Washington, District of Columbia
April 26, 2003
Cause of death: Shooting
Last updated: almost 2 years ago
Attorneys for the family of a 23-year-old woman fatally wounded by D.C. police last month accused the department yesterday of protecting the "rogue" officer who shot the young mother in her apartment building in Southeast Washington.
Gregory L. Lattimer and Malik Z. Shabazz said they have three witnesses who contradict police accounts that Charquisa Johnson was holding a 9mm pistol when she was shot in the stairwell of her building in the 2300 block of Green Street SE. The attorneys said the witnesses maintain that Johnson had her hands up and was unarmed.
Police have said they shot Johnson at 10 p.m. April 26 after encountering her holding the pistol on the stairwell. When one officer said, "Police -- Drop the gun," Johnson looked up and raised the weapon, police said. Officer John Fitch then shot her once in the upper chest. She was pronounced dead at Howard University Hospital.
Police have said they recovered the pistol at the scene, an assertion repeated by Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday. Fitch, 29, has been on administrative leave while his conduct is reviewed by the police department's internal affairs department. The U.S. attorney's office, which reviews all shootings involving police, also is investigating.
Shabazz and Lattimer, who have criticized the police in other cases involving allegations of abuse, went to the apartment building yesterday to announce the family's plans to sue the city next week.
"A complete cover-up is going on in regards to this case," Shabazz told reporters during a news conference on the landing where Johnson collapsed.
Shabazz said the weapon was part of a police effort to hide what happened. "If there is a gun involved, it was planted," he said.
Questions about the incident surfaced almost immediately after the shooting, but police say their investigation has found no evidence to contradict Fitch's account. He has been on the force for three years.
Fitch and other 7th District officers were responding to a report of gunfire near 15th and V streets SE when they heard what they believed were shots from the nearby Galen Terrace Apartments.
When police arrived at the string of three-story white-brick buildings, Fitch found his way to Johnson's building, police said.
What happened next is where the accounts diverge.
The attorneys said neighbors have told them that the officers must have heard firecrackers, not gunfire. They said police were told about firecrackers as soon as they arrived that night.
Lattimer and Shabazz said that three witnesses -- two teenagers who had just come out of the apartment next door and a 6-year-old who was across the hall -- say that Johnson was not armed and that she held her hands up as Fitch had ordered.
Outside the building where Johnson died, neighbors have displayed flowers, balloons and dozens of stuffed animals in memory of Johnson, who had a 5-year-old son, Remy, and a 7-month-old daughter, Ja'Pria.
Joey Grady, Johnson's boyfriend and the father of Ja'Pria, stood in silence as the attorneys spoke, but afterward, he talked briefly and softly about Johnson.
"She was a beautiful person," he said. "She was a full-time mother. She enjoyed it."
Grady was in the apartment when Johnson was shot and did not see what happened, he said. All he can remember, he said, is hearing her cries of pain, which seemed to go on forever. "She was just screaming," he said.
Now he wants to right the wrong he believes was done in that hallway.
"None of this going to court is going to bring her back," he said. "I just want justice -- for the children, me and the rest of the family."
Staff writer David Nakamura contributed to this report.
Attorney Malik Shabazz, right, demonstrates how Charquisa Johnson, 23, held her hands moments before an officer shot her. He and attorney Gregory Lattimer, left, disputed police assertions that Johnson had a gun. Sadie Turner rearranges a teddy bear memorial outside Johnson's apartment in Southeast Washington. Johnson had two young children.