By: Allan M. Siegel
Under District of Columbia law, a “special police officer”
is a person who is legally vested with the power to make arrests in a
specific area. Most often, special police officers protect the property
of private entities. For example, many special police officers work as
security guards on private land.
On November 1, 2015, two special police officers were involved in an incident
with 27 year-old Alonzo Smith on the grounds of an apartment complex in
the District. Smith was seen running across the grounds, shirtless and
shoeless, yelling for help and acting erratically. The special police
officers physically subdued him by forcing him to the ground on his chest,
and one officer knelt on Smith’s back. Smith then stopped breathing
and, although the officers attempted to revive him using CPR, Smith went
into cardiac arrest and died. An autopsy determined the cause of death
to be homicide, revealed high levels of cocaine in Smith’s bloodstream.
Last month, federal prosecutors decided there was insufficient evidence
to charge the officers with murder. This has not satisfied Smith’s
mother, who notes that she still has not been told the identities of the
special police officers.
The special police officers’ conduct may or may not have been wrongful.
Unfortunately, criminal investigations by the government can leave many
questions unanswered. However, Smith’s mother still has the option
to bring a civil lawsuit against the officers and/or their employers,
to find answers for herself. Winning a civil lawsuit is easier than winning
a criminal prosecution: as long as the plaintiff can show that the defendants
probably committed wrongful conduct (instead of
beyond a reasonable doubt), then the plaintiff will win.
Police keep us safe and enforce the law, but individual police officers
should also be held accountable when they cross the line and needlessly
injure or kill citizens. If you or anyone you know has been the victim
of police brutality, you should contact the personal injury attorneys
at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., for a free consultation.