Following Up on the Victim of a Violent Capitol Hill Assault – Action of Police Officers Scrutinized
by Larry Janezich
The violent assault on the 400 block of 4th Street, SE, on August 23rd, first reported by Capitol Hill Corner, has resulted in an administrative action regarding the two officers who responded to the crime. MPD officials have reviewed the video from the officers’ body cameras to determine whether their actions were appropriate in light of the seriousness of the victim’s injuries. If officers failed to correctly describe the extent of the victim’s injuries, that could be a reason MPD failed to send out an email alert to the community – standard procedure when a crime of significant interest to the community occurs. If found at fault, the officers could receive a censure, a reprimand, or suffer other corrective action. (Since this is an internal police matter, the outcome is unlikely to be made public.)
The new information came from MPD First District Captain John Knutsen, in a hallway discussion outside of ANC6B’s monthly meeting in Hill Center Tuesday night. Knutsen was at the meeting at the request of Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk to address community concerns about the assault.
Knutsen told the ANC that the crime was very out of character for the neighborhood, calling it a “strange one” in that there was no attempt at robbery. Asked if police had a suspect Knutsen said he could not say, citing the on-going investigation, but added, “The case has gotten a lot of attention, and hopefully, we’ll have closure.” Asked about additional foot patrols, he said MPD adjusts deployments constantly, depending on calls for service.
When his time for Q&A before the Commission expired, a group of residents who live close to the crime scene continued voicing their concerns outside the meeting room and Knutson imparted the new information about the internal administrative action in response to a question.
Regarding the email notification of the assault to subscribers to the Police-Community Online Email List Groups (sign up here: https://bit.ly/2MsEXm3) Knutson said “It should have happened – it didn’t. Watch commanders and lieutenants in the First District have undergone training to make them more cognizant of the type of crime that warrants a community alert.”
Capitol Hill Corner reached out to the assault victim, Lexi (last name withheld), to ask for her assessment of how the city had responded in the aftermath of the assault. CHC’s take away from that conversation was that critical institutions had let her down. Upper echelons of MPD – including First District Commander Kane – appear to have been fairly responsive and compassionate, acknowledging that the community didn’t know what happened and should have. Detectives and patrol officers – less so.
For example, MPD detectives didn’t supply crime victim compensation information to Lexi until after Kane asked Lexi it she had received it. Detectives are supposed to provide that automatically during the follow up interview. (For more on the Crime Victims Compensation Program – see here: https://bit.ly/2xeTo7H). In addition, detectives appear to have been somewhat casual in their efforts to bring the case to closure. The often-voiced perception of many residents is that MPD too frequently appears to go through the motions, leaving residents with the impression that assaults are not taken seriously.
A second institution which failed Lexi was the Emergency Room at George Washington Hospital. It was only after returning home after the eight hour visit on the day of the attack that Lexi found out on line about the ER’s list of counseling centers to help victims of violence. When she followed up with a question about it, she was told: “Yes, that exists, and you should have gotten it.”
In the aftermath of the attack, Lexi says she is struggling mentally. This week is the first since the attack she has felt confident enough to walk in the neighborhood unaccompanied and still feels the sense of being traumatized while walking around Capitol Hill. Physically, she says her face and nose are healing following surgery, though she still has “big bruises.”
Regarding the things that have gone right, Lexi says she feels lucky this happened in a residential neighborhood and people responded – unlike the vicious assault on TC Maslin near Eastern Market. (In 2012, Maslin was brutally assaulted but not found until hours afterward. See here: https://wapo.st/2OiCWuq)
Asked to sum up, Lexi said, “The Hill is not as safe a place as we think it is. A lot happens we don’t know about unless we hear it from friends and neighbors.” She says she will follow up in her neighborhood by organizing more interaction with the neighbors – Neighborhood Watch and neighborhood police walks – to fill in the gaps.
Capitol Hill Corner reached out to Commander Kane for comment. Kane said she would address anything the MPD can do better and has had a conversation with her “white shirts” regarding remedial management.
Recently, MPD has made a greater effort to distribute crime alerts to the Police-Community Online Email List and to encourage residents to subscribe to the list. However, only 6000 households currently subscribe and how many of these are in the First District is unclear. It would seem that ANC Commissioners could be more involved in the protection of their single member districts by subscribing to the email list and forwarding alerts in their contact lists – maybe some do already. Residents can help protect themselves and their neighborhoods by doing the same.