Newsham also maintains that the department has not yet disciplined McConnell, even though the detective has been stripped of his badge and gun and strapped to a desk on “non-contact” duty for nearly two years.
Newsham says the Use of Force Review Board is charged only with analyzing and making recommendations: “The Chief of Police or her designee has the final word on disciplinary matters for the agency. To suggest that a member has been punished or disciplined before final agency action has been taken would be completely inaccurate.”
Yet the department’s own 2007 annual report says the opposite: “The Board is responsible for determining the final agency disposition for the use of force cases it reviews.”
Newsham declined to comment on Kevin McConnell’s case except to say, “No final agency action has been taken here.”
The family of Jason Taft took action on January 29. Taft’s sister, Christol English, filed a six-count wrongful-death suit against the District and McConnell. She asked for $25 million plus punitive damages and court costs.
The civil case alleges that McConnell never identified himself as a police officer. It says Taft tried to escape. “Unlike defendant McConnell,” it says, “plaintiff’s decedent was unarmed.” It describes McConnell as “out of control and deranged.”
DC attorney Gregory Lattimer represents Christol English. He also represents the family of DeOnte Rawlings, a 14-year-old shot by police in 2007. The department ruled that shooting to have been justified.
Lattimer says the department is treating McConnell with “kid gloves” and adds, “It’s mind-boggling to me. He shot a guy in the back when he was running away from him. Nobody can say he was facing a threat.”
Lattimer never met Taft, but he describes him as an electrician working for a construction company. “He was a regular guy making a living at a decent job,” Lattimer says. “He did have prior arrests for DUI and stuff. He wasn’t a thug.”
But Jason Taft had been arrested a dozen times since 2000. The charges included assault on a female, car theft, “terroristic threats and acts,” felony theft, and disorderly conduct. According to police records, Taft had pleaded guilty to assault and destruction of property.
Five months before his encounter with McConnell—on March 3, 2007—Taft was arrested and jailed for assaulting a police officer. Superior Court judge Jeanette Clark tried Taft on July 10. She found him guilty of two counts and ordered him to serve 80 days in jail.
If Clark had enforced the full sentence, Taft would have been in jail on August 3, when he attacked McConnell. But Judge Clark suspended 73 days, so Taft served a week in jail. He was on probation for assaulting a cop when he attacked McConnell.
Michelle McConnell says she’s not surprised her husband has been sued for $25 million. “Word on the street is DC pays,” she says. “If you sue the city, you are likely to get a settlement of some kind.”
Michelle sits in the screened porch of her hilltop home. Megan, almost two, plays with the family’s four Labrador retrievers and shuttles between her mom, McConnell, and their friend Eddie Wise. McConnell and Wise have been buddies since McConnell joined the force in 1997. Now they work on cars and talk about the department.
“I would like to see some changes made to the whole disciplinary policy,” says Wise. A patrol officer for many years, he now works in the forensics lab. “You can’t have higher-ups making rash decisions that disrupt the lives of officers for no good reason.”
Says McConnell: “The department doesn’t stand behind us. In every situation, it seems to say, ‘Let’s find out what this officer did wrong.’ They only look for the negatives.
“I went through a lot of emotional pain over almost being killed and then shooting someone,” he says. “But the way the department has treated me has caused even more pain.
“I feel the department would rather I was the one who had died that night. They could have made me a hero who died in the line of duty and been done with it.”
Michelle McConnell nods. “Now,” she says, “I have to go to work every day at a place that’s trying to fire my husband.”