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The Metropolitan Police Departments Response to the Accident during the Unifest 25th Year Anniversary Festival

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Metropolitan Police Departments Response to the Accident during the Unifest 25th Year Anniversary Festival

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

The following statement was presented by Commander Alfred Durham to the District of Columbia Council, Committee on Public Safety & the Judiciary, Honorable Phil Mendelson, Chair, on June 29, 2007, at the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.

Good afternoon Chairman Mendelson, members of the committee, and guests. My name is Alfred Durham, and I am a Commander of the Metropolitan Police Department and Chief of Staff to Chief Cathy Lanier. I am here today on behalf of Chief Lanier who had an important previous engagement. As one of the first command officials to respond to the scene, I was a first-hand witness to a scene unlike any other that I had seen in DC in my 18 years on the force. On behalf of Mayor Fenty, Chief Lanier, and the Department, I would like to take a moment to convey our heartfelt sympathy to the festival participants injured in this tragic incident, as well as to festival goers and other first responders who may be finding it difficult to deal with the emotional effects of the incident. The Administration recognizes the long-term impact that such an incident can have on a community and its members. To help address that, mental health counselors with the Department of Mental Health worked with victims and community members in the hospitals to which the injured had been transported and in the community in the week following the incident.

This tragic incident at Unifest was a significant test for the District’s emergency responders, including members of MPD, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, Fire and EMS, and the Department of Transportation. Although we frequently conduct joint exercises to test our coordinated response to critical events, this was the first real test of the District’s response to a “mass casualty” event. In the aftermath of the Unifest incident, in which  dozens of people were injured across several city blocks, the responding agencies coordinated assistance to victims, triaged the most serious injuries, and transported these victims to area hospitals, all, thankfully, without any loss of life. The agencies’ joint commitment to emergency planning and preparation was a key element in this outcome. Of course, as planners we see a need to review the details to determine what can be done better. There is always room for improved response or consideration of a perhaps unanticipated detail. We are meeting internally for debriefing, have already met once with some agency partners, and plan to do so again so that  we can use this experience to inform future planning and training.

I recognize that this hearing was also intended to address issues related to the incident itself, and not just the emergency response afterwards. However, as Chief Lanier has discussed with Councilmember Mendelson, the Department’s ability to talk about the Unifest incident at this time is very limited. A criminal case is pending prosecution as a result of this incident, and the related criminal investigation is still underway.  Information related to the Department’s response to the incident overlaps considerably with confidential information that will be critical to successful prosecution of the case. Chief Lanier appreciates and respects the importance and appropriateness of the Council’s oversight function, but the Department has been advised that disclosure of information about this open investigation would jeopardize the case.

In addition to the conflict this hearing presents regarding the ongoing criminal investigation, the Department has not yet concluded its own administrative investigation into whether the Department’s response to the incident was appropriate. Although this investigation began the day of the incident, the scope of the investigation is extensive. The sheer number of police and civilian witnesses that must be interviewed in order to ensure an accurate and comprehensive report, as well as the size of the scene, increase the amount of time necessary to complete the investigation. Chief Lanier will be happy to testify regarding the incident and will provide the Council with a copy of the final investigative report when the investigation is completed.  Until then, we appreciate your assistance in protecting the integrity of the ongoing criminal and internal investigations. With those limits in mind, I will now try to answer questions from the Council.