U.S. Attorney's Office Concludes Investigation Into Death Of Alonzo Smith at Southeast Washington Apartment Building
No Charges to Be Filed Against Special Police Officers
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced today that there is insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights or local charges against two Special Police Officers involved in a confrontation at an apartment building in Southeast Washington that ended with the death of 27-year-old Alonzo Smith.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) conducted a comprehensive review of the November 1, 2015, incident, which included interviews of more than two dozen civilian and law enforcement witnesses, and consultations with the Chief Medical Examiner, Deputy Medical Examiner, and Chief Toxicologist at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the District of Columbia. The investigation also included the review of autopsy and toxicology reports; body-worn camera footage which depicts part of the incident; 911 calls and radio transmissions; Mobile Crime reports and photographs; physical evidence recovered on the scene, at the hospital, and from Mr. Smith’s vehicle; DNA, fingerprint and drug evidence recovered on the scene and from Mr. Smith’s vehicle; and cellphone and cell site data.
After this review, the U.S. Attorney’s Office concluded that the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Special Police Officers violated Mr. Smith’s civil rights by using excessive force or that they possessed the requisite criminal intent at the time of the events. Rather, the evidence shows that Mr. Smith suffered a sudden cardiac incident that resulted in death. At the time, Mr. Smith was under the influence of a significant amount of cocaine and was being restrained by the Special Police Officers, both of which may have contributed to the cardiac incident. While the Medical Examiner listed the manner of death forensically as “homicide,” reflecting that the conduct of another person may have contributed to Mr. Smith’s death, a manner of death determination is insufficient, in and of itself, to establish that another person is criminally responsible for an individual’s death.
According to the evidence, on November 1, 2015, at approximately 2:25 a.m., Mr. Smith arrived at the Marbury Plaza apartment complex, in the 2300 block of Good Hope Road SE, to visit a friend in a high-rise building that is part of the complex. After parking his vehicle in the 2300 block of Good Hope Road, Mr. Smith went to the friend’s apartment. Between 3:10 and 3:30 a.m., Mr. Smith abruptly left the building, apparently returning to his car. At approximately 3:30 a.m., one of the Special Police Officers saw Mr. Smith run out from the building entrance towards the grassy area in front of the high-rise. Mr. Smith, who was wearing pants but no shoes or shirt, hid in the bushes; got up and hid behind the “Marbury Plaza” sign; lay down on the ground; and ran back towards the front of the building. There was nobody near Mr. Smith. The Special Police Officer radioed a second Special Police officer for assistance.
Mr. Smith then ran towards the rear parking lot of the nearby three-story garden apartments, and the Special Police Officers followed, walking approximately 50 feet behind Mr. Smith, who was yelling “help, help.” Mr. Smith continued to run through the rear parking lot to the walkway next to the garden apartment building at 2312 Good Hope Road, and then to the front parking lot while continuing to yell “help.” Between 3:30 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., multiple civilian witnesses from inside 2312 Good Hope Road and from the high-rise apartment building across the street saw Mr. Smith running around outside, shirtless and shoeless, and heard him yelling for help. Some witnesses reported hearing Mr. Smith yelling “they’re trying to kill me,” while another witness reported hearing Mr. Smith yelling “she’s trying to kill me.” None of the witnesses, however, reported that anyone was chasing or assaulting Mr. Smith or that the Special Police Officers were doing anything other than walking, at a distance, behind him. There is also no evidence that the Special Police Officers ever caught up to, or assaulted, Mr. Smith while he was on the grounds of the Marbury Plaza apartment complex outside of 2312 Good Hope Road.
At 4:02 a.m., a resident of the high-rise building reported seeing Mr. Smith running around outside, and then running into 2312 Good Hope Road, with nobody behind him. According to multiple residents of 2312 Good Hope Road, once inside, Mr. Smith started banging on their doors and yelling “help.” Because the residents believed Mr. Smith was on drugs, none of the residents opened their doors. One resident saw Mr. Smith trying to climb the interior fire escape ladder that leads to the roof.
At approximately 4:03 a.m., one of the Special Police Officers entered 2312 Good Hope Road and saw Mr. Smith on the top floor of the building. Two residents reported hearing a voice calmly telling Mr. Smith to come down from the ladder and to “calm down.” Mr. Smith then tried to jump past the Special Police Officer and/or over the railing. The Special Police Officer grabbed Mr. Smith in a bear hug-type move, pivoted, and put Mr. Smith onto the floor on the staircase landing that is one flight up from the ground level. The other Special Police Officer arrived after Mr. Smith was on the landing. While Mr. Smith remained on his stomach, the Special Police Officers attempted to handcuff Mr. Smith, who was using his left hand to grip the staircase and pull himself forward. The Special Police Officers ultimately utilized two sets of handcuffs to secure Mr. Smith. There is no evidence that during this interaction with Mr. Smith, either Special Police Officer punched, kicked, or otherwise struck Mr. Smith, and no resident reported hearing any sounds of a struggle in the hallway.
At 4:05 a.m., two MPD officers arrived and ran into the building. Both MPD officers were equipped with body worn cameras, which were activated. Mr. Smith was lying on his stomach on the staircase landing one flight up, handcuffed behind his back. One of the Special Police Officers was kneeling by, and occasionally on, Mr. Smith’s lower back, while the other Special Police Office was holding Mr. Smith’s head down. As reported to the MPD dispatcher, Mr. Smith was conscious and breathing at that time. The Special Police Officers informed the MPD officers that they believed that Mr. Smith was under the influence of PCP. Upon being told that Mr. Smith was under the influence of PCP, one of the MPD officers ran back outside to the cruiser to get shackles for Mr. Smith’s legs to further secure Mr. Smith in case of a drug-induced violent outburst. The other MPD officer remained with Mr. Smith and the two Special Police Officers. After the shackles were placed on Mr. Smith’s ankles, and approximately one minute after the MPD officers’ arrival, the officers realized that Mr. Smith had stopped moving and making sounds, although he still had a pulse. As one MPD officer again updated the dispatcher, the other MPD officer began administering CPR, which continued until the 4:11 a.m. arrival of the first personnel from the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. After several minutes of rendering medical attention to Mr. Smith and finding no vital signs, EMS personnel transported Mr. Smith to United Medical Center where, at 5:08 a.m., Mr. Smith was pronounced dead.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner performed the autopsy and concluded that the cause of Mr. Smith’s death was “sudden cardiac death complicating acute cocaine toxicity while restrained” with a contributing factor of “compression of torso,” and that the manner of death was homicide. There were no injuries to any of Mr. Smith’s vital organs, to include his heart; no signs of trauma to Mr. Smith’s spine, neck, or brain; no broken bones; and no injuries to Mr. Smith’s face, teeth, oral cavity, chest, or genitalia. The autopsy report further revealed that Mr. Smith had “blunt force injuries” that were described as abrasions, contusions and subcutaneous hemorrhages on his head (a 3/16th superficial abrasion), neck (a hemorrhage caused by medical intervention); torso (minor contusions and abrasions, and a deep muscular hemorrhage on his back); and extremities (minor abrasions or hemorrhages on his shoulders, elbows, forearm, wrists, and feet). Finally, a comprehensive toxicology screening revealed that Mr. Smith had THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana, and an exceedingly high amount of cocaine in his blood. Cocaine intoxication can produce reactions similar to that normally associated with PCP, to include hallucinations, an increase in body temperature, and erratic behavior.
Use-of-force investigations generally
The U.S. Attorney’s Office reviews all police-involved fatalities to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to conclude that any officers violated either federal criminal civil rights laws or District of Columbia law. To prove such violations, prosecutors must typically be able to prove that the involved officers willfully used more force than was reasonably necessary. Proving “willfulness” is a heavy burden. Prosecutors must not only prove that the force used was excessive, but must also prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. A conclusion that “there is insufficient evidence” is not meant to suggest anything further about what evidence, if any, exists.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office 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. The Metropolitan Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division investigates all police-involved fatalities in the District of Columbia.