DC Police Shooting: The Killing of DeOnte Rawlings

Off-duty and out of uniform, Washington DC police officers James Haskel and Anthony Clay were in Haskel’s sport-utility vehicle looking for a minibike that Haskel thought had been stolen from his home. They found 14-year-old DeOnté Rawlings on the bike and called out to him. Haskel and Clay claimed that DeOnté opened fire. The men say never had a chance to identify themselves as police officers. They chased DeOnté down and Haskel shot him in the head. The gun that Haskel and Clay said DeOnté fired at them has not been found.

Police are angry that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) agreed to pay for DeOnté’s funeral. DC Fraternal Order of Police President Lou Cannon says many view Fenty’s actions as questionable. He says the mayor should avoid the perception that he’s siding with the victim. Defenders of the cops say that along with the eight shell casings from Haskel’s police-issued 9mm Glock recovered from the scene, three shell casings from a .45-caliber handgun were found, and that there is a damage to the SUV from DeOnté’s alleged gun. 

However, the problems with the story are many. Police are notorious for carrying with them a weapons, ammunition, and other incriminating evidence that they plant on or locate near shooting victims. It is not a problem to scatter .45-caliber shell casings around the scene of a crime to legitimate a claim that the victim returned fire or fired first. Not having a gun makes it even harder to uncover the deception. Anthony Clay drove the car away from the scene of the shooting for several minutes, parking the car in an unknown location before returning to the scene. That the SUV was driven from the scene and then, when found, showed damage from gun fire is highly suspicious. The police officers did not report the shooting, but patrol units were alerted because of technology designed to detect gun fire. A rooftop ShotSpotter sensor told police where Rawlings’ body was. Patrol units arrived to find DeOnté dead with a head wound. DeOnté’s family has asked where the minibike is. 

Just imagine the situation. Here is a 14-year-old black kid being chased by an SUV with two men inside screaming at him. The officers were off duty, out of uniform, and driving a sports utility fan. How was DeOnté supposed to know they were cops? A sport-utility fan with two big men in it screaming at a 14-year old is going to have what effect on the kid on the minibike? What is a kid in a rough neighborhood supposed to think about the situation? Of course he’s going to run. The police ran him down and shot him in the head. This is the phenomenological reality gleened from the cops’ version. 

The eye witness version is even more damning. According to witnesses in the neighborhood, several youths were riding motorbikes on Atlantic Street and in the alleyway behind it. The SUV showed up sometime after 7:00 pm. The SUV made three passes around the block. On its third passes, the SUV and one of the minibikes crossed paths in the alley. The SUV backed up and several shots rang out in quick succession. DeOnté had been shot in the head. Witnesses say only the police fired. They observed DeOnté, lying bleeding to death on the concrere, and the officers doing nothing to save his life.

A DC police official has confirmed what the family has said, that the teen was never considered dangerous. However, it has come to light that police were frustrated with DeOnté because he always refused to help them with investigations. Both official and relatives have reported this fact. DeOnté father has stated publicly that the cops “were trying to make DeOnté into a snitch.” The several visits to the Rawlings home by police questioning him about various crimes that occurred around the city support Mr. Rawlings’ claims.

At a news conference, Mayor Fenty invited Rawlings’ sisters to the microphone. The girls asked why the officers hadn’t been indicted for killing their brother. That’s my question. This case screams homicide.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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