DC Police Union tells FOX 5: Members told they cannot enforce COVID-19 executive orders

The D.C. Police Union president tells FOX 5 their members were told they cannot enforce COVID-19 executive orders, information that comes after the mayor announced at a Monday news conference, she has directed the police chief to break-up illegal gatherings of over 50 people.

“My instruction to the chief of police is that we shouldn’t have large illegal gatherings, especially if they are on public property. And he will work with his team on a strategy to do that,” said Mayor Bowser, who also added, “…and we need the public to do its part by following the health guidance by not breaking the law, by not closing-down the street, illegally or gathering illegally. So we need the public to do its part and the police will have to use some discretion on what events need police enforcement.”

READ MORE: DC mayor highlights COVID-19 contact tracing home visits amid flurry of headlines

The mayor’s announcement Monday comes some five months after she issued an executive order prohibiting gatherings of over 50 people due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Other officials, when asked about the mayor’s new direction, reminded FOX 5 that under the current executive order, violations involving over 50 people gathered may be punishable with a civil penalty of up to a $1,000 fine.

However, other sources raised questions on whether the language of the executive order legally gives police the authority to enforce them.

DC Police Union Chairman Gregg Pemberton confirms for FOX 5 the directions their union members received under the city’s Phase 2 COVID19 reopening plan read: “Members shall not take enforcement action, either through custodial or non-custodial (61-D) arrests, against members of the public for violations of the Mayor’s Order.”

“The incident that occurred last week on Dubois Place SE is not only tragic, but it is one of the worst mass shootings in the history of the District. It seems that there is a suggestion that this tragedy should be blamed on a group of party-goers rather than the violent criminals that unloaded their illegal firearms into a crowd,” wrote D.C. Police Union President Gregg Pemberton in a statement to FOX 5 DC. The union leader goes on to say, “While it is important that people respect and follow social distancing orders, the priority of the police department should be arresting violent felons, not enforcing civil infractions. Additionally, the current orders prevent MPD from taking any enforcement action against citizens for violations of the Mayor’s Order.”

His statement ends with: “In an environment where people can’t seem to decide if they want more policing or less, the members of the DC Police Union will always be committed to bringing the persons responsible to justice and keeping our most vulnerable neighborhoods safe.”

READ MORE: DC commander warned of potential gun violence days before Southeast block party ends in mass shooting

DC Police are still asking for the community’s help in identifying at least four gunmen who opened fire. There is a $75,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Reviewing COVID19 executive order enforcement orders issued to MPD, members were instructed to notify the individuals involved of their health and safety risks or provide a warning if they observe a violation. An example of what to say was given to MPD members.

Families of 17-year-old Christopher Brown, killed in the August 9th Dubois PL SE mass shooting, and of 20-year-old Jordyn Simons, who her parents say was killed at an illegal gathering on July 3rd, have repeatedly asked why the events their loved-ones attended were not broken up due to the current COVID19 restrictions in place.

Twenty-one other people, including an off-duty police officer who was severely injured, were shot at the Dubois PL SE mass shooting. An MPD spokesperson tells FOX 5 the officer is still in the hospital recovering.

Last Friday, FOX 5 learned through sources that the 6th District Commander emailed various MPD colleagues and government entities including the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement and the Department of Youth Services, warning about potential gun violence concerns connected to the block party planned for Dubois Place SE. The email was sent two days before the party.

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On Monday, FOX 5 asked the mayor her response to the email regarding the 6th District Commander’s warning.

“What I would tell you is there are a lot of people responsible for public safety in the community, but no more than the commander and the management team in that district, so the commander, the lieutenants and the patrol officers, along with MPD management has to have a plan,” said Mayor Bowser.

The mayor also confirmed public safety leaders are considering using other entities – such as the city’s violence interrupters – to help break-up a potentially problematic gathering before police need to step-in.

DC Police are still investigating what efforts were made to break-up the Dubois PL SE block party, which officials also confirmed, involved illegal public drinking and drug usage. FOX 5 learned almost 30 9-1-1 calls were made complaining of the event, starting at least three hours before shots were fired.

Before learning of the previous enforcement direction given to MPD members, FOX 5 reached out to MPD for a response to illegal gathering enforcement.

A spokesperson with the Metropolitan Police Department wrote:

"Clearly, MPD has a public safety responsibility and role in protecting all members of the community, which includes those who may be impacted by large gatherings that violate the Mayor's Order and unnecessarily put vulnerable members of the community at risk. As always, we will work with our partners to educate the public and encourage voluntary compliance."