Last month an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., was placed on “noncontact status” after he was accused of wearing a shirt bearing an image of the Grim Reaper, the name of his police unit and a symbol believed to represent racist ideology. On Tuesday a judge dismissed a gun-possession case over questions about whether the arresting officers wore or had a part in designing the shirt in question.
Prosecutors had submitted a request to delay the trial of 24-year-old Carlos Johnson pending the outcome of an internal police investigation into the controversial T-shirts, but the Washington Post reports that D.C. Superior Court Judge Maribeth Raffinan rejected the request and dismissed the case without prejudice.
Johnson was allegedly found carrying a 9 mm handgun in December, and his trial was set to begin Tuesday. He previously pleaded guilty in a case of assault with a dangerous weapon that involved a handgun.
As previously reported on The Root, Law4BlackLives, a group of lawyers who support the Black Lives Matter movement, filed a complaint with the Police Department after seeing an officer wearing the offensive shirt out in public and in D.C. Superior Court.
In a photo taken by the group, the T-shirt features a Grim Reaper wearing an MPD badge and holding a rifle. The D.C. flag is in the backdrop, and the words “Powershift” and “Seventh District” surround the Grim Reaper. In place of the “o” in the word “powershift” is a Celtic cross, a symbol that the Anti-Defamation League says is used by white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
In smaller letters below the Reaper, the phrase “Let me see that waistband jo” appears. According to Law4BlackLives, that is short for “jump-outs,” a more aggressive form of stop and frisk that targets men of color in searches for weapons.
In a statement at the time, Law4BlackLives said: “This shirt is offensive and indicates systemic bias in the policing of people of color. White supremacy and insinuated threats of death should never be associated with or tolerated in police departments who are sworn to protect and serve.”
According to the Post, the two officers involved in Johnson’s arrest also belong to the Powershift Unit in the 7th District. That unit patrols high-crime areas for weapons recovery and drug activity.
From the Post:
On July 30, the day before Johnson’s trial was to begin, prosecutors sent an email to the defense saying it was “possible” that one of those officers had a role in designing the shirt. In the email, which was included in the court file, prosecutors called the information “hearsay” and said they were investigating the allegation.
In court hearings that stretched over Monday and Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Rakoczy told the judge that it was unclear whether either of the officers involved in Johnson’s case had worn the T-shirt. But to make sure, she wanted to wait until police completed their inquiry.
The Post reports that in a transcript of the proceedings, Kate Rakoczy said, “The government very much wants this matter to be thoroughly and effectively investigated so MPD can make the decisions it needs to make about what’s appropriate so that we can decide what to do with this information with our own cases.”
There’s a reason we need to pay close attention to the last sentence in that Rakoczy quote.
Because the case was dismissed without prejudice, Johnson could be charged again with the same crimes.
The fact that this case can be dismissed without prejudice to allow him to be prosecuted again means that the law is more concerned with making sure that any possible case is always prosecuted, and less concerned that the police force might be racist and corrupt.
William Alley, of the Public Defender Service, represented Johnson, and he opposed a trial delay. The Post reports that he sought to have the officers questioned about the meaning and the origin of the shirt to determine whether there had been any bias against Johnson, who is black.
Even if the officers in question are found to have sewn the shirts in their own living rooms each night after their shifts, Johnson could still face the same charges that were just dismissed.
There really isn’t any justice at all.
Read more at the Washington Post.