Monday, December 21, 2009

MPD Release Statement on Snowball-gate as (Inter)National Media Pick Up the Story

Greetings, fellow 14th and U-ers!  I hope everyone is enjoying the wintry festivities...which, near as I can tell, involve significant amounts of snow shoveling, driving either entirely too fast or too slow, and observing DC police officers brandishing weapons at a snowball fight.

Unless you've been living in an igloo during the past 24 hours, no doubt you've heard the story by now about the DC police detective who brandished his gun because his Hummer got hit with a few snowballs during yesterday's snowball fight at 14th and U streets.  There have been some conflicting reports about what precisely transpired, but here's the timeline of events as best we can distill them from the various media outlets now reporting this story.

It seems that the snowball fight, which was widely announced via Twitter and elsewhere (including, I noticed, DCist) was humming along quite well, with the exception of the quality of the snowballs themselves--powder snow doesn't pack, people.  (Unless you bring your watergun, in which case you are just not a very nice person.)  Some cars were hit with snowballs as they drove by, others were helped out of a snowy rut by some of the snowball fight participants (including, it seems a police car).  

But someone finally hit the wrong vehicle--that would be the Hummer driven by an off-duty MPD officer self-identified at the scene only as "Detective Baylor".  It seems Det. Baylor did not take too kindly to having his Hummer struck by some powdery snowballs, so he did what any right-thinking police officer might do:  he stepped out of his vehicle, brandished his weapon, and began threatening to make arrests.  Shortly thereafter, several other patrol cars showed up, apparently responding to reports of a man with a gun (ostensibly Det. Baylor who had not, according to any reports, identified himself as a police officer when he exited his vehicle.

The reason why Det. Baylor pulled his weapon was a matter of some dispute yesterday, until this video surfaced of Baylor angrily proclaiming that he had pulled his gun because he had "been hit with snowballs."  At least one person whom Baylor identified as having been the snowball hurlers were briefly detained and issued warnings

Clearly, this is some bad press for the MPD--and it has been drawing the attention of national news outlets, local blogs, and even international news agencies such as the BBC.  So how does the MPD respond?

By issuing a statement this evening acknowledging the officers who responded for "deescalat(ing) the situation quickly without incident or injury" and barely mentioning the fact that the off-duty officer pulled his weapon at all:

"The Metropolitan Police Department is looking into the circumstances involving the report of officers 'pulling their guns' on a crowd that had been throwing snowballs in the area of 14th and U Streets, NW.

On Saturday, December 19, 2009, an off-duty MPD member was reportedly operating his personal vehicle in the 1400 block of U Street, NW, when the vehicle was suddenly pelted with a barrage of snowballs. The member who was in plainclothes, stopped his vehicle to inspect for any damage that may have occurred. He then reportedly identified himself and went to investigate a crowd that had gathered as being the possible origins of the projectiles. Due to the number of individuals in the crowd and developing traffic conditions, the member called for assistance.

Arriving officers from the Third District responded to the scene for the report of a possible man with a gun incident unfolding at that location. Responding officers cautiously approached the scene as is protocol with a potentially dangerous assignment such as an armed individual, but at this time there is no evidence that they pointed any weapons in the direction of the crowd or at any individuals. Those officers were quickly able to ascertain that the individual in question was indeed a fellow sworn member and were able to deescalate the situation quickly without incident or injury.

The original videotape footage shown yesterday by a local media outlet did not appear to visibly show the off-duty member drawing his weapon during the course of his actions. However, the department has subsequently received additional images and statements that would seem to support the allegation that the off-duty member did pull a gun. The Metropolitan Police Department is intent on conducting a full investigation in determining all of the exact circumstances surrounding this incident.

The Metropolitan Police Department has truly appreciated the cooperation from the community as we all team together to tackle the many challenges encountered during these severe weather conditions."

Now, 14thandYou wasn't there for the fight, and we aren't in a position to take sides here. But there is documented proof that the Detective exited his vehicle and drew his weapon because he had been hit by snowballs. We can all agree that hitting any cars--particularly those carrying MPD officers--with snowballs shows very poor judgment. But does the MPD view the Detective's actions to be an appropriate response? Their statement merely re-states the obvious, so no clues can be drawn from that. Clearly, some at the scene were frightened enough to call the police regarding the Detective's actions. And so, we're left waiting for another statement by the MPD, including an official identification of the officer in charge.

What's interesting is that people are in near-universal agreement over how this situation could have been easily defused: either the officer could have simply continued on driving through. Or, he could have gotten into the spirit of a city that had ground to a halt in light of an historic amount of snow, gotten out of his vehicle, and hurled a few snowballs back. That is, if he could have found some snow of the non-powdered variety.


Anonymous said...

This police statement is not accurate. I was not 50 feet from the Hummer and the detective when he got out of his vehicle.

While the planners of the event apparently were a small group of Twitter-using anti-war protesters, this was not a "protest" even if there was one sign present. It was an everyone-join-in-the-fun neighborhood snowball fight. Plenty of people (like me) were passing neighbors having a blast participating or just watching. I've seen reports about "enviro-wackos" and "Twittering hipsters." Hmm...that's a bit bizarre.

While the crowd skewed young, for sure, there were plenty of other folks like myself and older. I'm a 46 year-old neighborhood resident of 8 years who was enjoying taking photos and video of the event. It was not (as some reports have suggested) just "white hipsters." There were whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians just having fun. It did not have to end like it did.

FROM THE POLICE STATEMENT: "The member who was in plainclothes, stopped his vehicle to inspect for any damage that may have occurred."

WRONG. The vehicle was stopped at the light when the barrage of mushy snowballs hit his car. He never "inspected" his vehicle. He got out and immediately walked around to the right side of the Hummer where the snowball came from and drew his gun within 10 seconds.

FROM THE POLICE STATEMENT: "He then reportedly identified himself and went to investigate a crowd that had gathered as being the possible origins of the projectiles. Due to the number of individuals in the crowd and developing traffic conditions, the member called for assistance."

WRONG. He never identified himself and never showed a badge. He took the gun from the holster on his right hip and then moved it to his left hand. He then pulled out a walkie talkie with his right hand on which he called for backup (I assume). The detective was hit by snowballs twice during this time (an incredibly stupid thing by whoever did it, but keep in mind that most people did not know this was a policeman). There were no "developing traffic conditions" other than a few cars stopped behind him when he got out of his car in the middle of the street.

The officer never pointed the weapon at anyone but he did hold it up.

All of the cars that were struck before this were either stopped at the light or going no more than 5 mph. The snow was so mushy you could barely make it stick together. These were not hard iceballs. The actual risk to drivers or passengers was VERY small.

While snowball-throwing on the street is not something to encourage, numerous police had driven by without intervening. Some had even stopped and observed for a while before leaving. I even witnessed one officer drive past while holding up an iPhone taking photos or video of the scene. He was grinning.

There was no significant "public safety" issue here. People who say the was were not there.

This would have been a non-event if the detective in the Hummer had either driven away like the other police did, or (if he felt the need to enforce the letter of the law) gotten out and approached the crowd holding up a badge rather than a gun.

Bottom line: A very small number of the snowball throwers were immature jerks, for sure, but the detective went way overboard by responding with a drawn weapon. It is disturbing to think that a man with his judgment carries a badge in our city. Think about all the tense situations he must be involved with where there are not cameras rolling.

Detective Baylor should be disciplined.

Anonymous said...

I live around the corner, and was walking back from Yes during the snowball fight. I was not there when the Detective got out, etc. However, my thoughts: This was a stupid place for a snowball fight. It was stupid and immature for the snowball fight participants to throw snowballs at cars and/or non-participants. The police should have broken up the snowball fight and/or suggested they move it to Dupont Circle, Meridian Hill Park, Logan Circle, or some other park land away from even the possibility of cars or snowplows (albeit, there were *very* few cars about) that could swerve out of control and head into a mass of people. There is absolutely no justification for taking a weapon out of its holster to do the above. Badge? Absolutely, and should have been held up. Then we would just have whiny citizens complaining about how they can't have any fun (oh, and they would be whining). But a gun? Thats more than poor judgment, its a safety hazard--especially given the circumstances in which it was out (mess of people, snowballs being thrown, icy conditions, etc.).

Anonymous said...

This detective obviously does not have the proper temperment to be a member of the MPD. He was not in a dangerous or hostile situation, nor was anyone's life in danger. Yet he responded in a manner that can only be described as 'hotheaded'. His lack of judgment would only be exacerbated in an actual emergency situation.

Removing this individual from the MPD is appropriate before his inability to react rationally gets someone killed.

Shaw/Logan/U Street Resident

Anonymous said...

This was a terrible situation. I have been a washingtonian my whole life and I have never witnessed anything like this. I think that the detective should have kept driving because it wasn't worth the time and he was limited to certain things you can do but as a sworn officer, he has the right to get involved in an event that he witness that may be considered dangerous. When the officer got out of the vehicle, he stated that "I am a detective for MPD". No one was listening and no one could hear him because of the confusion. He had a gold badge on a clamp on his waist but I don't think anyone was paying attenion. He then pulled out a black 9mm and put it in his left hand and he pulled out a walkie talkie and had it in his other hand. I immediately knew he was an officer. I believe he was radio dispatching to report what was going on. He never pointed his gun at anyone or threatened to shoot anyone. I think that he didn't know how to handle the large crowd and if we would have attacked him, he wouldn't have been able to defend himself. We could have taken his car of just beat him up really bad. He seemed to be old and out of shape. If he would have pulled out his badge from off hit waist it wouldn't have served much purpose because no one knew what kind of badge it was. It could have been a badge for the fire department or a security officer's badge. There was no way he could have apprehended anyone because it was too many of us and plenty of people were shouting things and throwing things. Based on the shoes he had on, I don't think he could have ran after anyone. He gave several orders like "stop right there" and "don't throw anymore snowballs" but no one was listening. As a citizen I was more shocked then scared. I see officers pull there guns out all the time (MPD) for simple things such as traffic stops. If there are alot of young people that fit the description of a mencace then officers don't hesitate to have their guns drawn. I think that he didn't know what to do or if anyone had a weapon on them. I think it has alot to do with race also. If an officer that was Caucasian was driving in a high poverty area like barry farms and he got out with his weapon drawn while surrounded by mainly young african americans and maybe even shot rounds then I think people would say that he feared for his life and its ok and that its a good enough justification for why he pulled out his weapon. The detective has been on the force for a long time and has a clean record but that just goes to show that all it takes is for one bad decision or for the cameras to be rolling because it happens more often then people think. Just not to the people of that community.