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An Officer--And An Ungentle Man

Here's Sunday's column:

When two men delivering furniture for a reputable retailer end up getting shot by a customer, something has gone terribly wrong. When the shooter is a police officer and the incident took place in Prince George's County, alarm bells go off -- uh-oh, here we go again, say residents who have lived through all too many cases involving overzealous cops.

Then, when the police department leaps to the shooter's defense -- announcing initially, before any investigation, that the unarmed deliverymen would probably be charged with assault -- the groans of exasperation grow louder.

And when it turns out that the shooter is an officer who has been criticized again and again over many years for being a volatile, violent man, well, sometimes the stench of an incident can be overpowering.

Last month, when Prince George's police Cpl. Keith Washington shot Marlo Furniture deliverymen Robert White, who remains in critical condition, and Brandon Clark, who died Friday from the gunshot wounds, we quickly learned of allegations that Washington on three occasions lit into officers of the Simmons Acres Homeowners Association in Accokeek, where he lives. Washington was accused of "yelling, screaming and cursing" at one association leader, shoving a second in the chest and assaulting a third. A misdemeanor charge filed in one of those incidents was later dropped.

Washington won his current job as the county's deputy director of homeland security because County Executive Jack Johnson considered him "mentally tough." Johnson and Washington are fraternity brothers and occasionally dine together; Washington has served as Johnson's driver and has worked on and donated money to Johnson's campaign.

Whatever happened last month, the long list of allegations about Washington's aggressive, in-your-face behavior raises powerful questions about just what he is doing in a position of authority in county government.

"He's a volatile guy, rude and arrogant," says Terrell Roberts, a lawyer for a Hyattsville man who sued Washington over a 1997 incident in which the officer was accused of harassing and tormenting a witness after a traffic accident. "For what he's done, he shouldn't be a police officer."

"It's almost 10 years ago, but there's not a day that goes by when I don't think about what he did to me," says that witness, David Paul Maslousky, an auto mechanic who won $210,000 in damages in his suit against Washington. The award and verdict were partially upheld and partially overturned by an appeals court; in a retrial, Washington prevailed.

Neither Washington nor two lawyers who have represented him in the past returned calls about the shooting or previous incidents. Washington has denied any wrongdoing.

Maslousky, his friend Paul Essex -- a Prince George's lawyer who was involved in the 1997 accident -- and other witnesses to Washington's behavior at that scene described the officer in court as curt, argumentative and frightening.

In his testimony, Essex gave this account of their exchange:

When Washington arrived, he said, "You caused this accident."

"That's a decision for a court to make," Essex replied.

"Out here, I am the court," Washington said.

When Essex objected, Washington put him under arrest.

Washington wasn't finished: "He grabbed my arm and he pulled me, he jacked my arm up and pulled me back over to the driver's side front fender," Essex testified.

Moments later, Essex saw Washington force his friend to the ground, arresting Maslousky for hindering, a charge that was later dropped. "I've never felt so impotent in my whole life," Essex told the court. "Officer Washington behaved like no other police officer I had been involved with."

A witness to the accident, Anne Marie Curtis, confirmed Essex's account, saying Washington acted rudely and curtly. Another witness, Maniram Tiwari, testified that Washington "had a chip on his shoulder."

After he was arrested, Maslousky said, Washington drove him to the police station, yelling and threatening all the way. "I started to pray out loud," the mechanic said in court. "I started the Our Father and then moved on to the Hail Mary."

When Maslousky got to "Forgive this man, Father, for he does not know what he is doing," Washington laughed: "And he says, 'Who's that God you're praying to? Let's see your God get you out of jail.' " Then Washington "belched out very loud" and told Maslousky, "You know, Bubba's in jail and Bubba is going to have his way with you." Washington testified that he did not say anything like that.

Washington's lawyer, county attorney Andrew Murray, described his client as a "no-nonsense military-type guy, blunt, short." Murray told jurors: "No one has a constitutional right to a polite and cordial police officer, distasteful as we may find that to be. When Cpl. Washington comes on the scene, he shows strength, assurance, pompousness. But these are characteristics that he employs . . . so that he can make order out of chaos -- these are characteristics that enable him to survive his day-to-day contact with citizens so that he can go home and see his family."

Washington, who served in the Army before joining the county police in 1990, testified that "you have to take charge of the situation if there's chaos and you may not be considered amenable or courteous in your directions."

"I'm not emotional by nature," he told jurors. "I always know what I'm going to do. So I very rarely show an emotion, especially when performing a task."

Maslousky has felt a whole new set of emotions since his encounter with Washington -- most notably, a level of fear he'd never before experienced. "I've lost a lot of faith in the system and the police," he told me Thursday. "I hope these guys recover from this shooting and get to tell their story." The next day, one of Washington's victims died.

By Marc Fisher |  February 4, 2007; 12:31 AM ET
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Comments

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Thank you Marc and the Washington Post for keeping this story on the "front burner". If the second delivery man sucumb to his injuries I fear that Washington will once again thumb his nose at GOD and the justice system. Only a loud community outcry will keep this incident from being swept under the carpet. Question that no one seems to be addressing loudly -- is why is this may being allowed to keep his job as Deputy Director of Homeland Security? Why has the County Executive's judgment not been questioned? Surely he knew the character of this man.

Posted by: Concerned Prince Georgian | February 4, 2007 8:23 AM

This investigation needs to be turned over to the FBI. There are too many conflicts of interests in the county police to investigate the buddy of the county executive objectively.

Discipline is the hallmark of a soldier. As a veteran and son of a soldier, I am offended that Washington's lawyer would excuse his behavior with reference to the military. If the descriptions of Mr. Washington's behavior are accurate then he has a discipline problem. The uniform is merely a formality. Commitment makes the soldier.

I hope that state's attorney Glenn Ivey has the good sense to call in the FBI. An impartial investigation is in the public interest.

Posted by: Yockel | February 4, 2007 11:58 AM

Glad to see this post, Marc. I have been blogging about this guy since 1st reading about his antics on the Post. Good to see that you guys are keeping the pressure on.

What a goon. I agree with the comments of your readers here - why are we not questioning this guys' political protector? And why does the PG police not have anything to say on this anymore?

http://spin.thedewans.com/

Posted by: Rajiv | February 4, 2007 3:29 PM

Keith Washington does not deserve to carry the authority and public trust of a police officer; he has repeatedly proven himself to be unfit and mentally unstable.

If the PG County Police Dept. was waiting for this excuse for an officer to kill someone before doing something about him, well, now he's done it. What is the Department's plan?

Washington doesn't belong on the force. He belongs in a cage. And the cronyism and conflict of interest that got him his cushy job thanks to his relationship with Jack Johnson is only one of many reasons why reelecting Johnson was a mistake.

Police officers and their union hacks hate the very mention of it, but a Civilian Review Board is the only defense we, THE TAXPAYERS WHO PAY POLICE OFFICERS' SALARIES, have against out-of-control-police officers.

Enough!

Posted by: CEEAF | February 4, 2007 5:38 PM

I'm going to thread on some soft ground here and some may like it, but it needs to be said:

As a Black Man , I'm more than aware that some Black officers are the worst thing a Black Man can encounter.

As a Black Man, I also know there's a tremendous difference between a Black Man and a n*. A Black Man who happens to be a police officer carries himself with dignity and pride; he shows respect for the trust and authority placed in him by the public. A n* who happens to be a police is someone who slipped through the cracks. He carries himself like a bully because the trust and authority placed in him has gone to his head. Such an officer is a danger to everyone around him - the public, his fellow officers, and his family.

We know in which category Keith Washington belongs.

Posted by: CEEAF | February 4, 2007 5:47 PM

"As a Black Man , I'm more than aware that some Black officers are the worst thing a Black Man can encounter."

CEEAF, can you clarify that comment for us? Anyone that's law abiding shouldn't fear a police officer, whether s/he's black, white, hispanic, or any other race. Why do you seem to have problems with police of any race?

Posted by: Hittin the nerve | February 4, 2007 9:16 PM

Thanks for the article.
I'd second the motion for a FBI inquiry into this incident.
I would also like to know the state of mind (and blood test results) of Cpl. Washington at the time of the incident.

Posted by: jaymcd66 | February 4, 2007 11:43 PM

I don't know Keith Washington or the others involved in this mess, RIP. But, I'll say this, if you are someone for whom JJ is prepared to do a favor, then you are guilty as charged. Hanging at dawn.

PEOPLE NEED TO DISTANCE THEMSELVES FROM THE SLEAZEBALL. He is a canker.

I hope WaPo is looking at Keith Washington's IRS Tax Returns.

Posted by: Count Bobulescu | February 5, 2007 12:02 AM

I agree with Concerned Prince George's Countian. Excellent job on the columns and articles to Marc and the other reporters, and keep this story on the front burner. How I feel for the men who were shot and their families. It just doesn't make sense for deliverymen, doing their job, to just assault someone in thier own house, in front of witnesses, for no reason.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | February 5, 2007 9:09 AM

I wouldn't even deliver a pizza to this guy. Somebody needs to get his street address posted so every company in the world would avoid him unless accompanied by a couple lawyers and camera men taping the entire delivery for use in court.

To think he is still allowed to carry a gun, whether on duty or not, is enough to avoid PG County at all costs.

Spend your hard earned money someplace else people - at least until he is off the force.

Washington is one of those people that we need to lock in a room and throw away the room.

Posted by: SoMD | February 5, 2007 9:46 AM

"CEEAF, can you clarify that comment for us? Anyone that's law abiding shouldn't fear a police officer, whether s/he's black, white, hispanic, or any other race. Why do you seem to have problems with police of any race?"

As I mentioned, there are two kinds of Black; one type can't handle authority and is unfit to carry it.

To clarify, the low-class Black officers are notorious bullies who abuse their authority. They LOVE to humiliate and intimidate other Blacks, especially those who are educated and affluent.

I've encountered this on several occasions, most recently from an officer who happens frequently visit one of my neighbors. He found it necessary to show off in front of his girlfriend because my vehicle was parked facing the wrong direction on the street in front of my house.

Instead of simply asking me to turn around he challenged me to "make his boring day exciting" and asked me if I would care to "explain to a judge why someone who can afford a Mercedes doesn't have the sense to park properly".

I've never been disrespected or threatened by a white or hispanic officer.

Posted by: ceeaf | February 5, 2007 12:42 PM

hittin the Nerve - your comment does not apparently come with the perspective of knowing the Black experience. if you read Fischer article, you note the name of those are not common black names, yet the issue is one of Officer Washington abusing his power in a mere traffic incident. Now, compound that situation, with blacks that given most minor of our details [black male, 6 feet tall] can fit the description for a number on incidents. our minds are conditioned to readily accept it that me as a 6 foot tall black man with a dark coat could be a legit suspect for any number of things, and the poice can choose and abuse to treat me accordingly. now everything about me is contradictory to stereotypes for Black males. but since I was a yound teen to today I deal with the same prejudice and stereotyping that all black men face. From Anacostia to Potomac we all deal with a certain presumption about us.

Posted by: RobGreg | February 5, 2007 5:52 PM

CCEAF is right when he states that "some Black officers are the worst thing a Black Man can encounter." Absolutely right.

"Anyone that's law abiding shouldn't fear a police officer, whether s/he's black, white, hispanic, or any other race. Why do you seem to have problems with police of any race?"

"Hittin the Nerve," clearly you just don't GET IT. Regardless of HOW "law abiding" blacks and other minorities are, we all are subject to abuse, profiling, stereotyping, brutality and other negative behaviors by police officers. True, any police officer can be a jerk, (and I know several outstanding PG Police officers) but then again, don't forget the long historical legacy of police brutality that is associated w/Prince George's County. People's impressions and fears are often largely based upon their experiences. That's something for ANY law enforcement officer to keep in mind. I am personally in favor of Citizen Review Boards for law enforcement. Perhaps the FBI can assist, but Glenn Ivey needs to be given a fair opportunity to "get it right," as well. Let the investigation play itself out in a transparent fashion -- remember, regardless of how ANYONE characterizes Keith Washington, none of us were actually THERE with these 3 men that night.

Posted by: Ntlekt | February 5, 2007 6:30 PM

Back in '83 I had an encounter with a P G county cop that made me fully understand the nickname Prison Guard county.
I thought things had changed since then but maybe they have gotten worse. I sure hope the surviving marlo guy makes out okay and I pray for the family of the one who passed away

Posted by: frankie | February 6, 2007 11:05 AM

If this officer is so zealous, perhaps he would like to go dispense justice over in Iraq. Two problems solved.

Posted by: peacenik | February 8, 2007 1:34 PM

"If this officer is so zealous, perhaps he would like to go dispense justice over in Iraq. Two problems solved."

No way. Washington is a bully. Guys like Washington don't like an even match.

Posted by: CEEAF | February 8, 2007 5:48 PM

Congrats Mr. Fisher!
You combined old-fashioned shoe leather with strong, well-founded opinion. This police officer's actions obviously need to be investigated.
Many thanks.
Don Fulsom

Posted by: donfulsom2002@yahoo.com | February 8, 2007 6:29 PM

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