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Assault charge dropped against man in fight with DC firefighters

Union issues statement defending firefighters. Radio traffic shows firefighters tried to get police to the scene earlier.

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Previous coverage of this story

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in DC declined to prosecute a man arrested for assault after a brawl with DC firefighters Tuesday night. The Washington Post’s Paul Duggan reports that when asked why the charge was dropped a spokeswoman for the office would only say, “No charges at present.” Charges can be refiled at a later date.

Paul Duggan, The Washington Post:

Six firefighters involved in the altercation were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation by D.C. police and the fire department’s internal affairs unit, according to fire department spokesman Vito Maggiolo.

The incident occurred shortly before 11:30 p.m. in the unit block of Florida Avenue NW, where an engine company and ambulance crew from D.C. fire were responding to a crash, according to Maggiolo and a police report. The report, which describes the man as “combative,” says one firefighter “stated that while he was on a 911 call [the man] was being aggressive and punched [the firefighter] in the face causing pain.”

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DC Fire Fighters/IAFF Local 36 issued a statement defending the firefighters involved saying they “were providing care to a patient when they were violently attacked by a person forcing the firefighters to defend themselves and the helpless patient under their care.” The statement went on to say, “Our members deserve the ability to render aide (sic) to the public without interference or fear of personal harm.”

Union president David Hoagland told NBC4/WRC-TV’s Paul’s Wagner, “I think they were trying to help their lieutenant who had been assaulted. You know, our members are routinely placed in some of these unsafe situations from day to day and, unfortunately, on the scenes of these emergencies they can escalate quickly before the police have a chance to arrive to assist us.”

The union points out the original video from a bystander only shows a small portion of what happened.  A video recorded by a WUSA-TV videographer and published today (Thursday) is longer and clearer but also does not show what brought on the fight. WUSA’s Bruce Leshan reports that the videographer says the man “was belligerent and combative with several firefighters and then punched one of the firefighters in the face.” That man was identified y police as Charles Simpkins, II.

In both videos you see firefighters throwing punches at Simpkins, who was shirtless. In the bystander video you see one firefighter kicking at Simpkins when he was on the ground. Police then move in to take over.

On Wednesday, DC Fire & EMS issued a statement saying, “The actions in a video of the incident are completely unacceptable and do not reflect the behavior we require of our members.” Six firefighters are on administrative leave following the incident.

The call was initially dispatched at 9:48 p.m. as a pedestrian struck near North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue. Four minutes later, additional equipment was sent for a report that a person was trapped under a Metrobus with two people passed out near the bus. What firefighters found was a bit different. According to Leshan, “Witnesses say Simpkins had climbed under a Metrobus, grabbed a wheel and refused to let go.”

Other reports indicate firefighters treated at least one person at the scene for a drug overdose.

Radio traffic from shows that Battalion Chief 1 called for police at 9:55 p.m. Engine 6 again called for police at 9:57 p.m. At 10:03 p.m., Engine 6 called for police to “step it up.” It’s not clear how long after that last transmission that the fight with Simpkins broke it.

Firefighters and EMS regularly complain about how long it takes to get DC police officers to emergency scenes. STATter911 has documented multiple occasions where police were slow to respond when firefighters, medics and EMTs reported they were in violent situations. The police department, like many around the country, is has staffing challenges. Previously, DC officials announced they improved procedures at the 911 center in an effort to to get a faster response from police. It’s unclear from the videos if police were just arriving as the fight occurred or had been there for some minutes.


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