On May 1st, also known as May Day, six months would have passed since Special Police officers allegedly murdered Alonzo F. Smith, a D.C.-area teacher’s aide, on the grounds of Marbury Plaza Apartments, perched on the hills of Good Hope Road in Southeast.
Though the altercation, the culmination of which was caught on a police body camera, placed a spotlight on local law enforcement protocol and sparked a grassroots movement for community control of police, a secret grand jury proceeding and what seems like political maneuvering by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and public officials threaten the possibility that the responsible parties will be held accountable.
Whatever the outcome, life has gone on for Marbury Plaza residents. Somewhat unaffected by Smith’s death, many have chosen to move rather than challenge the status quo. Edgar Greene, a local artist who has lived in Marbury Plaza for nearly two years, described such an outlook as a byproduct of living in an increasingly hostile environment. For this interview, he used a pseudonym.
“In the days and weeks leading up the incident, we saw quasi-SWAT gear come out; bulletproof vests and all of that,” Greene told AllEyesOnDC, noting other changes on the grounds of the apartment, including the shuttering of the community pool and demolition of a playground. “You could just tell the security unit was looking for something. They always had an edge about them. They wanted an excuse to pick on someone,” he added.
Greene recalled hearing his roommate speak about hearing Smith’s screams for help as he ran down numerous flights of steps, out through the back door of their apartment and across the parking lot into the building where officers finally detained him. In the weeks after his death, rumors have also circulated about officers pulling Smith out of a car.
Beyond that, not much has come to surface about what transpired before Smith’s detainment and ultimate death. In a statement issued days after, MPD said they received three emergency calls from Marbury Plaza in the early morning hours of Nov. 1st, including one for an assault in progress. Upon arriving on the scene, they said they found an unconscious, handcuffed Smith lying face down in the stairwell of the apartment with Special Police officers standing over his lifeless body. In those critical minutes, medics failed to resuscitate him through the application of CPR.
Smith was later pronounced dead at United Medical Center.
The D.C. Office of the Medical Examiner ruled Smith’s death a homicide, citing “acute cocaine toxicity while restrained” and “compression of the torso” among key causes. On the night of his arrest, Special Police officers told MPD officials that he may have been under the influence of K2, a brand of synthetic marijuana. That claim remains unsubstantiated.
Before his death, Smith, 27, had plans of completing his second anthology of poetry and continuing his undergraduate studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore. He also had stints as a portrait model. At his funeral, students that Smith taught in Alexandria, Virginia described him as an outstanding role model and happy-go-lucky person who tried to guide them along the right path.
The Special Police officers involved, employed by Blackout Investigations and Security Services, a Waldorf, Maryland-based security company, have since had their privilege and ability to carry a firearm revoked. However, Greene, along with others, said they have reason to believe that Blackout may have not honored honor its commitment to suspend those who were on duty that night, even alleging that one of the employees in the video still patrols the premises to this day.
“When it first went down, folks weren’t really complacent but there was nothing they could do. The general consensus is that this is something that happens then we move on. Security switched up and we hope they took the proper measures but you never know,” Greene said.
Beverly Smith, mother of Alonzo Smith, has remained immensely skeptical about the official information coming out in the days and months her son’s death, telling AllEyesOnDC that MPD and Blackout Investigations have worked to sweep her son’s murder under the rug. She said that officers from Internal Affairs waited until the evening of Nov. 2nd ,nearly 48 hours after Smith death, to notify her, visiting her at her home, located three blocks up the street from Marbury Plaza.
Smith said the situation worsened the next day when MPD Chief Cathy Lanier publicly called Smith’s death a “justifiable homicide” before reneging amid the media frenzy around her statement. During a December press conference, Lanier confirmed that an officer’s knee was in Smith’s back during the arrest.
Months before Smith’s death, officers employed by Blackout Investigations got involved in a civil case that’s ongoing, according to the D.C. Courts database. Blackout Investigations declined AllEyesOnDC’s request for comment on the circumstances surrounding Smith’s death.
At this point, the case has left MPD Internal Affairs Bureau and gone to the U.S. Attorney General’s office, which will conduct a grand jury trial, the date of which hasn’t been determined, under the direction of Jan Saxton, the prosecuting attorney. A spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department declined AllEyesOnDC’s request for information regarding the case and the grand jury proceedings.
Other pertinent information, including the identity of the officers involved, has yet to surface, much to Smith’s chagrin.
“I hold MPD accountable. They went by what the officers said that night,” Smith, a retired federal employee, told AllEyesOnDC. “The Special Police knew my son wasn’t breathing and they put restraints on his feet. They had their knees on his back and obstructed his breathing but didn’t turn him over to administer CPR. They left his body in the first and second landing. They didn’t have a defibrillator and they mentioned that in the video,” she added.
Weeks after Alonzo’s death, Smith, along with members of Pan-African Community Action (PACA), a grassroots organization focused on community control of law enforcement in Black communities, held a vigil and rally on the grounds of Marbury Plaza. Those gatherings attracted dozens of people, including Ward 8 Council member LaRuby May. Over time, Smith became a member of PACA, following in the footsteps of Sybrina Fulton, Lesley McSpadden, and other Black women across the country who became activists after their son’s died in encounters with police officers and hypervigilant forces.
Efforts to hold those responsible those who caused Alonzo’s death have materialized into what’s known as the Justice4Zo campaign. Since its launch last November, PACA has circulated a petition demanding full disclosure about what took place on Halloween night and an independent investigation. They’ve also hosted community events during which PACA members educate participants about the intricacies and benefits of community control over police.
“It goes beyond Marbury Plaza. It’s about the community and what role police play,” Netfa Freeman, a member of PACA, told AllEyesOnDC, acknowledging the possibility of pushback against this seemingly bold idea, especially amid concerns about the violence that plagues Anacostia and other areas east of the Anacostia River.
“People are torn. If their immediate experience has been in the face of the kind of crime that comes with living in an underprivileged community, then they can be conflicted about this issue,” Freeman added, pointing out that the system neglects Black communities and those conditions breed violence and crime. “It’s about people understanding the interconnectedness of it all. Our communities are plagued with crime for the same reasons that police officers abuse us. The crime gives them an excuse to repress.”
In January, Smith testified before the United Nations Working Group on Experts on People of African Descent about her son’s death during a meeting at Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia. The event counted among a bevy of the group’s stops during its 11-day tour. Days later, they released a report expressing its “extreme concern about the human rights situation of African Americans.” That document, which focused on police murders of Black civilians, included Alonzo Smith’s name.
Smith said this turn of events has boosted her spirits, giving her some hope that she’ll get justice for her son and ensure that laws are put in place to prevent future atrocities.
“One of our demands is for MPD to make transparent the laws and policies for Special Police officers,” Smith said. Currently, Special Police officers they have arresting powers similar to that of MPD. They also receive 40 hours of training.
“The most interesting thing about Special Police officers is that they have the right to arrest and retain on property. MPD said they had nothing to do with this incident, but they’re partially responsible because they authorize the Special Police in D.C.,” Smith added.
Ensuring that all parties are held responsible, however, may be easier said than done.
Last month, Smith visited Council member May’s office with a letter asking for her continued support of Justice4Zo campaign efforts. She said Alfred Davis, May’s chief of staff met her outside and declined the letter, telling her there was nothing May’s office could do for her. Later that week, May visited Smith at her home during which she made a commitment to research policy related to the Special Police officers, Smith said. May’s office didn’t return AllEyesOnDC’s request for comment about this matter or the issue of community-police relations in Ward 8.
During the interview for this piece, Smith also cited what she described as inconsistencies in her son’s murder case, notably the absence of his phone among his belongings. On the video from the police camera, portions of which Smith says she often sees in her dreams, she recalls seeing one of the arresting officers going through the mobile device before tossing it down the stairwell.
It doesn’t stop there.
For Smith, a look at Alonzo’s corpse negated anything official reports said. Signs of injury included swelling in his neck, a broken and badly bruised shoulder, and hemorrhaging near his larynx, all consistent with bruising and blunt force trauma to his back and neck. The elder Smith, 52, also recalled Shaun Reid, director of Shaun R. Reid Funeral Services, the company that prepared her son’s body, telling her that her son’s face appeared to have been bruised, something medical records don’t mention.
Days after Smith spoke with Reid, she held a conference call with the three medical examiners involved in her son’s case and requested a second autopsy. She told AllEyesOnDC that the D.C. Office of the Attorney General and MPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau immediately swooped in, contacting the funeral home and asking Reid for the photos he took of the deceased Smith’s face.“ The funeral director called me shortly after sounding surprised,” Smith said. “He said he wanted to do the right thing.”
As of publishing time, Reid hasn’t returned AllEyesOnDC’s request for comment on the allegations of blunt force.
Through it all, Smith said she remains confident that her son’s death won’t go in vain. In recent weeks, she has appeared at community events across the city with a circular pin bearing his image and a black shirt with “Justice4Zo” emblazoned across it. Despite what she described as the widespread grassroots support, she admits that questions about that fateful night often cross her mind.
“Every single moment of my life, I think about what happened prior to the police restraining Alonzo in the hallway,” she said. “He couldn’t call me [because they had his phone]. I would have run down the hill in my pajamas. I’m only three blocks away. There are so many unanswered questions. Who was he visiting? I don’t know anyone who lives up there.”