Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

DPS Faces Criticism in Probe of Shooting

More than a week after a Georgetown senior was shot and injured during an off-campus mugging, allegations have surfaced that the Department of Public Safety mishandled its investigation into the incident, which could damage chances of finding the perpetrators.

Local news reports, citing unnamed sources in the Metropolitan Police Department, alleged that following the shooting on Feb. 4, DPS officers violated procedure by not conducting separate interviews with the victim, Helen Obregon (COL ’06), and her friends Nicklas Holgersson (MSB ’06) and Maria del Mar Zavala (SFS ’06), who were also mugged.

The reports said that because DPS did not take separate interviews to obtain descriptions of the suspects, it decided not to release a composite sketch of the suspects. They also alleged that testimony from witnesses interviewed together would be inadmissible in criminal proceedings.

DPS Director Darryl Harrison declined comment on the allegations, saying that the shooting remained under investigation. But Holgersson and Zavala said that DPS officers did conduct a joint interview to develop a composite sketch of the suspects.

Holgersson said that he was first interviewed alone Saturday, the night of the crime, at the DPS station, while Obregon and Zavala were at the hospital. Then, he was interviewed again at the station two days later with Zavala, where they both gave their statements.

Holgersson said he and Zavala were in the same room Monday night while helping the DPS sketch artist produce a composite sketch of the perpetrator. Zavala confirmed this account, saying that although she and Holgersson were interviewed separately after going to the station, there were intervals in which they were questioned about the crime together.

“Maria and I came down [and] were questioned separately,” Holgersson said. “Then we were both working together to produce the sketch.”

This account confirms reports on WJLA-TV and WTOP Radio that DPS used a joint interrogation to develop a composite sketch, but contrasts with the reports’ suggestion that all three victims were interviewed together. Holgersson and Zavala said the three were never interviewed together.

Obregon declined comment yesterday.

Police normally interview witnesses separately when producing composite sketches, said Paul Morrison, the district attorney for Johnson County, Kan. “Sometimes even the best witnesses can have bleed-through in their recollection of events if they are interviewed together,” he said.

Still, he said that testimony from witnesses interviewed together would not necessarily have difficulty being admitted in court, as the reports suggested. “It’s more a tactical issue on the part of the police. It’s probably not the best tactic to interview victims all together,” he said.

David Morrell, vice president for university safety, said he didn’t know whether or not DPS or MPD had released composite sketches of the suspects to the media. He declined to comment on the investigation, saying that the university is working closely with MPD.

“Everyone’s goal is to apprehend the individuals responsible,” he said.

Both Holgersson and Zavala said that they were impressed with DPS’s handling of the incident.

Holgersson said that DPS was “amazing” in the aftermath of the shooting. Officers took him home the night of the crime and followed up with the rest of the victims, he said.

“Overall they’ve been very supportive, calling to make sure we’re OK,” Holgersson said. “There’s nothing to complain about.”

Zavala agreed, and said that MPD also conducted joint as well as one-on-one interviews to obtain information about the shooting.

“I don’t agree with any allegations against DPS,” she said.

MPD officials declined comment on the allegations against DPS.

MPD Lt. Felicia Lucas who supervises officers patrolling near the university, said that MPD is continuing “high visibility patrols” of the area in response to the shooting.

She also defended herself against criticism of comments she made to THE HOYA following the shooting suggesting that MPD would be able to better prevent violent crime if it were not occupied with stopping rowdy student parties.

Lucas said the “purpose of us being out there is to protect the community, not to target particular students or anything.”

HOYA staff writer Moises Mendoza contributed to this report.

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