DC police chief defends last month’s stop-and-frisk incident in Northeast

The June 22 incident in the area of Sheriff Road and Eastern Avenue involved members of the D.C. Police Department’s gun-recovery unit. (Screenshot courtesy Anthony Lorenzo Green)

WASHINGTON — At a D.C. committee hearing Thursday, police Chief Peter Newsham discussed a recent stop-and-frisk incident in Northeast that has prompted criticism about how the department polices some of the District’s communities.

And while he defended the officers’ asking a group of men for ID last month, he agreed with one council member that officers need to be mindful of avoiding tension with the public moving forward.

The June 22 incident near Sheriff Road and Eastern Avenue involved members of the police department’s gun-recovery unit. They were already in the area, Newsham said, when they found a group of men drinking from open containers of alcohol and publicly smoking marijuana.

What raised officers’ concern, Newsham said, was that the group was near a car that had tinted windows and that lacked proper registration.

“Those types of vehicles in our community … are used frequently in robberies throughout the city,” the chief told members of the D.C. Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Thursday.

The officers then asked the people in the group to provide identification.

The incident was chronicled on smartphone video and police body cameras and tweeted out by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Anthony Lorenzo Green, who alleged in a June 24 letter to the chief that a man in the group who had a BB gun confiscated was an undercover officer.

“I can say unequivocally that that is not true. That was not a Metropolitan Police Department officer. … That young man was not working with the Metropolitan Police Department,” said Newsham, adding that the BB gun was not planted on the person either.

Police recovered a vial of PCP, as well as marijuana and a scale during the incident.

The chief told the committee that when officers had approached the group, they had told the men that they were not concerned about the marijuana or open containers. Ward 6 council member Charles Allen questioned whether it was appropriate to ask for IDs anyway. Newsham said yes.

“If it’s not probable cause,” Allen asked, “is the justification that the officer … observed a lump in the waistband?”

“I can’t tell you what was going on in his mind,” Newsham said. “That will come out in the course of the investigation.”

Nevertheless, Newsham defended the move to ask subjects for their IDs.

“I think it was not only appropriate, but I think it was within their responsibility to search the immediate area for additional contraband,” said the chief, adding that he was most concerned about the tension between both groups. Allen agreed.

“That is what we do not want,” the committee chairman said. “I think what we’re trying to establish is how did we get to that level of tension.”

The chief told the committee that the department is reviewing the incident carefully to avoid that moving forward.

“We try to do that with every circumstance where misconduct is alleged, is to say ‘How can we do this better?'” Newsham said.

Another hearing is set for 5 p.m. at the Deanwood Recreation Center, 1350 49th St. NE.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.