WASHINGTON - D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III announced Friday that seven D.C. police officers and supervisors are under investigation for confiscating illegal guns without making arrests.
In internal messaging right after and in a public press release issued on Monday, the head of the D.C. Police Union called Contee's news conference "bizarre."
"It is not unusual, and completely within the law and policy, for officers to identify a subject who is in possession or constructive possession of a firearm, then submit the weapon for processing to make a stronger case against the suspect. In every single one of these cases, this is the situation," the union states in the press release.
D.C. Police Union Chairman Gregg Pemberton told FOX 5: "We’re confused. We’re not understanding what’s going on here because for every single one of these cases, those guns have been seized. They’ve been placed on the evidence book, and they’re pending investigation either waiting on information for forensic reports from the department of forensic science, or we’re waiting on an arrest warrant to be signed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. This is exactly the type of policing that he said he wants – this intelligence led policing, based on due diligence and actual investigations."
"In these cases the suspect was not arrested, and the suspect should’ve been arrested," Contee explained during last Friday evening’s press conference. "The firearm was taken and placed into evidence, however, the suspect was allowed to go free, and that’s just not the way that we conduct business in the Metropolitan Police Department."
The investigation into the officer's alleged misconduct began when a community member made an unrelated complaint against D.C. officers on Sept. 11, Contee said. While investigating that complaint, officials discovered a separate incident in which two officers had confiscated an illegal gun from a suspect without arresting that suspect.
Contee went on to explain that while those officers placed the gun into evidence, their written version of what happened during the seizure did not match body camera footage of the incident.
At that point, officials continued their review and ended up finding five more members of the department who had been involved in similar incidents, according to the chief of police.
In total, two sergeants and five officers connected to the 7th District Crime Suppression Team have now been placed on non-contact status while the internal investigation continues.
Since the announcement, various sources have reached out to FOX 5 questioning the actions of the two officers. Some, defended the team members’ actions as officers doing what they were directed to do.
FOX 5 asked Pemberton about the first two officers in question but was told MPD did not inform the union of any investigations before the Friday news conference – and as of mid-Monday, had yet to do so.
The union chairman says the directive for more "intelligence-based" policing became more prevalent after a violent incident regarding an officer on the same team went viral last year.
Pemberton says afterword, the chief hosted training sessions with the crime suppression teams, wanting to have less of those types of interactions.
"What he himself said at these training situations is that he wanted to make sure that officers were doing their due diligence. That they were doing their investigations and weren’t just randomly locking-up people for guns," Pemberton said.
Pemberton also told FOX 5 there is no MPD policy that requires officers to make an arrest when a gun is seized. He described the decision at the officer’s discretion.
He also pointed to the 2021 Emergency Police Reform Act, which no longer makes it a crime for a police officer not to arrest a perpetrator. A D.C. Council spokesperson says that change was made for domestic violence cases and should not override any MPD policy on gun seizures.
FOX 5 reached out to MPD regarding gun seizure and chain of custody policies. MPD Spokesperson Dustin Sternbeck shared this with FOX 5:
"The procedures for gun and property seizures including chain of custody are generally described in GO 304.08 (Crime Scene Response and Evidence Collection) as well as GO 601.01 (Recording, Handling, and Disposition of Property Coming into the Custody of the Department). Regarding arrests, GO 201.26 (Duties, Responsibilities and Conduct of Members of the Department) requires that when an officer has probable cause to believe that a felony has been committed and that a person is guilty of that felony, the person shall be taken into custody, if appropriate. Finally, the procedures for obtaining a warrant can be found in GO 702.01 (Arrest Warrants)."
"I’m sure every person who had a loved one who was killed would love to know, ‘Was any of these guns connected to someone who killed my loved one?" said Anthony Muhammad, MPD 7D Citizens Advisory Council President.
Delonte Gholston, a pastor on the police reform commission, told FOX 5 the team in question was the police chief’s team before he was tapped to lead the police department and that there are many people wanting to know how deep and where this investigation goes.
Pemberton tells FOX 5 all of the police paperwork has to be approved by a lieutenant or above and that there’s "no way" higher-ups were not aware.
FOX 5 also asked D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser about the claim MPD members were doing what they were instructed to do by leadership.
"The xhief thinks that it’s not done according to protocol, that’s why he’s investigating," Mayor Muriel Bowser said. "So yes, we do want our members to take guns off the street. And if they stop someone with a gun, the appropriate thing to do is also to make an arrest. So I think that is the concern. But again, I think the chief will have more specific information – but bottom line is there were guns removed from the street from dangerous people."
None of the names of the MPD members now under investigation have been released. Chief Contee said investigators have found a total of seven similar incidents, all of which occurred in the 7th District, which is located in Southeast.
As far as why this has happened, Contee said he doesn’t know.
"I can’t even speculate as to why that is," Contee told reporters Friday.That’s not the way that we train, it’s not the way that I’ve been trained, it’s not what we expect of our members. We expect our members that when they encounter armed individuals on the street who are in possession of illegal firearms that those people are taken into custody. In these cases, that did not happen. I wish I could tell you why. At this stage of the investigation I don’t know why."
Contee said the other members of that unit have been temporarily reassigned while this investigation continues. MPD says those positions are being filled by CST members from other districts.