U.S. Attorney’s Office Closes Investigation Involving Fatal Shooting Of Aaron Alexis No Charges To Be Filed Against Officers Who Responded To Mass Murders At Washington Navy Yard
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced today that it will not pursue criminal charges against law enforcement officers in connection with the events last year at the Washington Navy Yard that led to the fatal shooting of Aaron Alexis.
The decision was made after reviewing witness statements, surveillance video, photographs, diagrams, physical evidence, law enforcement agency reports from the FBI, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), U.S. Park Police, and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), and the autopsy report for Mr. Alexis. By the time of the shooting, Mr. Alexis had killed 12 people and wounded four others as he moved from floor to floor, repeatedly opening fire, in a five-story structure at the Navy Yard complex.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office determined that none of the law enforcement officers whose actions were reviewed in this case possessed the requisite criminal intent at the time they either discharged their weapons or shot and killed Mr. Alexis. To the contrary, the review determined that there is more than sufficient evidence to conclude, that under all of the prevailing circumstances at the time of the shooting, the officers were acting in defense of themselves and others. The review determined that the officers acted reasonably at all times to neutralize a life-threatening situation.
“After a careful review of the evidence, we have closed this investigation,” said U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. “We concluded that the law enforcement officers involved demonstrated exceptional valor in acting to protect the lives of Navy Yard employees and other responding law enforcement officers.”
On Sept. 16, 2013, shortly after 8 a.m., Mr. Alexis, a 34-year-old military contractor for the Department of Defense, entered Building 197, which is on the west side of the Navy Yard complex in Southeast Washington. Within the next 15 minutes, Mr. Alexis, who was armed with a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun, began an attack that caused the deaths of 12 civilians, as well as non-fatal injuries to three civilians and one MPD officer. Multiple local and federal law enforcement agencies began responding within minutes of the first report of shootings.
Throughout the attack, Mr. Alexis systematically moved from floor to floor, killing and wounding anyone he saw. Eight victims were shot and killed on the fourth floor; two others were shot and wounded. Two victims were killed on the third floor; two other victims, including an MPD officer, were shot and wounded. One victim, a building security officer, was killed on the first floor; and one victim was killed in a parking area. After killing the building security officer, Mr. Alexis took the officer’s 9-millimeter handgun, which he also used as a weapon.
After killing the victims in rapid succession, Mr. Alexis kept moving through the building’s stairwells, hallways, and work areas and cubicles, repeatedly firing at law enforcement and security officers trying to apprehend him. He shot at a second building security officer and a U.S. Navy Military Police officer on the first floor, leading to an exchange of gunfire. The building security officer fired at Mr. Alexis as Mr. Alexis ran across the atrium and out of view. In a separate confrontation, Mr. Alexis fired at an NCIS agent and two officers with the Naval District of Washington, also on the first floor. They returned fire; however, there is no evidence that Mr. Alexis was hit by this gunfire.
Mr. Alexis then returned to the third floor and once again confronted police, shooting a Special Operations Division officer from the MPD, who collapsed to the floor. Another NCIS agent fired back at Mr. Alexis after the officer was hit, but Mr. Alexis was not hit.
Finally, after these shootings, Mr. Alexis hid under a desk on the third floor, waited, and attempted to ambush an Emergency Response Team officer from the MPD and a U.S. Park Police officer as they entered the area where he was located. At about 9:25 a.m., Mr. Alexis shot at the MPD Emergency Response Team officer, hitting the plate of his police tactical vest. The MPD Emergency Response Team officer and the U.S. Park Police officer returned fire and were able to shoot and kill Mr. Alexis.
Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights laws, prosecutors must establish beyond a reasonable doubt not only that an officer’s use of force was excessive, but also that the officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right. Proving “willfulness” is a heavy burden, and means that it must be proven that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. Accident, mistake, fear, negligence and bad judgment do not establish such a criminal violation. After a careful, thorough and independent review of the evidence, federal prosecutors have found no evidence to prove a civil rights violation, beyond a reasonable doubt, against any of the officers involved in this matter. Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed without prosecution.
The Justice Department remains committed to investigating allegations of excessive force by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources necessary to ensure that all allegations of serious civil rights violations are fully and completely investigated.14-184