He Put Police Above the Law
|Photo by North Charleston.|
By JAMES BOVARD
Attorney General Eric Holder is collecting buckets of accolades in his final weeks in office. Newspapers are especially praising Holder’s suggestion that the feds begin keeping tabs on shootings by police across the nation. But Holder’s own career shows his devotion to ignoring or covering up law enforcement killings unless a bonanza of profitable publicity awaited him.
As the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1993 to 1997, Holder was in charge of policing the local police. When police violence spiraled out of control, he did little or nothing to protect D.C. residents from rampaging lawmen.
The number of killings by D.C. police quadrupled between 1989 and 1995, when 16 civilians died owing to police gunfire. D.C. police shot and killed people at a higher rate than any other major city police department, as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post investigation revealed in late 1998. But Holder had no problem with D.C.’s quick-trigger force: “I can’t honestly say I saw anything that was excessive.” He never noticed that the D.C. police department failed to count almost half the people killed by its officers between 1994 and 1997.
Even when police-review boards ruled that shootings were unjustified or found contradictions in officers’ testimony, police were not prosecuted. In one case an officer shot a suspect four times in the back when he was unarmed and lying on the ground. But Holder’s office never bothered interviewing the shooter.
At 9 a.m. on May 15, 1995, a D.C. policeman pursued a car that he claimed he had seen moving recklessly on Florida Avenue NW. The policeman walked up to the vehicle and shot 16-year-old Kedemah Dorsey in the chest. The car began pulling away, and the policeman hopped alongside and shot the boy again in the back, killing him. Lawyer Doug Sparks, sitting in a nearby car, told the Post, “It was basically at point-blank range. I thought it was some kind of drug shooting.” The policeman claimed that he fired because Dorsey, who was scheduled to start his shift at Burger King later that morning, was trying to run him down. Attorney Michael Morganstern, who sued the District government and collected $150,000 for the family, commented, “It’s somewhat difficult to use the car as a weapon when it is wedged in rush-hour traffic and the officer is standing to the side of it, not in front of it.” A police department investigation concluded that the shooting was unjustified, but Holder’s office refused to file charges against the policeman.
Holder was feckless even when a policeman confessed to lying about killing an unarmed teenager. After Roosevelt Askew killed a 19-year-old motorist during a 1994 traffic stop, he claimed he fired because the driver was trying to run over another policeman. But that story soon collapsed. In early 1995, Askew admitted to Holder’s office that he had lied and then claimed he shot the teenager accidentally. No charges were filed against Askew until a year and a half after his confession. The case lingered on the back burner until after Holder moved on to become deputy attorney general under Janet Reno. The U.S. attorney’s office eventually signed off on a deal that let Askew plead guilty merely to filing a false police report; he received two years probation and a $5,000 fine.