Written by a Seth Okin Attorney at Law Staff Writer
Sept. 8, 2014
Former District Heights Police Sgt. Johnnie Riley attempted to attack prosecutors on court last Tuesday, during what was supposed to be a sentencing hearing. The Washington Post reports that the Prince George County courtroom was cleared as a group of deputies restrained the distraught defendant.
The incident occurred just after a prosecutor argued that because of Riley’s military service and his work as a police officer meant he should be held to a higher standard and, thus, his sentence should be more severe. The paper quoted his attorney, Public Defender Allen Wolf, as saying, “Mr. Riley, after hearing everything he’s done that’s positive in his life – his time in Army, his deployment to Iraq, his eight years without a blemish as a decorated officer – cited as a reason his sentence should be higher, lost his calm.”
Riley was convicted last June of first-degree assault for shooting a handcuffed, fleeing 26-year-old man, who is now paralyzed. When he was questioned on the stand regarding the incident, Riley told the jury that he forgot the suspect, Calvin Kyle, was handcuffed when he shot him. According to various media reports from the trial, Riley testified that he had caught Kyle on a stolen motorcycle back in September of 2012. Riley said he handcuffed the man, took his shoes and hocked Kyle in the back of his police car. At some point, Kyle slipped out of the car and bolted. A witness said they saw Riley throw his baton at Kyle and miss. He then reportedly fired twice, and struck Kyle once in the back. Kyle is now paralyzed from the waist down, according to WJLA ABC 7 News.
Riley also told the jury that he looks back on that day with pain and regret and wished it had turned out differently, thought at the time he thought he was doing the right thing. He also said he was concerned that if he had chased the 26-year-old he would have been ambushed by some of Kyle’s friends.
Riley was convicted of first-degree assault, though prosecutors had sought a charge of attempted murder. It’s not hard to imagine that Riley likely made many mistakes that day based on his fears and misperceptions. It’s also not hard to imagine that an officer and former soldier, who up until now has never suffered a blemish on his record, would find it intolerable for prosecutors to cite his record of public and military service as reason to punish him further. Riley obviously will never again be able to work as a police officer and now faces the possibility of years in prison on top of living with the guilt and grief of paralyzing a young man. The question is whether holding Riley for the maximum term will benefit anyone? Does it bring back Mr. Kyle’s ability to walk? Will it help Riley to expose him to years of incarceration with violent criminals who haven’t lived otherwise clean lives? Prosecutors may argue that it will send a message to other officers to think twice about using deadly force, but do they really think that when an officer is engaged in a situation in which he fears for his life or the lives of others he will consider the fate of Mr. Riley? The answer to all of these is a resounding no. We hope that the court sees this, and that it’s measured and fair in its application of justice for everyone involved.