DC Chief Slams Officer over Gun at Snowball Fight

By Nafeesa Syeed | December 21, 2009 | 3:35 PM EST

A group takes part in an impromptu snowball fight that took over the intersection of 14th and U Streets during a snow storm in Washington, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009. The event was organized by a Twitter group calling for people to gather and participate and more then 200 people showed up. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Washington (AP) - Washington's police chief criticized a veteran detective Monday for pulling a gun during a mass snowball fight. Authorities said the officer is on desk duty while the case is under investigation.
Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said she had watched video clips from the weekend confrontation and has no doubt that the off-duty officer pulled his gun after snowballs hit his personal vehicle during Saturday's record snowfall.
"Let me be very clear in stating that I believe the actions of the officer were totally inappropriate!" Lanier said in a statement. "In no way should he have handled the situation in this manner."
Hundreds of people were gathered for the snowball fight on a major street during Saturday's snowstorm.
One video posted on YouTube showed a man holding what appears to be a gun in the snowy street. Another video shows the same man telling people he is "Detective Baylor" and that he pulled his gun because he was hit by snowballs.
Videos also show a uniformed police officer holding his gun by his side before holstering it again. Police said in a statement Sunday that the uniformed policeman was there in response to a call about an armed man, acted appropriately and did not point his weapon at anyone.
Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters Monday that the detective has been placed on desk duty and his badge and weapon have been withdrawn. He did not identify the officer but described him as a veteran detective with more than 25 years of experience.
"He has a very good reputation," he said.
Newsham said the internal affairs division wants to complete its investigation as quickly as possible, within a number of weeks.
"We have to put the whole incident into context," he said.
There could be a recommendation to discipline the detective, which could range from a reprimand to removal, he said.
Police have at least two videos of the incident, and Newsham said there could be more as the footage shows other people with cell phones and cameras. Police are working to obtain any additional material and will continue to speak to witnesses. He asked people to contact police if they have more footage or to make a report about it.
It's unclear why the officer stopped in the first place, Newsham said. There were no arrests, he said.
Newsham praised the work of other officers who arrived at the scene and de-escalated the situation.
He called the incident "very disappointing" as video of it garnered national attention after circulating on the Internet.
"It does bring a negative light" on the department, he said. Newsham said the incident detracts from the work that day of hundreds of officers who helped people in the snow and directed traffic.

New law aids access to government records in Pa.
Associated Press Writer
An overhaul of Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law, once one of the nation's weakest, has made it easier for the public to obtain access to records kept by agencies at all levels of government.
A spot check by dozens of new organizations, coordinated by The Associated Press, found improved compliance by government agencies across the state since the revisions a year ago. Advocacy groups also report better access.
"It is night and day from the old law," said Mary Catherine Roper, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer in Philadelphia who has been involved in cases this year seeking access to police and prison records. "This is a huge step forward for openness and accountability in government."
The state's old law was considered one of the least effective in the nation in assuring transparency in government, guaranteeing access only to certain categories of records. Now there is a presumption that most government records are open to public inspection, with a new Office of Open Records in place to settle disputes.
Records that previously were difficult and sometimes impossible to obtain are now being scrutinized by the public and news outlets, from internal e-mails and once-secret details in personnel files to 911 call logs and records in the hands of government contractors.
Many large state government departments report records requests from the public have doubled since the law took effect in January.
To test compliance, representatives from more than three dozen news organizations submitted nearly 300 requests for public records over two days in October, seeking everything from 911 logs and school superintendent contracts to grant applications and resumes of public employees.
The overwhelming majority of requests were granted. Audits in 1999 and 2005 found higher rates of rejection.
"It doesn't take a genius to game this law, it doesn't take a genius to deny information under this law," said Terry Mutchler, executive director of the Office of Open Records. "But we have also seen a lot of agencies absolutely determined to do the right thing."
Using the new law, the Erie Times-News obtained disciplinary records of a veteran school district employee during her campaign for school board. The Morning Call of Allentown reported how a school district lost millions of dollars through complex financial transactions. And The York Dispatch found wide disparities in how often county commissioners were showing up at the office, by examining records of electronic key card swipes.
Washington's police chief criticized a veteran detective Monday for pulling a gun during a mass snowball fight. Authorities said the officer is on desk duty while the case is under investigation.