientele exit almost en mass as the police arrive.
1:15 a.m. The squad car is in rapid pursuit. Adrenaline rushing. Siren wailing, lights flashing. A cup of hot coffee spills over the front seat of the car. It takes just under two minutes for 11 police cars to race to the corner of 17th Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW. They surrounded a car thought to have been seen leaving the scene of a robbery. At the very least, the drivers ran two red lights.
Too much back-up here. The officer returns to his car, breathing heavily. He slides behind the steering wheel, rubbing his eyes.
2:30 a.m. Squad cars converge on 14th and U where several young men are spotted. They are asked, then searched for their
Ids. “What did we do?” they protest as an officer advises them to “be cool” before they are read their Miranda rights and stuffed into the cruisers. A young woman who jaywalked when her boyfriend was stopped is also handcuffed and led away.
Back in the car, the officer clasps his hands to either side of his head. Breathing hard again, he closes his eyes. It is several minutes before he drives away. Even the prisoner is silent.
At the precinct station, one of the jaywalker’s brags that he is awaiting trial for a rape charge.
“Yeah, I got the big one, a felony pending,” he says, handing over $5 to cover his jaywalking ticket, “but you know what, he is leaning against the wall, grinning, “I’m gonna beat it. I’m gonna laugh all the way out of court.”
In the back room, another of the jaywalkers, a 19 -year-old, feigns a heart attack. Paramedics are summoned.
“I’ve seen everything,” says the desk sergeant, unfazed. “Nothing would surprise me now.”
“What’s the heart condition?” one police officer asks a paramedic.
“Bull,” is the one-word reply.
They pack up what looks like an entire hospital’s worth of gear and leave.
4:04 a.m. Police are called to 14th and Q streets, where an apparent robbery victim has received a deep cut on the neck. He is screaming, blood flowing like burgundy from the open wound. The first police officer on the scene quickly compresses the wound and whisks the victim, who looks as if his jugular vein may have been cut, to Washington Hospital Center—breaking departmental regulations about transporting injured persons in the police car. There, once cleaned and anesthetized, the victim’s injuries are less serious than first thought.
The officers question him about the person who did the cutting. Why was he at 14th and Q at four in the morning? How did this happen?
The police suspect that a woman may be involved. They also suspect that his ego will not let him admit this.
He tells four stories. Each one’s different.
He is lost.
He was looking for a club.
Someone just threw a brick through the window of his car, dragged him out and beat him.
No, he doesn’t know what they looked like, except they were black. And one was wearing a gray coat. And they were men.
With death less imminent, he is suddenly hostel.
Two doctors walk by. What would have happened if it had been the jugular? If the officer had followed regulations and waited for an ambulance?
“He’d be dead.”
The patrolman begins to fill out a detailed report.
“Goddam” the victim mutters sullenly, turning his face to the wall, away from the policeman and the bother. Too many questions. It seems to take forever to complete the paperwork.
Heading out into the cold, the policeman zips his jacket, puts on his cap. The man he rescued hadn’t bothered to say thanks.
It is 5 a.m.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED FEBRUARY 21, 1980, PAGE C1
Villain Can Seem Hero in Twisted Street Logic
At 14th Street and Wallach Place NW, a pit stop on the way to hell, a man stood handcuffed in the street, his car in front of him, an empty lot behind him, people watching, radios blaring, kids dancing, whores selling, dopers selling, dopers nodding, cops looking, helicopter hovering and me, notebook out, asking a guy, please, sir, can you tell me why 4,000 or so people attended the wake of an alleged cop killer—how the world got turned upside down so that the villain became the hero. Please mister. Washington wants to know.
The man is dressed in blue sneakers and cheap blue pants. On his head is a white stocking cap and before him is his car, blue in color. Chevy by make and missing one headlight. He is watching the arrest from across the street. Moments before, a woman exited from the car, pulling herself up from the back seat, exposing thigh and more, enjoying the moment, turning to me, smiling and saying, “Oh pardon me.” and then giggling.
The question—my question—is on the lips of everyone—everyone white and some who aren’t.
In the city room of The Washington Post, reporters who know this town are asking the question. They read the story: 4,000 people!
The story said middle-class people went to the wake. It mentioned mothers and government workers and secretaries and other respectable types. The story said that in the city of Washington 4,000 persons came to pay their last respects to Bruce Wazon Griffith, alleged killer of Officer Arthur P. Snyder, dope dealer, bank robber, parole violator and the centerpiece at the kind of sendoff usually reserved for Hollywood stars. Mafia biggies and pop singers who depart with a song still on the charts. Tell me, why?
Why? I ask a storekeeper. Why? He is a big man with a mustache. “Curiosity,” he says right off. “Curiosity is why they came. Most of them didn’t even know the boy.” The storekeeper walks out into the street to look up at the helicopter hovering over V Street NW. A friend of his walks by —an old man with a cane. The storekeeper asks his friend the same question.
“Curiosity,” the old man says. He shakes his head. “Just a waste. Two dead and nothing to show for it. Just a waste.”
Curiosity. That’s the answer. That’s the reason—simple. But then, as we talk, something more comes out, maybe related, maybe not. The block is changing, whites marching east from Adams-Morgan, rehabbing the buildings, hanging their plants in the window in the 1500 block, houses have sold for $110,000 and $100,000 and someone is paying rent of $500 a month. So, it is said.
“This block is going to be all white soon” the storekeeper says. “This mayor is going to be the last black boss.”
“You really believe that?” I ask.
“No doubt about it,” he says. “Just look around.” A laborer is next. His clothes are covered with dust. Why? I ask him. Explain it all to me. He stops. He says he can tell me why. It is because Griffith was framed. He is not the one who killed the policeman. It is a simple as that, he said. And he walks on.
A man opens a door to a car. He is young and on his head, he wears a tennis hat, brim snapped down. I ask him why. Why?
“Griffith fought back,” he said. “He did something knowing what the response would be. These people wanted to show support for someone who had the guts to hit back. It takes a great deal of courage to shoot a cop and know what the consequences are going to be.” He gets into his car, a sports car, and drives away.
Down the street I go, pad out, asking my fool question. “Why?” I ask a kid and “Why?” I ask a woman and “why?” I ask an older man. “Why?” Why? Why? Some don’t talk and some don’t know anything about it, but the answers are not uniform. I go back to the grocer.
“Ask 10 people, you get 10 different answers,” I say. He nods and smiles.
At Wallach Place, the man in the stocking cap has a different explanation. It’s all the cops—the sheer number of them. They are on the street, trying to push the heroin dealers back into God-knows-where, but they are everywhere. He tries to make a point.
“Listen, you want to walk with me around the corner?” the guy says. “You want to walk down U Street, you put your pad away, so you don’t look like no reporter. We’ll go there and you give me a dollar and see what happens—a white man giving a black man money. We’ll get busted. They think we are dealing drugs.”
We talk. We joke. A hooker comes up and asks for change of a ten and across the street the wagon comes for the man in cuffs. Kids dance in the gutters and drunks snooze on the stoops and the police in their cars glide by.
There probably is no single reason why 4,000 people went to that wake, just a collection of them—good reasons and bad reasons, foul reasons and reasons that make no sense to outsiders. But one of these reasons has to do with the feeling of some people that when a small-time dope dealer allegedly kills a cop, he’s fighting back. They have it all wrong.
The battered often do.
PARTIAL WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE BY DOROTHY GILLIAM, DATED FEBRUARY 25, 1980, PAGE C1
A Message Behind the Outpouring of Sentiment for Accused Slayer
Something is being overlooked in the furor about the unexpectedly large outpouring of sentiment for the alleged slayer of a policeman—a man who was himself shot to death by police.
What’s being obscured is much larger than a small-time drug pusher named Bruce Wazon Griffith. What’s being obscured here is a message.
It is more than the joblessness and hopelessness felt in some parts of the community. If you listen closely, you will hear that many people in Washington did not believe the alleged killer of D.C. police officer Arthur P. Snyder would ever come to trial. The feeling may vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, but what’s being communicated here is that many sordid citizens in this town no longer believe due process exists.
That is the shadow left over this city by Snyder’s tragic death, by Griffith’s wasted life and by the response of the community to the blazing shootout: blacks of diverse walks of life took for granted that, in this case, the Constitution was a worthless piece of paper.
Listen to a couple of well-educated residents who did not join the emotional sendoff for the slain man, who did not join the throngs at the wake.
A doctor: “When he said he would kill anybody who came after him, I read that as “That’s their cover for killing him.”
A. Knighton Stanley, the politically well-connected and respected minister of People’s Congregational Church: “There is another signal there. When we are at our thoughtful best, we know that there’s where we belong, at Griffith’s funeral.”
Why? “A nigger is a nigger is a nigger and we know that. We all get lumped together.”
The plain harsh fact is that the police of the District are distrusted by many citizens of the city. This may be warranted, or unwarranted, fair or unfair. But it is a fact of life.
Listen to some of the people who (THE REMAINDER OF THE ARTICLE IS NOT AVAILABLE AT THE POST ARCHIVES. IT IS BELIEVED TO BE A COPY-WRITE ISSUE)
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED FEBRUARY 28, 1980, PAGE DC1
The Police War On 14th Street—1966 to 1980
The setting for Mayor Marion Barry’s first public controversy over police conduct—the drug-abused, riot-scarred 14th Street corridor—is ironic.
Fourteen years ago, a year after he came to town, Marion Barry himself became a major target of the police force he now commands—in the same target area.
In those days, Barry was a street militant in a $3 Panama hat, the leader of a meddlesome “Free D.C. Government” and organizer of a protest against proposed bus fare increases.
At 9 p.m. Thursday, May 26, 1966, Barry was arrested at 14th and Girard streets NW by District police for “failure to move on.” Arresting officers spoke “very roughly” and had a “growling” dog, Barry complained. He was leaving a civil rights meeting.
On March 30, 1967, at 12:25 a.m., Barry was arrested for jaywalking at 13th and U streets NW. This time, the 31-year-old charged, he was beaten, and police called “boy.” There were “four or five” officers around him, he said. “A couple hit me on the side of my head with a short blackjack and twisted my arm. They picked me up and threw me into the wagon.”
At the police station, they cursed him, punched him in the stomach and threw him in a jail cell, Barry alleged. Barry ended up being charged with destruction of government property for allegedly kicking in the paddy wagon door. He was later acquitted.
Police said the arrest had been handled “properly and routinely.”
Things are somewhat the same on 14th Street today. People are being stopped, ticketed and even arrested for pedestrian violations. The reason now is Barry’s “War on Heroin.”
Dope dealers and junkies are not the only people stopped. Two choir members on their way to rehearsal and day-care teachers are among those who were ticketed for jaywalking and others are being arrested, community workers say. Issuing tickets and stopping people for the slightest provocation are essential weapons in the mayor’s war, which, in large part, is a struggle to scatter the street people clustered on the sidewalks.
Policeman Arthur P. Snyder, zeroing in to make a drug bust, was killed Feb. 11, in the early evening as he was about to arrest small-time drug dealer Bruce Wazon Griffith. Three days later and a mile away, Griffith was killed in a shootout with police.
Nearly 4,000 people turned out to mourn Griffith. He had become a popular hero in the 14th Street area, and many were hard pressed to believe that his killing was anything less than terminal police harassment.
But the mayor does not believe that was the case.
“What you have,” Barry explained to a reporter last week, “is people who are pushing hard drugs, selling dope,” he said. “I’m opposed to hard drugs being sold in our community. When you confront these people, they don’t like it.”
Some innocent people may be getting stopped, Barry acknowledged. “That is wrong,” he said. If so, they should feel free to call him. But, he added, “There are not many people who are on 14th Street who are not involved with something. It seems to me if there are people on the street who don’t like the presence of the police, they ought to call me and tell me.”
Barry said he was confident that Griffith was the one who killed Snyder and that police acted properly in the circumstances that led to Griffith’s subsequent death.
In Snyder’s case, he noted, there was enough evidence to swear out a warrant for Griffith’s arrest, and police had witnesses to the shooting to buttress their claims. In Griffith’s killing, Barry said, it was “clear” that “for whatever reasons, he shot first.
“Whether he did anything to anybody, it is illegal to have a gun in the first place, and it is illegal to shoot at a police officer. Police officers have no recourse when shot at but to shoot back.”
It will be up to a grand jury to decide if the police and Barry are right. But all those deliberations will take place in private, far from the skeptical eyes of many in the neighborhood where riffith grew up and died.
Do you see a need for a public inquiry? Barry was asked.
“Do you see any need?” he reacted. “I don’t see any need at this point. I don’t see and need, period. I don’t see any evidence to suggest that the officers did anything but to defend themselves.”
Some of the mayor’s closest associates say privately that his coolness on the issue is merely a facade. He is, one said, a man between trying to be responsive to the community, and not alienate a police force already plagued by low morale and still distrustful of its commander-in-chief even though his candidacy was endorsed by the policemen’s union.
“He’s very concerned that a police backlash could develop in terms of police brutality,” one confidante said. “But in light of his background, he doesn’t want to appear to the police that he is jumping on them without cause.”
When pressed, Barry concedes that more and more visible and aggressive police will not solve the drug problem on 14th Street—or anywhere. He admits that there’s “probably” tension in the community because of the increased police presence.
But right now, he sees more police as the only weapon he’s got. And his War on Heroin, which has already led to hundreds of related—and unrelated arrests—must go on.
“It might heat up around here,” Barry said from his office the other day. “But I’m going to do all I can to reduce the selling of hard drugs in the community.
Washington post article dated March 2, 1980, page D1
D.C. Police Officers Feel Bitter, “Totally Betrayed”
The extraordinary outpouring of public sentiment for Bruce Wazon Griffith, the petty street hustler and accused “cop killer” slain by D.C. police Feb. 14, has intensified long-smoldering bitterness and rancor among many rank-and-file officers and plunged police morale to the lowest point in recent memory.
The sympathy for Griffith, evidenced at his heavily attended wake, along with the news media blitz of events around his shooting and funeral, “was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” says Thomas J. Tague, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police.
Officers now feel “totally betrayed,” Tague says—betrayed by the community, betrayed by the news media, betrayed by the city.
The traditional system of rewards and punishments, says Deputy Chief Alfonso Gibson, commander of the crime-beset Third District, has been turned on its head: Griffith is a folk hero and Officer Arthur P. Snyder—remember him?—has been buried with little thanks after he gave his life trying to make the inner city a little safer.
“Morale is now probably the lowest it has ever been,” says Tague.
Morale problems are a tradition with police bureaucracies. There have always been murmurs of disgruntlement and grousing in the D.C. police department, but when the dramatic events like the Griffith-Snyder incident occur, the murmur becomes a shrill cry.
The current bitterness and disgruntlement go far deeper that the Griffith-Snyder incident of two weeks ago. The origins are rooted in long-simmering disenchantment with a wide variety of factors, including internal bureaucratic practices, changing political forces in the city, tangled and often conflicting racial pressures, the personal leadership style of D.C.
Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson (including his failure to attend Snyder’s funeral) and what many officers feel is a diminishing climate of support in the courts, Congress and city hall.
Interviews with officers throughout the city and at various levels of the police department hierarchy show these principal factors lowering morale:
Expected budget cuts will reduce opportunities for officers seeking promotions to higher ranks and lower motivation. “We are pressured to do more with less,” says Third District Officer Robert A. Jenkins. “You can’t keep cutting the budget. You’re going to get a big turnaround (in crime) soon. Budget and staff cuts mean fewer promotions.”
White officers, still grumbling over suspected cheating by some black candidates on the 1978 promotional examinations, say the next exam, scheduled in two weeks, is designed and controlled by the new black hierarchy of the police department
and may use to favor blacks. Top department officials deny this.
The 3,900-member force is about 45 percent black.
Black officers say that, despite black leadership in key top positions in the department, middle management —the sprawling bureaucracy of captains and lieutenants with direct supervision over officers in the street—is still overwhelmingly white. Aspiring black officers thus lack “strong role models,” says Third District Officer Ron Hampton, head of the D.C. Afro-American Police Officers Association. “There’s still a lot of bias and prejudice among those white lieutenants and captains…Black officers have a hard time going to a white supervisor with their personal problems.”
Burtell Jefferson, chief of police since January 1978, tends to be aloof and lacks a personal touch with rank-and-file officers. Many officers were enraged when he failed to attend the funeral of Officer Snyder. Attendance by the chief at a funeral of an officer slain in the line of duty is considered one of the most important and sensitive ritual functions of the chief. Jefferson has told reporters he did not go to Snyder’s funeral because he had to attend a required executive board meeting of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officials in California.
With home rule and the shift to an elected and predominantly black political leadership, many white officers and some black officers feel that Washington officialdom is less sympathetic to the police and police problems. Gone are many of their traditional “friends” in key positions in the mayor’s office, in the corporation council’s office and other city departments. Even key District-related congressional committees on Capitol Hill—once the refuge of the police department—now have new leadership, some of it hostile to the police.
Police operations have become subject to political intervention. The latest example, in the view of many officers, was the failure of the police department last week to close down a dance attended by 1,000 gays and their friends at a Northeast Washington warehouse that had been cited for numerous fire-code violations by the fire department. Many officers believe police officials were instructed, directly or indirectly, by Mayor Marion Barry’s office to let the dance go ahead. The gay community provided significant support to Barry when he ran for mayor in 1978.
Perhaps most significant, many officers say they feel misunderstood by the community, that they are wrongly perceived as indiscriminately harassing and shooting innocent citizens and that they amount to an army of occupation. The press has contributed to the image, they say.
Gibson, commander of the inner-city Third District, said this misunderstanding has been especially true in the current police crackdown on drug traffic along the 14th Street NW commercial corridor where Snyder was shot and killed Feb. 11 while trying to arrest Griffith on a narcotics charge.
Gibson insists there have been no indiscriminate “sweeps” by police to move pedestrian off the sidewalks, “and people aren’t just being jacked around for standing on the corner,” as reported by witnesses in news accounts.
The crackdown started last July 2, the result of a request to Mayor Barry’s office by the Fourteenth Street Corridor Business Associates to remove the large, drifting population of heroin addicts, dealers and assorted hustlers who congregated along 14th Street between S and U streets. Merchants complained these people intimidated legitimate shoppers and drove away business.
At times last summer, the 14th Street sidewalks were as warm with hundreds of pedestrians and bystanders, most of them “involved with the criminal element,” says Gibson. “This was their domain.”
Police planners assigned a 16-member, uniformed detail to dislodge the crowds. The city’s old anti-loitering law had been struck down as unconstitutional some years earlier, “so we couldn’t disperse a crowd simply because it was standing there,” Gibson said.
“So, the technique we used was to arrest or ticket people for violation of specific police regulations—you know, things like urinating against a wall or jaywalking or throwing a sandwich wrapper on the ground (depositing trash in a public place),” he said.
The idea was to drive the junkies and drug dealers out of the area by making life generally miserable for them through strict enforcement of police regulations, Gibson said.
“That’s not what the laws were enacted for,” he said, “but I don’t see how anybody could object to it (as a law enforcement tool).”
The tactic worked. The floating population was largely driven out of the area by the end of September; many arrests and drug seizures were made, and the police detail was cut back.
“The streets were clear,” said Capt. Richard Gurz, who headed the detail. “You began to see old people and little kids on the sidewalks again.”
According to Gurz, the 16-member detail, working in two eight-man shifts, took a heavy toll of offenders between July 2 and September 30: 255 drug arrests, 235 other misdemeanors and felony arrests, 2,684 assorted tickets for jaywalking and other police regulation violations and 465 traffic arrests.
Gurz acknowledged that some citizens involved in street gang activity may have been stopped by police, but he said they were all ticketed or arrested for specific violations, “and I doubt that they would complain.”
Gibson also acknowledged that the crackdown did not necessarily eradicate drug-related crime “but probably just moved it around some.” In fact, shortly after the summer crackdown, police in the adjacent First District noticed a sudden increase in drug activity in the Fourth and M streets NW area and set up their own detail to dislodge it.
The junkies and dealers began drifting back to 14th and U streets in November, Gibson said, and the Third District heroin detail was fully reactivated. Between Dec. 1 and Feb 24 this year, officers made 285 more drug arrests, 107 other misdemeanor and felony arrests, but only 46 jaywalking and other minor police regulation arrests, according to police statistics.
“Apparently the junkies learned their lesson,” said Gurz. “You could see ‘em waiting at the (traffic) lights before crossing and not throwing trash on the ground and things like that.”
The slaying of Officer Snyder on Feb. 11 set off a massive and intensive manhunt for Griffith, identified by witnesses at the scene as the suspect. Griffith was killed three days later in a shootout with police in the 2200 block of First Street NW.
Some 14th Street area residents complained that police were especially rough and aggressive with pedestrians and bystanders during the three-day manhunt. Gibson acknowledges that “policing was intensified “but denied any improper actions by officers.
Some officers on the street saw it differently. “The police had to come down hard. Had to,” said Officer William Shearin Jr. People got to know that…. I’m not saying he (Griffith) should have been shot down Jesse James-style. Had to be caught…Police are the first line of defense.”
“They’re going to crack down. A lot of innocent people are going to be kicked,” said Hampton, head of the black officer’s association, during the manhunt.
Many officers were angry at the news media for characterizing Snyder’s death simply a “police shooting.”
“It was an out and out execution,” said Tague of the Fraternal Order of Police. Homicide detectives said that Snyder was knocked down first by two bullets that were deflected by his belt buckle and a flak jacket, and his killer stood over him and shot him through the head. Snyder was in uniform and had not drawn his service revolver, police said.
Gibson, Gurz and other officials also objected to news stories quoting the common belief of many black citizens that when police are looking for the killer of a fellow officer, they ignore constitutional due process and seek to kill the suspect out of vengeance.
Not so, say police. Homicide squad detectives say 51 D.C. police officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty since 1871. Until Griffith, however, not one suspect had been killed in a subsequent manhunt, they said. The suspects have been either captured alive or never found, they said. The only times suspects have been killed detectives said, have been in an immediate shootout at the time an officer was killed.
“The glorification of Griffith…and the character of Snyder as a brutal cop is just not fair,” said Gibson, who was Snyder’s chief in the Third District.
The community has no thanks for what (officers like Snyder) are doing—protecting the community.”
News accounts quoted witnesses as saying Snyder was hated by many 14th Street habitués for his aggressive policing.
“I don’t like the word aggressive,” said Gibson. “I would say he was conscientious and dedicated.”
Ron Hampton of the black police officer’s association says the police establishment has read the community wrong.
“Griffith is not a hero,” he said. “He is not a hero to the street folk. They weren’t saying that when they went to his wake and all. What they were doing was speaking of the injustice of the system—the economic inequities leading to poverty and the confrontation of the poor and police in such places as 14th Street.
“In a way,” Hampton said, “both Snyder and Griffith were victims of the system…But a lot of officers just closed their minds off to that and said, “We got to get Griffith.”
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MARCH 8, 1980, PAGE A1
D.C. Grand Jury Clears Police In Fatal Shooting of Griffith
A D.C. Superior Court grand jury has decided to bring no charges against three District police officers who last month shot and killed Bruce Wazon Griffith, the suspected murderer of a D.C. police officer.
The grand jury’s decision not to bring an indictment against the officers was based on its belief that Griffith’s death was “justifiable homicide,” according to one Superior Court source. The officers had said they shot Griffith in self-defense.
A 23-member grand jury made up predominantly of blacks, listened to a series of government witnesses recently, then decided that no indictment should be brought against Officers Robert L. Lanham, 31; Adrian James, 26; and John Bonaccorsy, 24, who killed Griffith in a shootout Feb. 14.
The U.S. attorney’s office told D.C. Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson by memorandum yesterday that the grand jury would not file charges against the three officers, who are assigned to the Fifth District.
Despite the widespread publicity surrounding the murder of Officer Arthur P. Snyder Feb. 11 at 14th and U Streets NW, and the subsequent shooting of Griffith, the court chose not to make a public announcement of the grand jury’s findings.
The grand jury did not address the question of whether Griffith was the man who killed Snyder because Griffith is dead and there are no other suspects in the case, sources said yesterday.
The three police officers, two whites and a black, have been on administrative leave with pay—in accordance with routine department policy—since the shooting with Griffith. The three officers were returned to their regular duty yesterday, a policeman said.
Griffith, 29, a small-time black drug dealer, was shot to death during a gun battle with the three officers after he leaped from a taxi on a quiet residential street near Howard University.
Officers James and Lanham, cruising the streets in search of Griffith, spotted him getting into a cab at First and S Streets Nw. They sent out a radio call for help, then followed the taxi in their unmarked car.
Minutes later, Bonaccorsy arrived in a police cruiser and, with his roof lights flashing, tried to stop the cab. At that point, the driver slowed his taxi nearly to a halt, jumped from the cab and ran for cover.
Police said Griffith crouched in the back seat of the cab and began firing through the rear window at the officers, who took cover and returned the fire. Griffith was struck by six police bullets as, still firing, he attempted to run from the cab.
An ambulance rushed him to the Washington Hospital Center, where he died 50 minutes later, despite efforts to save his life.
Griffith’s death ended a huge three-day manhunt that began after 3rd District Officer Snyder was shot trying to arrest a suspect on drug charges. The suspect was later identified by several witnesses as Griffith.
Snyder, who was white, was shot twice while trying to make the arrest. The first shot struck his bullet-proof vest and knocked him down; the second bullet was fired into his head as he lay on the sidewalk. He died several hours later at the Washington Hospital Center.
According to police, more than six witnesses positively identified Griffith as the man who shot Snyder. Police also have said the handgun used to shoot Snyder was the same model weapon was found on Griffith’s body after the Feb. 14 shootout.
Police have said that the bullets taken from Snyder’s body were too “mutilated” to be positively identified in ballistic tests.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE WRITTEN BY JANET COOKE DATED MAY 29, 1980, PAGE DC1
Drugs and Innocents
She is a heavy-set woman of 62 who used to enjoy shopping at open-air markets and strolling through her neighborhood after dinner to check on the progress of her friend’s flower gardens.
Today, she seldom ventures from her third-floor apartment at 2101 New Hampshire Avenue NW, trapped by her very real fear of drug pushers, addicts and prostitutes who are being swept from the 14th Street corridor into neighboring residential areas.
She adamantly insists on anonymity, fearing reprisals from those who drift in and out of the building, buying and selling heroin and shooting up in the once-elegant structure’s stairwells, hallways and corners.
As strangers knock at the door is answered warily. After three pieces of identification are slid beneath the small crack at the bottom of the door four locks click and it slowly opens to reveal a large, well-scrubbed, modestly appointed living room.
“I’m so sorry,” she says. “In the old days, I never even bothered to lock the doors. But you’ve got to understand how things have changed around here.
“I go to the grocery store once a month. My friends come by to take me to church, and every Wednesday I go to have my hair done. Otherwise, I don’t go out.”
Like many residents of 2101 New Hampshire NW, some of whom have lived there since the building first opened to blacks in the mid-1950s, this woman is caught in a web of abject terror. A web spun out of Mayor Marion Barry’s “War On Heroin” and the subsequent push to clean up the 14th Street corridor just steps from what once was a quiet residential area.
Those who live in the adjacent section say they first noticed an increase in drug peddlers, prostitutes and junkies after the push to clear 14th Street began in earnest following the shooting death of D.C. police officer Arthur P. Snyder in February.
The path to the laundry room at the apartment building is littered with syringes, papers and urine. A man sits wide-eyed in a doorway, oblivious to his surroundings. The third-floor tenant shakes her head in disgust, carefully avoiding the man’s outstretched feet shod in spotless Adidas.
“Time was,” she half-whispers. “That I would put some laundry in here and run up to my neighbors to visit. Now, I wash my things out in the bathtub.”
At night, people congregate six deep outside the building’s entrances and harass tenants as they come and go. Residents believe one reason is that one of the buildings occupants is a drug dealer and his apartment has become a haven for addicts and prostitutes who have nowhere else to go. Outside people knock on the windows, continuously ring the buzzer and pound on the front door—attempting to gain access to the building.
“This has been going on for months now,” Ella Williams, another of the apartment’s residents, said “I got so nervous today that I had to come home from work and lie down. I haven’t slept for a week because of the cursing out here, the yelling and screaming at 4 o’clock in the morning—I’m a wreck.”
Williams says that people buying and selling drugs will rush the front door—sometimes as many as 30 at a time—if anyone goes out during the night. As a consequence, the residents, many of whom are elderly or infirm, refuse to leave the building, preferring instead to remain prisoners in their own homes.
“I was the third person to live here in 1954 when the building was opened to blacks,” Williams said, “and it was never like this. We’re in the middle of a ghetto, I know that, but it was always much better than this. I’m afraid to ride the elevator by myself, and I’m afraid to tend my flower garden. I can’t even go to prayer meeting anymore.”
After repeated calls to the nearby Third District precinct failed to produce what tenants believed to be sufficient response, they wrote to D.C. Police Chief Burtell Jefferson.
“As a result of the concerted effort to clean up 14th Street,” their letter in part, “we, the concerned tenants of this building, feel that these criminals have been driven into our residence…this is where we live, and we will no longer tolerate this type of activity.”
Williams and another tenant, Lozzie York, hand delivered the letter to the chief’s office, where they waited for a response.
Shortly afterward, police officers were sent to make an inspection of the building, and residents were told that an attempt would be made to patrol the area more frequently. But that, says York, won’t help.
“Since he made that promise, we found a junkie sleeping up there on the sixth floor, and a prostitute was robbed at gunpoint in another part of the building,” she said. “It’s like a carnival of evil in here…it’s terrible, the worst thing that I ever imagined.
“Sometimes, it seems like they just dropped like rain out of the sky—breaking locks, barging in, cussing you out. This is just too damn much. Marion (Barry) can walk down 14th Street and I can too. But when 14th Street comes into your home, well, that’s a different thing.”
The apartment’s resident manager of 11 years, Mary Coleman, says that the William C. Smith Co., which owns the building, has begun procedures to evict the suspected drug dealer, and will use a tighter screening process for future tenants. But as Coleman sees it, that will solve only part of the problem.
“This was a quiet, comfortable building until a few months ago,” she said, “but stopping the overflow from 14th Street is the only real answer to the problems here. Sometimes, I feel as if it’s useless to call the police because they’ve got their hands full, and a lot of the time they can’t do anything, anyway. I shudder to think about what it will be like after the cutback takes place.”
At nearby St. Paul and Augustine Church, the Rev. Raymond B. Kemp has a similar fear. Prior to a community meeting last week at which nearly 400 14th Street area residents expressed concern about rising crime and drug problems in the neighborhood, Kemp said that a cutback in police protection would be “disastrous” for people like the residents of 2101 New Hampshire, whose homes have been turned into what he called “shooting galleries” by drug users.
“We’re saying “bullshit” to the idea of decreased police protection,” Kemp said. “We want more police, seven days a week. But we are also asking for something other than more cops. We want to rehabilitate the area.”
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED OCTOBER 17, 1980, PAGE B4
Board of Trade Honors Police and Fire Heroes
The Greater Washington Board of Trade honored as heroes yesterday three D.C. police officers who shot and killed Bruce Wazon Griffith, the suspected slayer of D.C. police officer Arthur P. Snyder.
More than 700 persons attending the board’s annual “heroes’ luncheon” stood and applauded as Officers Adrian M. James, Robert H. Lanham, and John A. Bonaccorsy were presented silver medals for their “extraordinary or unusual heroism” in confronting Griffith on Feb. 14.
Griffith, who allegedly shot Snyder on Feb. 11 when the officer tried to arrest him on a drug charge, was the focus of a massive three-day manhunt. Through their informants, Lanham and James were able to spot Griffith as he got into a cab. They called for assistance from Bonaccorsy to make a traffic stop of the cab. After the cab was stopped, the driver jumped out and Griffith began firing at the police officers who returned the gunfire and killed him.
“What they did was very heroic work,” said Roger D. Estep, a Howard University official who served on the committee that selected the three officers, along with nine other policemen and firefighters, to receive the heroism awards.
The police report that recommended James, Lanham and Bonaccorsy for the heroism award said, “If any officers ever deserved praise for performing above and beyond the call of duty, (the three officers) most certainly have earned all the honor and acclaim that we can give them.”
City Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) said after the awards ceremony that the three officers “were trying to capture somebody. They had to use force. It’s unfortunate that they had to use force. But I feel all the people involved carried out their responsibility in a responsive fashion.”
However, Bob King, director of social planning for the 14th Street Project Area Committee, said, “In view of what happened in the Griffith situation, I don’t see how anyone could be rewarded…To put 11 or 12 bullets into a man and endanger a cab drivers life, I just don’t think the Board of Trade should have taken that position.”
There was an extraordinary outpouring of public sentiment for Griffith at the time he was shot, in part because some segments of the Washington community viewed him as a hero.
Before the awards were presented at the luncheon held in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Mayor Marion Barry praised the fire and police departments. “We have the finest police and fire departments of any in the country,” he said. “Each and every day those of you come to work, you are doing it to help the community. It’s a difficult job. For police officers, you never know when you may have to face a shotgun or a revolver…I can imagine the difficulty of (a firefighter) having to go into a burning building.”
That is exactly what happened to firefighter Reginal N. Johnson, who was presented the gold medal “for an act of valor beyond the call of duty.” Johnson risked entrapment in a burning building to save an elderly woman.
Also receiving a gold medal was homicide detective Ronald E. Washington, who was off-duty attending a wedding when a guest became unruly and threatened to kill a security guard. Washington intervened and exchanged gunfire, killing the guest. Washington, who has said he doesn’t want to carry a gun again, has asked to be retired on disability.
Others who received silver medals were police Sgt. Arnold A. Nicholson, detective McKinley L. Williams, and firefighters William J. Anger Jr., Walker P. Carpenter Jr., Rodney W. Phillips, Stephen R. Sandy and Capt. Michael C. Tippett.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED FEBRUARY 13, 1981, PAGE B1
D.C. Officer, Man Hurt In Gunfight
Exchange Followed Effort to Question Southeast Resident
An undercover D.C. policeman and a Southeast Washington man were seriously wounded yesterday in a brief gun battle that erupted at Minnesota Avenue and Nicholson Street SE after the officer stopped the man outside a rooming house to question him, investigators said.
The incident sent several persons ducking for cover. Police roadblocks disrupted traffic for more than an hour in the heavily traveled area where the incident took place.
Bill Jepson of the police department said an investigation of the incident disclosed that the officer, who was on undercover duty, observed a drug transaction and apparently was seeking information from possible witnesses.
The wounded officer, Sgt. Dennis L. Boarman, 28, of the 7th Police District, was taken to Greater Southeast Community Hospital with a cut hand and a gunshot wound in his upper body, police said. The suspect, Willie Gene Leonard, 49, was admitted to D.C. General Hospital with several bullet wounds in the chest. Both men were reported in serious but stable condition. No other injuries were reported.
Leonard was charged with assault on intent to kill, police said.
Meanwhile, within hours of the shooting, about 35 officers across town in the 3rd Police District held a public roll call at 14th and U Streets NW to honor the memory of another policeman, Arthur P. Snyder, who was shot to death a year ago yesterday in a drug-related incident. Snyder’s alleged assailant, Bruce Wazon Griffith, a small-time drug dealer, was shot and killed by police three days later.
Yesterday’s shooting incident began about 10:45 a.m., police said, when Boarman, an eight-year member of the force, stopped his unmarked car to question Leonard in the front yard of a two-story row house at 2328 Nicholson St. SE.
A police official said Leonard apparently stabbed Boarman when the officer tried to question him and Boarman opened fire. Leonard then entered the house and emerged with a handgun and wounded Boarman, who meanwhile had radioed for help.
A 24-year-old woman who asked not to be identified said she was an eyewitness to part of the incident. She said she heard loud voices and looked out a window to see Boarman and Leonard struggling with each other in front of the house.
“I saw him (Boarman) strike him several times,” the woman said. “I didn’t see a knife but I did see the officer’s hand bleeding. (Boarman) stepped back on the sidewalk and fired between four or five times.” The woman said she did not see Leonard strike the officer.
She said Leonard then entered the house, came out armed and began firing at the officer. Instead of firing back, she said, the sergeant retreated about 75 yards, then collapsed moments before fellow officers arrived. It was unclear why Boarman did not fire additional rounds, but there was speculation that he was out of ammunition. Leonard, meanwhile, collapsed in the yard of the house where the incident began.
Leonard’s landlord and other residents of the neighborhood said Leonard had lived there several years and was known throughout the neighborhood for his daily regimen of exercising outdoors.
At yesterday’s police ceremony at 14th and U streets, Deputy Police Chief Rodwell M. Catoe called for five minutes of silence by the assembled officers.
“We’ve learned a lot,” Catoe said. “At that time (Snyder’s death) we just flooded the streets with officers. Today, you won’t see as many uniformed men…but you also won’t see the drug problem at the same level. And we have done more than shift it from one place to the next. We have made some progress in elimination of those responsible for the problem.”
(NOTE: WILLIE GENE LEONARD WAS FOUND GUILTY IN THE BOARMAN SHOOTING. HE WAS RELEASED FROM PRISON ON JULY 23, 2007, AFTER SERVING ABOUT 26 YEARS.)