Memorial to Donald G. Luning

End of Watch:  Setpember 14, 1982
Rank: Officer Badge No. 661
Age: 31  Years of Service: 1 year
Location of Death:  3700 Hayes Street, NE
Duty Assignment: Sixth District

 

Circumstance:

Officer Luning and his partner were working as a tactical unit, when they spotted a stolen auto occupied by a male and a female. When the suspects bailed out, Officer Luning chased the male to an apartment building, while his partner apprehended the female. Officer Luning caught the suspect and was attempting to handcuff him, when he suddenly began to fight and Officer Luning lost control of his weapon. The suspect pinned Officer Luning to the floor and shot him once, killing him.

Biography:

Officer Luning served with the Metropolitan Police Department for eleven years and was assigned to Sixth District. He was survived by his wife, Jodie S., a daughter, Jennifer, 2 ½, and a son, Matthew, 1 ½.

 

Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.
THE SHOOTING DEATH OF OFFICER DONALD G. LUNING ON SEPTEMBER 14, 1982.THE LENIENT SENTENCE THE KILLER RECEIVED PROMPTED THE F.O.P. TO PUSH FOR A CHANGE IN SENTENCING FOR KILLING A POLICE OFFICER TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT WITHOUT PAROLE. WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED SEPTEMBER 15, 1982,
PAGE C1D.C. Policeman Shot Dead With His Own Gun
A D.C. policeman was shot to death with his own gun yesterday afternoon during a struggle with a man he had stopped to question about a stolen car, police said.

Officer Donald G. Luning, 31, of 1054 Dorset Ave., Waldorf, Md., died at the Washington Hospital Center of a single gunshot wound in the chest about an hour-and-a-half after the 4:20 p.m. shooting, hospital officials said.
Luning, an 11-year veteran of the force, was assigned to the 6th District as a tactical officer and was in plainclothes at the time of the incident.

He was married and the father of two young children. Police arrested a suspect after a door-to-door search of an apartment building at 3694 Hayes St. NE.

The suspect, Mark Anthony Watson, 19, of 1238 G St. NE, was charged with homicide, police Lt. Carl Alexander said.
Police cornered the suspect in a second-floor apartment of the Hayes Street building and began talking with him by phone about 6:40 p.m., according to Assistant Chief Marty Tapscott. “We talked to him in spurts,” Tapscott said. “He made no demands.

“Shortly before Watson gave himself up to police, he tossed a gun out the window of the apartment, Tapscott said. He said Watson surrendered after his father, Ellis Watson, arrived to talk with him.

About 150 officers participated in a door-to-door search of approximately a two-block square area. The officers were assisted by helicopters and police search dogs. Powerful lights aboard fire department trucks flooded the area with light as the afternoon turned into early evening.

About 200 persons gathered at the scene as police negotiated with Watson. Two women, one identifying herself as Watson’s aunt and the other as his cousin, pleaded with police not to harm Watson. They were taken close to the building where he had barricaded himself but were not allowed to speak with him.

When Watson, wearing cut-off blue jeans, white socks and light blue tennis shoes, was taken from the scene by police just after 8:30 p.m., the crowd of bystanders cheered the officers.

The incident began when Luning and his partner, Officer Nora Coaxum, 33, spotted a white Volvo, which they believed was stolen, in the 3700 block of Jay Street NE, police said. After confirming with the police dispatcher that the car had been reported stolen in Maryland. Luning and Coaxum stopped the car. When the two officers approached the car, the male driver and a female passenger ran, according to police.

Coaxum was able to overtake the woman and arrested her, police said. Luning chased the man into an apartment on the third floor of a building at 3712-A Hayes St. NE. Inside the apartment the man, who was described as about 6-foot-4, and Luning struggled, the man took Luning’s service revolver and shot the officer with it, according to police.

Police said Elaine Wortham, 21, of 3749 Jay St. NE, was charged with unauthorized use of a vehicle. She and Watson will be arraigned today.

Luning is the first D.C. policeman to die in the line of duty in more than two years. Officer Arthur P. Snyder was shot and killed on Feb. 11, 1980, when he attempted to make a drug arrest on 14th Street NW.

Luning is survived by his wife, Jodie S., a daughter, Jennifer, 2 ½, and a son, Matthew, 1 ½.

 

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED SEPTEMBER 16, 1982,
PAGE B1
“All Over a Stolen Auto” Officer Slain on Duty Mourned
Wearing black tape across his gold D.C. police badge, D.C. Deputy Chief Isaac Fulwood sat at his desk yesterday afternoon and struggled with his emotions as he mourned the line-of-duty death Tuesday of one of his officers.

“You ask yourself why,” Fulwood said in a low, shaking voice. “A good, young officer, married with two very young children dies at the prime of his life….” With tears streaming, Fulwood excused himself during an interview to splash water on his face, then returned. “All over a stolen auto,” he said.

Fulwood commands the 6th District, where Officer Donald G. Luning, 31, had worked for 10 years. Fulwood said his men were wrestling with grief yesterday after the slaying of Luning, who was shot once in the chest with his own gun Tuesday afternoon during a struggle with the driver of a stolen car. Police said that Luning was with his partner about 4:20 p.m. Tuesday when he spotted the stolen car in the 3700 block of Jay Street NE. The driver parked the car and fled into an apartment building in the 3700 block of Hayes Street NE.

According to an affidavit presented by the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. Superior Court yesterday, Luning cornered the suspect in the apartment building and was about to handcuff him when the man, described as weighing 220 pounds and standing 6-feet, 4 inches, resisted and “gained the upper hand.

“During the struggle, the affidavit said, Luning’s gun fell to the floor and the suspect got on top of the officer, who was lying on his back, and held him down. The suspect then picked up the gun, stood over the officer and shot him.
Police have arrested Mark Anthony Watson, 19, who told the court that he lived on Edgewood Street NE. (Police had given a different, and incorrect address for the suspect Tuesday.) Watson was arraigned yesterday on a charge of first-degree murder and ordered held without bond. At the same time, prosecutors dropped auto theft charges against a woman riding with Watson after determining she was unaware that the car had been stolen.

Prosecutors said that Watson is a high school dropout who has an extensive juvenile record, is wanted in Fairfax County on a burglary charge, and has a firearms charge pending against him in the District of Columbia.

Meanwhile yesterday, Heroes Inc., an organization that provides financial support for the relatives of Washington area policemen and firemen killed in the line of duty, gave $2,500 to Luning’s widow. The Fraternal Order of the Police added $1,000. She will also receive $50,000 from the federal government and widow pension benefits from the city.In the 6th District yesterday, officers put black tape across the badges on their police cars, as well as their uniforms. Said master patrolman Frederick D. Johnson, “It always seems like something like this always happens to the best.

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED SEPTEMBER 17, 1982,
PAGE A14A Policeman Is Killed
Officer Donald G. Luning, 31 years old and the father of two small children, was murdered Tuesday as he was trying to arrest a man suspected of stealing an automobile. The suspect, Mark Anthony Watson, was charged with using the officer’s own service revolver to shoot him at point-blank range. Mr. Watson is only 19 years old, but already has a long record of juvenile offenses and has other charges pending against him in both Virginia and the District. Officer Luning is the first policeman to have been killed in the line of duty in Washington in more than two years.

The Metro section of this newspaper carries accounts of homicides in this city almost daily. And by now we are almost resigned to learning that those who are eventually convicted of murder have a history of clashes with the law. Often, they are on probation or free awaiting trial, as was Mr. Watson, when the crime was committed. But no homicide is commonplace, least of all when the victim is a law enforcement officer. Here we have an assault not only on an individual innocent victim, but on the society that victim represents.

This murder reminds us again of the difficult and very dangerous work we ask the police to perform day in and day out. It is their job to deal face to face with the most violent and unpredictable segment of society. Like firefighters, they may experience routine days for months at a time. But they know with certainty that there will be moments of terror and tragedy.

The families of these men and women bear a special burden, as Mrs. Luning and her children know today. May they find comfort in the loyalty and friendship of Officer Luning’s colleagues, in the respect and gratitude of the citizens of this city and in the knowledge that their husband and father died a Hero.

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JUNE 8, 1983, PAGE C7Attorneys Argue Details In Killing of D.C. Officer Mark Anthony Watson, accused of murdering D.C. police officer Donald G. Luning last Sept. 14, pinned the policeman to the floor and shot him with the officer’s own gun, a prosecutor told the jury during opening arguments at Watson’s trial yesterday.

“It’s not worth it, is it?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Harold L. Cushenberry quoted the 31-year-old officer as saying just before Watson allegedly pulled the trigger of Luning’s revolver, fatally wounding him in the chest.
Watson’s attorney said in court yesterday that Watson had shot Luning but contended that he did so in self-defense and that Luning had failed to identify himself as a police officer.

A 10-year veteran of the police force, Luning died 1 ½ hours later at Washington Hospital Center. He had lived in Waldrorf, Md., with his wife and two children, who are 2 and 3 years old.

In his opening statement, Cushenberry told the jury that Luning and his partner stopped Watson and a passenger because they thought the car Watson was driving was stolen. The prosecutor said that Watson, 19, and a second occupant fled.
Luning, a tactical officer in plain clothes at the time, followed Watson to an apartment at 3694 Hayes St. NE, where Watson had burst in on strangers, Cushenberry said.

Cushenberry said that Watson was sitting at the dining room table, where he had made a telephone call. Drawing his gun, Luning told Watson, “You’re under arrest,” Cushenberry said. “For what?” Watson replied. “You’re under arrest,” Luning repeated. Again, Watson asked, “For what?”

“Get up or I’ll blow your head off,” the prosecutor quoted Luning as saying. When Watson got up from the table, Luning sheathed his revolver and prepared to place handcuffs on the suspect.
Cushenberry said Watson grabbed Luning, and the two men struggled. When the gun fell out of the officer’s holster, Watson grabbed it.

“The last thing they (the occupants of the apartment) saw was a .38 at (Luning’s) chest,” Cushenberry said. He said the witnesses heard Luning’s last words and a single gunshot. Watson surrendered at the scene after a long confrontation with dozens of officers, the prosecutor said.

Public Defender Stephanie Duncan-Peters, seeking a not guilty verdict for Watson, who is charged with first-degree murder, told the jury Watson stole the car and killed Luning but acted in self-defense.

“Luning wore blue jeans,” Duncan-Peters said, claiming he did not identify himself as a police officer. “Watson tried to avoid trouble with the man,” whom she described as acting “crazy” and “trying to kill” Watson. “To save himself, he fired the gun,” she said.

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JUNE 14, 1983, PAGE B5NE Man Guilty of Murder In Slaying of Police Officer
A D.C. Superior Court jury yesterday found Mark Anthony Watson, 19, guilty of first-degree murder in the Sept. 14 slaying of District police officer Donald G. Luning with the officer’s own gun. Watson, of Northeast Washington, faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison.

In a statement at the beginning of the trial a week ago, Assistant U.S. Attorney Harold L. Cushenberry said Luning and his partner had stopped Watson and a passenger because they were in a stolen car. When both fled, Luning—a 10-year police veteran and father of two children—pursed Watson to an apartment where Watson burst in on strangers.

As Luning was about to place handcuffs on him, Watson struggled with Luning and got his gun, Cushenberry told the jury. Watson then pinned the officer on the floor and shot him in the chest, the prosecutor said.

Public Defender Stephanie Duncan-Peters told the jury that Watson was afraid of Luning, who was in plain clothes and did not identify himself as an officer when he entered the apartment. “To save himself, he fired the gun,” she said.

After deliberating Friday afternoon and again yesterday, the jury found Watson guilty of five of the six charges against him, including premeditated murder and assault on a police officer. Judge George H. Revercomb set sentencing for July 20.

 

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JULY 26, 1983,
PAGE C6D.C. Man Given Life Sentence in Officer’s Slaying
A 19-year-old Northeast Washington man was sentenced yesterday to life imprisonment for the slaying of D.C. police officer Donald G. Luning, who was shot to death last year after stopping a man to question him about a stolen car.

Mark Anthony Watson of the 1200 block of G Street NE was convicted of first-degree murder last month. D.C. Superior Court Judge George H. Revercomb sentenced Watson yesterday to the maximum sentence. Under the sentence Watson will not be eligible for parole for 20 years.

Luning’s death Sept. 14 helped spark the current drive to equip all D.C. police officers with bulletproof vests. Luning, 31, who lived in Charles County, died after being shot once in the chest. He was an 11-year veteran of the police force.

At Watson’s trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Harold L. Cushenberry said Luning and his partner stopped Watson and a companion because the officers believed the car the two were in had been stolen.

Watson and his companion fled. Luning, a tactical officer in plainclothes at the time, pursed them to an apartment at 3694 Hayes St. NE. There, according to Cushenberry, Luning attempted to arrest Watson as Watson sat at a table.
“Get up or I’ll blow your head off,” Luning told Watson, according to the prosecutor’s account. When Watson got up,

Luning sheathed his revolver and was about to handcuff the prisoner when Watson grabbed Luning and the two men struggled.

According to Cushenberry, the gun fell out of the officer’s holster and Watson grabbed it, pinned the officer to the floor and shot him.

Watson’s attorney acknowledged in court that his (her) client had shot Luning. He (she) contended, however, that Watson had done so in self-defense and that Luning had failed to identify himself as a police officer.

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JULY 27, 1983,
PAGE C3
Police Union to Lobby Longer Jail Terms Urged For Killing Law Officers
The union that represents District police officers, critical of the sentence given a 19-year-old Northeast Washington man convicted of murdering a police officer, said yesterday it will lobby city officials to toughen sentences in such cases.

“You hold the life of a police officer at a shamefully low price,” Gary Hankins, chairman of the local Fraternal Order of Police’s labor committee, said in a letter yesterday to Superior Court Judge George H. Revercomb. “This kind of sentence demeans Gary and my fellow officers.” On Monday, Revercomb sentenced Mark Anthony Watson to life in prison for the slaying of Officer Donald (Gary) Luning on Sept. 14, 1982. Except in rare cases, D.C. law mandates a life sentence for first-degree murder, with eligibility for parole after 20 years.

Watson, of the 1200 block of G Street NE, was convicted June 13 of First-degree murder, assault on a police officer, carrying a pistol without a license, receiving stolen auto and unauthorized use of a car. The FOP criticized Revercomb for ordering that Watson’s sentence for the lesser offenses be served concurrent with, rather than consecutive to, the life sentence.

Watson could have faced at least 25 years in prison for the lesser charges, in addition to the life sentence.
“I don’t think 20 years in prison can be considered a low sentence,” said Stephanie Duncan-Peters, Watson’s attorney. The judge refused her request that he sentence Watson under the federal Youth Corrections Act, which in such cases recommends a maximum sentence of life—with no minimum time to be served—for eligible youths under 22, Revercomb declined to comment on the case yesterday.

Hankins said the FOP will ask Mayor Marion Barry and the City Council to toughen the penalty for the murder of a police officer, a corrections officer or a firefighter to life in prison with no chance of parole. He said the union will also press Barry and the council to increase the penalty for murder of a civilian during the commission of a felony to a mandatory life sentence.

Luning, whose death helped prompt the drive to equip all D.C. police officers with bulletproof vests, was shot once in the chest in what the FOP called an “execution.
“Watson’s lawyer acknowledged in court that her client shot Luning, but said Watson did so in self-defense, and that Luning, who was in plain clothes at the time, had failed to identify himself as a police officer.

At yesterday’s FOP press conference, Luning’s widow expressed support for the union’s lobbying drive.
“I was devastated,” Jodie Luning said of her reaction to the sentence. “Anybody can go kill a cop anytime they want to,” she said. “I feel there’s no justice at all.”

 

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED OCTOBER 1, 1982, PAGE B3
2 SUSPECTS IN KIDNAPING CAPTURED
An off-duty D.C. police officer, on his way to celebrate his mother’s birthday, spotted a suspicious car late Wednesday and, after an hour-long chase and confrontation, arrested two men wanted in Montgomery County in connection with the kidnaping of a baby girl Tuesday.

The officer, Richard Gaskins, recognized the car from a lookout put out in roll call and followed it, a 1982 Ford EXP, from Fourth Street and Kansas Avenue NW to a back alley near Howard University, where he jumped out of his car and pulled his service revolver on the two suspects, police said.
“In a way it reminded me of the movies, but it was real life,” said Gaskins, an eight-year veteran who has never done any undercover work.

Arrested were Chappele Boinman, 22, of Farragut Street NW, and a 17-year-old Northwest juvenile, police said. They were held as fugitives pending extradition to Montgomery County. In addition to kidnaping charges, they were also wanted there for armed robbery and unauthorized use of a vehicle, police said.

The baby was in a car stolen from a mother at gunpoint as she parked in front of her Silver Spring apartment Tuesday night, police said. Two armed robbers had accosted her there and demanded she remove the baby from the car, but the woman was too frightened to move, and the gunmen sped off in her car with the baby, police said.
The baby was recovered unharmed by D.C. police about three hours later after a phone tip.

Gaskins said in an interview yesterday that he spotted the car near Third and Emerson streets NW. “I wasn’t sure that it was the car, but something said turn around and check it out,” he said.

After turning around, he lost sight of the car. But after calling police headquarters to confirm that the car was indeed stolen, he gave chase again and relocated the car heading south on Fourth Street NW.

He said he followed the suspects for about five miles, not getting closer than four car lengths.
At a dead-end alley in the 300 block of Elm Street NW, Gaskins jumped out of his car, drew his revolver, and ran up to the suspects shouting, “Police officer! Freeze!”, Gaskins said.

One of the suspects attacked Gaskins, who fought off the man and subdued him after a struggle for the officer’s gun, which discharged one round in the air during the struggle. He then held the two suspects at bay until people nearby summoned other police.

“He’s the kind of officer we need, said Gaskin’s commander, Deputy Chief Clay Goldston. “We’re considering him for an award because of his excellent police work in making the arrest.”

 

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PARTIAL WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED OCTOBER 27, 1983, PAGE DC2
PEOPLE

At the annual day set aside to recognize the men and women who risk their lives protecting the city, the Greater Washington Board of Trade presented awards of valor to members of the police and fire departments for outstanding acts of bravery in the line of duty.

Officer Richard A. Gaskins, who singlehandedly arrested two armed kidnappers and firefighter Thomas C. Johnson who saved an unconscious badly burned woman from a blazing building, received gold medals at the Police and Fire Awards Luncheon at the Shoreham Hotel their bravery and self-sacrifice in risking their lives.

Police officers (firemen omitted) honored with silver medals were:
Larry J. Adams and Wayne L. Nicholson of the 5th District, who arrested an armed, deranged kidnaper without resorting to deadly force; William R. Haupt, Edward J. Stulga and the late Robert K. Best of the 7th District, who chased and killed an armed drug dealer who had fatally wounded Best during the incident; Sylvester Garvin of the 2nd District, who singlehandedly arrested an armed felon who was robbing a carry-out restaurant; and the late Donald G. Luning of the 6th District, who was killed while helping to apprehend a dangerous felon.

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(MARK ANTHONY WATSON WAS CONFINED AT THE RAY BROOK MEDIUM SECURITY FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION IN UPSTATE NEW YORK. WATSON WAS RELEASED ON APRIL 26, 2010.)