Nearly one year after Alonzo Smith’s mysterious death in police custody in Washington, D.C., which put a spotlight on the private police force that’s terrorizing people in the city, the U.S. Attorney’s Office decided not to press charges against the special police officers involved.
The office announced its decision on Thursday, saying excessive force wasn’t the cause of the 27-year-old’s death. Instead, the office blamed his death on “sudden cardiac arrest” and cocaine toxicity that affected him while the special officers restrained him. The office also claimed Smith wasn’t physically assaulted.
But Smith’s autopsy report, as well as body camera footage that captured part of Smith’s arrest, tell a very different story.
Last November, officers for the city’s primary law enforcement agency, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), were called about an assault at a private apartment complex. When they arrived, Smith’s body was splayed on the top of a stairwell, surrounded by special officers who worked for a private security firm, Blackout Investigations and Security Services. He was unable to breathe, unconscious, and shirtless. The MPD officers at the scene had to tell the special officers — whose names have never been revealed — to perform CPR.
Witnesses later said they’d heard Smith banging on doors, shouting, “They’re trying to kill me,” shortly before the MPD was called.
Smith was eventually transported to a hospital, where he died alone. Within six weeks’ time, the city’s chief medical examiner ruled the 27-year-old’s death a homicide, after finding chest contusions, abrasions, and internal hemorrhaging. Smith suffered a compressed torso, in addition to the “sudden cardiac arrest.”
“They are still holding back information, they are still not giving me any information and therefore it’s a cover-up and they are complicit in my son’s murder,” Beverly Smith, Alonzo’s mother, told reporters on Thursday. “It is not over. I am not discouraged.”
Ever since the ruling, investigators and the company the special police officers worked for have kept details of what happened at the apartment complex a secret.
What’s clear is that the officers involved in Smith’s arrest and subsequent homicide belong to a private force of approximately 16,580 law enforcement agents in the nation’s capital. Hired and deployed by private companies, 7,720 special police officers are stationed in hospitals, colleges, apartment complexes, and other businesses throughout the city. They don’t enjoy all of the powers that MPD officers do, but operate alongside the department, carrying firearms and making arrests on the properties they’re hired to protect.
Since they work for private companies that establish their own policies and operating procedures, much of what special officers do is shrouded in mystery. It’s almost impossible to probe companies for information about what goes on behind closed doors. And the U.S. Attorney’s Office isn’t required to reveal the details of its investigations.
“What she is saying is, when they arrived, he was breathing and he was conscious,” Beverly Smith said of the office’s decision on Thursday. “I said, ‘Well, if that is true, then why did a police officer perform CPR on my son?’ It does not make sense.”