Paper Offenses: Beget and Sustain Top Gangs?

grarpamp grarpamp at
Sun Apr 25 16:58:56 PDT 2021

A DC COP Tells All
by Brandon Soderberg | Apr 22, 2021 Nook's Barbershop

Around 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2020, officers with the Metropolitan
Police Department’s Gun Recovery Unit (GRU) turned their unmarked
Chevy Malibu onto a residential street in Washington, D.C., where they
spotted Dalonta Crudup walking with a backpack slung around his

Crudup, a 23-year-old Black man, noticed the Malibu and shifted his
backpack to both shoulders. According to a statement of probable
cause, that was enough for the plainclothes GRU officers to jump out
of their vehicle and stop Crudup.

“You don’t got no weapons on you?” one officer asked Crudup.

Crudup lifted his shirt and showed the police his waistband. There was
no gun there. He told them he had marijuana—which is legal in D.C.—on
him. Multiple times, the police, all wearing tactical gear, asked
Crudup if they could search his backpack for weapons. Each time,
Crudup told them no.

Then one of the cops claimed they heard something in the backpack.
They patted it down, said they felt marijuana inside, and took the
backpack. The officers said they found a gun and placed Crudup under

After his arrest, Crudup was offered a plea deal by the United States
attorney’s office but refused to plead guilty. The police had no
justifiable reason to stop him, let alone search him, and he knew

“What was written on the probable cause affidavit was just egregiously
unconstitutional, in my opinion. I mean, he literally was stopped
because he was walking while Black with a backpack,” Sweta Patel, one
of Crudup’s lawyers, told The Appeal. “They really didn’t give any
probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or anything.”

Fifteen minutes after Crudup declined to plead guilty, prosecutors
dropped his gun charges.

Crudup is one of four plaintiffs in an ongoing class action civil
rights lawsuit that attorneys Patel and Michael Bruckheim filed in
federal court against the D.C. government. The lawsuit alleges that
the GRU—which focuses on the interdiction and recovery of illegal
weapons and the apprehension of people involved in illegal gun
crime—has a policy of stopping, frisking, and searching Black people
without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, and that they
fabricate information to justify the stops, frisks, and searches.
According to the lawsuit, despite D.C. having some of the strictest
gun control measures in the country, the GRU has a “practice and
custom of treating African American people as though they all carry
illegal handguns.”

The lawsuit says the GRU officers use a person’s presence in a “high
crime” neighborhood as a reason to approach them and often cite a
person shielding themselves from officers jumping out of an unmarked
car or running as further justification for a stop. When GRU officers
ask if they can search someone, they often characterize how that
person responds to the question as “suspicious” in order to justify a
search, even if the person did not consent.

In November, attorneys for the city government wrote in a motion filed
with the court that the “plaintiffs’ claims have no merit and should
be dismissed” in part because “the officers had reasonable suspicion
to support the stops and searches.” They said that none of the
plaintiffs disputed that they were in possession of a firearm without
a license and also denied that the GRU has a policy of engaging in
unconstitutional stops and searches.

But activist groups such as Black Lives Matter D.C. and Stop Police
Terror Project D.C. say the GRU conducts warrantless searches, uses
force almost exclusively against Black residents, and commits fatal
police shootings. In 2018, two officers were investigated—and removed
from the unit—after a questionable search of the backyard of the uncle
of Jeffrey Price, a 22-year-old who died when his dirt bike collided
with a police cruiser in Northeast D.C. In March 2020, Price’s mother
filed a civil rights lawsuit against the officers involved in the
fatal accident; the lawsuit is ongoing. And there have been several
lawsuits alleging that the GRU performs “unjustified sexually
invasive” searches and regularly engages in “jump-outs” targeting
Black residents.

Now, a nearly 30-year Metropolitan Police Department veteran is
speaking out about the GRU, blasting the unit as statistics-driven and
engaged in a pattern and practice of illegal stop-and-frisks. The
Appeal obtained a five-page letter written by the former command-level
official about the GRU and the roles that this person says former
chief Peter Newsham and current chief Robert Contee played in enabling

“These outdated practices have resulted in the adversarial
relationship between the community and the police department,” the
veteran wrote. “Sadly, the police leadership’s response to community
concerns is to double-down on the practices that are of most concern
to the community.”

The Appeal also spoke with the veteran, who said they were moved to
write the letter out of concern for D.C.’s residents whose trust has
been violated by the police, especially young Black men whose lives
are being “ruined” by gun charges “inhibiting their future.” They
requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Last year, Sgt.
Charlotte Djossou alleged in a lawsuit that she was retaliated against
for blowing the whistle on department abuses that included narcotics
division supervisors instructing officers to target young Black men in
low-income neighborhoods for jump-outs and reclassifying felonies as
misdemeanors in order to improve crime statistics.

“The leadership’s focus on GRU is stat driven,” the veteran wrote.
“Leadership focuses on how many guns GRU recovers and if an arrest is
made with the recovery. There is very little, if any, review of how
the gun was recovered or how the arrest was made.”

In early 2019, former chief Newsham defended the department’s use of
stop-and-frisk as “constitutional.”  In March of this year, Chief
Contee said the department has not used jump-outs as a tactic in
years, according to the Washington Post. But the veteran says the GRU
violates residents’ Fourth Amendment rights and the practice is
central to its gun seizures.

A “dubious tactic employed by GRU is jumping out on groups of people
and fishing for statistics,” the veteran wrote. “Members of GRU would
drive up to an area where multiple people were hanging out, jump out
of the truck, and force everyone present to submit to stop and frisk
without any articulable reason for being stopped and frisked other
than their mere presence at the scene.”

The Metropolitan Police Department did not respond to The Appeal’s
request for comment about GRU’s tactics and allegations of civil
rights violations by the unit. But Kristen Metzger, deputy director of
the department’s communications office, emailed a statement to The
Appeal emphasizing that “under Chief Robert Contee’s leadership, MPD
has begun examining the Department’s strategies related to guns and
violence. Chief Contee emphasizes a strategic approach aimed at
getting the right guns out of the wrong hands in our communities. MPD
has already shifted resources to focus on an intelligence-based
policing approach to identify, interdict and interrupt violent
offenders within the District.”

In the letter, the veteran accused the department of misrepresenting
data regarding police stops gathered after the 2016 passage of the
Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act. The act compels
the collection of information about the stop—such as the reason it
happened, how long it lasted, whether it resulted in an arrest, and
the race of the person stopped—and the release of that data to the
public. But the department has a troubled history with compliance.

In February, ACLU-DC sued the police department. “MPD has failed to
uphold its promise” of complying with the NEAR Act, the organization
wrote in a statement, and “as of February 2021, MPD has not published
any data since March 2020, and its published data only covers 6 months
in 2019. No data on stops conducted in 2020 has been published.”

Days after the ACLU-DC filed the lawsuit, the police released stop
data from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2020. The department released data
for the rest of 2020 the following month and promised a comprehensive
2020 stop data report in April. The 2019 data released in March 2020
was also released after a 2019 ACLU-DC lawsuit.

The veteran says in their letter that when a judge ordered the release
of stop data after the 2019 lawsuit, department command attempted to
“manipulate the results” in order to evade accusations of racial bias.
According to the veteran, one commander told officers to perform more
stops in parts of D.C. with white residents “to balance the number of
pedestrian stops against black individuals in her district.” Another
commander instructed police to perform more car stops of white drivers
“to neutralize the number of vehicle stops made against black
individuals in his district.”

The result was more racial profiling rather than a reduction in stops:
“Neither commander had a goal of decreasing unnecessary stops against
blacks, only to offset the total number by increasing target stops
against whites.”

Stop data shows that between July 22, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2019, 72
percent of all the department’s stops were of Black residents and 87
percent of “non-ticket stops” were of Black residents. Forty-six
percent of D.C.’s population is Black. A 2020 National Police
Foundation report revealed that between August 2019 and January 2020,
87 percent of stops, 91 percent of arrests, and 100 percent of
use-of-force incidents by the Narcotics and Specialized Investigations
Division, which includes GRU, were of Black people.

Although the Metropolitan Police Department is hesitant to release
stop data as required by the NEAR Act, the veteran wrote, it closely
tracks gun seizures, and command officers are held accountable for
those statistics: “If there is a drop in the total recoveries as
compared to the prior month, the Chief inquires as to why there is a
decrease and what the Commanders plan to do to restore the number of
recoveries. What is apparently absent in the agency’s review of gun
recoveries is how the guns were recovered, specifically the
constitutionality of the recovery.”

Each week, the department’s gun seizures are released publicly with
details about each gun, the name of the person who allegedly possessed
the gun, what they were charged with, and often a photograph of the

Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and the
author of “The End of Policing,” told The Appeal that this focus on
data conflates transparency with accountability.

“Both government officials and a lot of legal advocates come around to
this idea that since we can’t really change anything—or we don’t
really want to change anything—let’s collect some data,” Vitale said.
“But we don’t need to haggle over the data. We need to quit engaging
in this kind of enforcement.”

“The impression it leaves me, as a resident of the city,” said Patrice
Sulton, executive director of D.C. Justice Lab and a member of the DC
Police Reform Commission, “is that people in leadership care most
about the number of guns they collected. That’s the metric they are
paying attention to.”

According to department data, Dalonta Crudup’s Smith & Wesson M&P
Bodyguard .380 caliber handgun was one of 46 guns the GRU recovered
between Jan. 6 and Jan. 13 last year.

April Goggans of Black Lives Matter DC told The Appeal that the tactic
of displaying gun seizures for the public is an example of how the
police department’s “war on guns” mirrors the numbers game that fuels
the war on drugs.

“You remember they used to put all of the drugs and the money out on
the table?” Goggans said. “Now it’s all about guns right? And people
in the city care about guns so they’re like, ‘Get them off the street’
but you try to tell people that there’s this many stops, this many
searches, and they’re not finding a weapon most of the time—and the
homicides are going up.”

A February report by the District Task Force on Jails & Justice
analyzed 2019 NEAR Act data and found that out of 1,717 consent
searches, police seized just 19 guns. And 1,606 of those stops (94
percent) did not result in contraband seizures.

In 2007, the year the GRU was formed, there were 181 homicides in D.C.
In 2020, there were 198.

In the letter, the veteran expressed concern about a highly publicized
June 2018 incident in which the GRU searched a group of Black men
hanging out in front of Nook’s Barbershop in the majority-Black Ward
7. Video of the incident posted by Black Lives Matter DC showed
plainclothes GRU officers attempting to conduct a search of a man in
the group. When the man put his arms up, an officer pulled a gun from
his pants. Officers then told the group that they had probable cause
to search all of them for weapons.

The officers “then turned their attention to the other men present and
forced them all to submit to a frisk,” the veteran wrote. “The
justification the officers gave, which was supported by the Chief, was
if there was justification to frisk one person, there was
justification to frisk everyone.”

No other guns were seized by the GRU in front of the barbershop that
day. Ward 7 commissioner Anthony Lorenzo Green said residents believed
that police planted the weapon seized that day—a BB gun, which is
illegal to possess in D.C—and that it was taken from an undercover
officer, not a civilian, on the scene. “No one was arrested because
none of the other men had drugs or firearms in their possession,”
Green wrote in a June 24, 2018, letter to then-chief Newsham. “The
officers acknowledged they did not get a call for loitering… I am
convinced your department is not collecting that [NEAR Act] data
because you want to hide the fact that your officers are making up
opportunities to harass black and brown people in our city.” The
Metropolitan Police Department denied that the man was an undercover
officer and that the gun was planted.

During a 2018 D.C. City Council hearing held as a result of the
incident, then-Councilmember at-Large David Grosso asked Newsham, “Why
are we using the same tactics 30 years later?”

“It’s not the same tactics,” Newsham insisted.

Contee, then assistant chief, defended the incident to the council. He
said it was an example of “intelligent policing,” which he
differentiated from jump-outs because the cars parked in front of
Nook’s had tinted windows and officers observed people going in and
out of the vehicle. That was reasonable suspicion to search the group,
Contee explained.

BLM DC’s Goggans told The Appeal that the tactics displayed in the
Nook’s incident are commonplace within the GRU. She said the unit also
detains people who don’t have weapons on them until the person can
point them in the direction of a gun or someone who has a gun. “With
Gun Recovery, they will get guys and they will say, ‘We’ll let you go
if you call friends to bring a gun,’” Goggans said.

The veteran wrote that a 2018 video recorded by Ward 8 Councilmember
Trayon White is illustrative of this GRU tactic. The video shows two
teens detained for allegedly having an empty magazine.

“The GRU members told the teens they would not be released unless they
disclosed the location of a gun or a person armed with one,” the
veteran wrote. “MPD’s leadership has been made aware of this dubious
tactic yet has taken no corrective action.”

Goggans described the GRU engaging in targeted harassment such as
calling out the names of people while on patrol to “thank” them for
talking to them—a clear implication that they are informants, which
would threaten their safety in the neighborhood.

“The police see Black folks, people in this community, as enemy
combatants. So once you’ve determined somebody is an enemy combatant,
then the way you engage them is different,” Goggans said.

This “warrior” approach to policing is embraced by the GRU, Goggans
said. She cited a 2016 photo of GRU members posing in front of a flag
with “Gun Recovery Unit” written on it, along with the image of a
skull with a bullet hole between its eyes and the words “Vest Up One
In The Chamber.” The photo was part of a 2017 complaint by the
advocacy group Law for Black Lives. That same year, Goggans notes,
Officer Vincent Altiere of a plainclothes unit called Powershift was
photographed wearing a shirt featuring a Grim Reaper, a Celtic cross,
which is widely used as a white supremacist symbol, and the phrase
“let me see that waistband.”

D.C.’s war on guns raises constitutional concerns—and it also comes
with fatal consequences. On Sept. 3, 2020, Metropolitan Police
Department officers chased, shot, and killed Deon Kay after they said
they acted on a tip that someone in the area had guns in their
vehicle. Officers pursued Kay, who had a gun and ran. Although a GRU
officer did not kill Kay, the ACLU-DC connected his death to the
police’s focus on gun seizures.

“The D.C. police department’s approach to gun recovery has been
dangerous and ineffective for years,” ACLU-DC executive director
Monica Hopkins said. “The tragic shooting and death of 18-year-old
Deon Kay is the logical conclusion of a policy that not only meets
violence with violence, but actually escalates and incites
it—especially in our Black communities.”

Kay’s killing came after a summer of protests in D.C. against police
violence following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis—and months
after Mayor Muriel Bowser renamed two blocks of 16th Street NW “Black
Lives Matter Plaza.” Bowser, however, seemed to justify Kay’s death as
a necessary part of the police department’s war on guns.

“I know the officer was trying to get guns off the street,” Bowser
said. “And I know he encountered somebody with a gun.”

Sean Blackmon of Stop Police Terror Project D.C. told The Appeal that
Bowser’s stance on Kay is typical of a mayor who opposed the D.C.
Council defunding the police by $15 million last year, then requested
that $43 million be redirected to the police budget. Blackmon also
pointed out that Bowser supported “Mr. Stop and Frisk himself, Mike
Bloomberg” in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

“Bowser can wax poetic all she wants about George Floyd, but at the
end of the day, Muriel Bowser is guilty of facilitating the very same
kind of racist police here that killed George Floyd,” Blackmon said.

According to FiveThirtyEight, a Black person in D.C. is 7.3 times more
likely to be arrested than a white person and 13.4 times more likely
to be killed by a police officer.

Yet Bowser continues to support a 2019 citywide initiative called
felons-in-possession that makes gun possession a federal charge for
people with felony records, even though U.S. prosecutors revealed last
year that the policy was enacted only in majority-Black districts.
D.C. Attorney General Carl Racine called the initiative, which exposes
people to harsher sentencing, “discriminatory.” A group of Black
prosecutors also opposed it because of its “negative racial and social
impact,” and an April 2020 amicus curiae brief from ACLU-DC argued
that the initiative “makes federal cases out of purely local criminal

Bowser and then-chief Newsham both said they did not know
felons-in-possession was not being applied citywide. The initiative
remains in place today and has the support of Acting Chief Contee.
Biden-appointed Acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips recently
announced that felons-in-possession policy would remain in place even
though a former assistant U.S. attorney called it “racist, unjust and
unlawful” and said that Black people comprise 97 percent of
felons-in-possession charges.

The racial disparities perpetuated by these kinds of federal
initiatives has been known for decades. James Forman Jr.’s 2017 book
“Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America” notes that
during the 1990s, then-U.S. attorney for D.C. Eric Holder said of
Operation Ceasefire, which encouraged police to “stop cars, search
cars, seize guns”: “I’m not going to be naive about it. The people who
will be stopped will be young black males, overwhelmingly.”

GRU’s strategies resemble Holder’s Operation Ceasefire. He encouraged
officers to “wrangle consent,” Forman wrote, and “blur the distinction
between commands that a driver must obey (such as providing license
and registration, or stepping out of the car) and requests that he may
decline (such as giving permission to search).”

“But it was more than fear of crime or the credibility of black law
enforcement officials that sold Operation Ceasefire,” Forman
continued. “Also critical was the fact that the program targeted guns,
not drugs.”

The veteran criticized former police chief Newsham for not only
enabling the GRU but criticizing those who questioned the unit’s
tactics, including fellow law enforcement.

Newsham “blamed [prosecutors] when cases were thrown out for
procedural errors as opposed to using these cases as learning
opportunities to better train his officers,” the veteran wrote.

The dismissal of handgun charges against a Black man after federal
prosecutors said there was no probable cause for the arrest angered
Newsham, the veteran wrote. During one staff meeting, Newsham “called
the USAO [United States attorney’s office] ‘soft on crime’ and stated
judges were no better.”

Newsham, who is now the Prince William County police chief, responded
to The Appeal’s request for comment in an email from the department’s
Public Information Supervisor: “Chief Newsham believes these claims
are preposterous, inflammatory and/or noncontextualized, without
knowing who you spoke to or what their motive was for suggesting these
things, he would be unable to make any further comments on the matter.
As for Chief Contee, Chief Newsham has every confidence that he is a
very capable and committed police leader who will do what is in the
best interest of public safety in the District of Columbia.”

A 2018 report by the radio station WAMU that analyzed almost 500
Metropolitan Police Department gun cases filed between 2010 and 2015
showed that nearly 40 percent of those cases were dismissed.

“MPD historically, and more so over the past four years, has
demonstrated a pattern and practice of unconstitutional conduct,” the
veteran wrote. “Even after having these concerns brought to its
attention through citizen complaints, video footage of officer
conduct, dismissed criminal cases, lawsuits, and court orders, MPD
took no action to institute remedial training, implement new policy,
or issue any discipline to officers for Fourth amendment violations.
There is no accountability for these actions but instead plenty of
praise for these results.”

The veteran also argued that Contee, who replaced Newsham at the
beginning of the year, was complicit in GRU policy and practices.

“He was the Assistant Chief overseeing GRU,” the veteran wrote, during
a time period that includes the Nook’s Barbershop incident and the
recorded incident involving two teens. According to the veteran,
Contee did not make any “meaningful” changes to GRU’s roster, its
policies, or its training after those high-profile incidents.

“This statement is not accurate. The incident at Nook’s Barbershop was
investigated by our Internal Affairs Division and the allegations of
improper stops and searches were determined to be unfounded,” Metzger
of the police department’s communications office wrote to the Appeal.
“MPD is committed to listening and learning from the community and
recently announced a partnership with Howard University to host
community listening sessions.”

On Jan. 2, Contee was sworn in as chief, and he also spoke to the
media about Antonie Smith, who was shot and wounded by department
officers that morning. A resident had reported Smith was armed with a

“I have a swearing-in ceremony shortly in about an hour or so, but you
know, this will continue to be a fight for the Metropolitan Police
Department to get illegal guns off of our streets,” Contee said.

Three hours after the shooting, the police posted a photo of Smith’s
gun on the department’s Twitter account.

In the weeks leading up to the D.C. Council’s vote to confirm Contee
as Chief, he began talking reform. In a March 11 interview with the
Washington Post, Contee said the department needed “to think beyond
just getting the gun,” and change its approach on gun
policing—especially within the GRU.

“I want to be more strategic about getting the right guns out of the
wrong hands. We have already shifted resources to focus on an
intelligence-based policing approach to identify, interdict, and
interrupt violent offenders within the District,” Contee told the
Judiciary & Public Safety Committee on March 25. “The goal is to build
strong criminal cases on offenders and groups to ensure those repeat
offenders cannot continue to endanger our communities.”

The Post quoted an internal memo from Commander John Haines, head of
the Narcotics and Special Investigations Division, which houses the
GRU. “No longer are we focused on getting guns,” the memo reads. “The
focus will be on those that pull the trigger and directly or
indirectly harm others.”

On March 31, the Judiciary & Public Safety Committee unanimously
confirmed Contee, setting him up for a vote by the council on a date
to be announced.

The veteran told The Appeal that they are not surprised to see Contee
defending the GRU even as he calls for gun policing reforms. In the
Post, Contee said officers are not “stopping as many people as they
can to get whatever guns they need” and he does not “want that to be
the perception of what is happening.”

“I think he’s saying what people want to hear. By saying ‘I’m not
saying you’ve done anything wrong, we just need to change everything,’
he’s towing the line, he’s telling [the officers] ‘I got your back,’”
the veteran said. “Getting guns off the street is worthy, but we don’t
have to violate rights. It doesn’t help to make an arrest and violate
someone’s rights: The case gets thrown out, and the person goes free.”

In an email to The Appeal, Metzger pointed to the Violence Reduction
Unit, formed in 2020, as an example of how changes to gun policing
have already begun: “The goal of this Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) is
to build strong criminal cases on offenders and groups to ensure those
repeat offenders cannot continue to endanger our communities. The VRU
is already seeing success with its casework and MPD will continue to
work with residents to ensure that our strategies support—and don’t
undermine—the vibrant and safe communities where our residents—our
youth, families and seniors—can thrive and succeed.”

For Stop Police Terror Project D.C.’s Blackmon, announcing new
policing strategies and new units and denying the existence of
jump-outs is another way for the department to avoid responsibility
for its harmful and unconstitutional practices.

“They love to play those semantic games,” Blackmon said. “But at the
end of the day, if you’re violating my basic rights, if you’re abusing
me, if you’re beating me, if you end up killing me, you could call it
a pizza party—it doesn’t change what it is.”

Goggans recognizes that some Black residents of D.C. who endure most
of the city’s violent crime are willing to “trade off” freedoms for
feeling safer: “I feel like so many people are OK with [GRU] because
it’s like ‘good violence’ because it feeds off the fact that people
are rightfully fearful of violence.”

People accept this kind of policing because it is the only solution
offered by the city and substantively funded, Brooklyn College’s
Vitale explained.

“This is what we call a supply side strategy to managing gun violence,
right? Gun control laws, gun interdiction, gun enforcement. But D.C.
is not funding the demand side enough, which is, ‘What are we doing to
work with young people so that they don’t choose to pick up guns in
the first place?’” Vitale said. “Anyone Black in D.C. already knows
what’s going on. I think it’s pretty clear that that they just
shouldn’t be doing the vast majority of the stops and a huge amount of
them are pretextual.”

Sulton told The Appeal that “the message being sent to these officers
is they are to hunt guns and drugs,” and that D.C. is “trying to solve
violence with violence” and “trauma with trauma.”

“We can’t afford to keep doing this,” Sulton said.

A report released this month by the DC Police Reform Commission, of
which Sulton is a member, makes numerous police recommendations policy
including the immediate suspension of GRU and similar specialized
units “unless and until the Department produces data showing they
address violent and otherwise serious crime more effectively than
ordinary patrol units.”

Crudup attorney Bruckheim said that unlike Crudup and the other class
action clients, most arrestees in gun cases plead out, even when their
Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights have been violated. When they do not
enter a guilty plea or their charges are dismissed, the weapons
seizure has already been memorialized in police department data as

“At the end of the day, if they find a gun, they figure, ‘You know
what, we got a gun off the street. So who cares if we violated
someone’s rights,’” Bruckheim said. “But the fact is the Constitution
of the United States is not limited by geography. I understand how
some people will say, ‘What’s the big deal? At the end of the day,
they recovered contraband, the city’s a little safer and so on.’ But
you can’t go about it by violating the rights of citizens, number one.
No matter what.”

This article was originally featured at The Appeal and is republished
with permission.

More information about the cypherpunks mailing list