WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has opened a federal civil rights investigation after a U.S. Park Police officer fatally shot a 17-year-old who drove off with an officer in the back seat after the teenager was found asleep in a suspected stolen car.
The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Washington launched the investigation this week after federal officials released body-worn camera footage showing the officer fatally shooting Dalaneo Martin last month.
The police video is one of the first released by the National Park Service and follows a 2022 order by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland requiring the agency's 3,000 law enforcement officers to wear body cameras. It is also one of the first times body-worn camera footage has ever been released by a federal law enforcement agency.
Martin's death comes amid an ongoing national reckoning over authorities' use of force and months as the beating death of Tyre Nichols by police in Memphis, Tennessee, renewed scrutiny on this issue after widespread protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.
The March 18 encounter began around 9 a.m. when two Park Police officers were called by a Metropolitan Police Department officer who was responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle in northeast Washington. Several officers surrounded the car, saw Martin asleep behind the steering wheel and told dispatchers that the ignition of the car was “punched,” a sign the car might be stolen, authorities said.
As the officers moved toward the vehicle, footage showed them opening the back passenger's side door and a Park Police officer climbing into the back seat. But Martin woke up and started to drive away, briefly dragging another officer outside the car.
While in the back seat, the officer shouted to Martin, “Stop, man, just let me out.” As Martin continued to drive, the officer drew his gun and called out, “Stop. Stop or I’ll shoot.”
About a second later, the officer fired repeatedly, striking Martin in the back multiple times.
The car crashed into a house after Martin was shot. He was later pronounced dead at the scene. The officer was not seriously injured and no one in the home was hurt. A gun was found inside the car, police said.
“The loss of a life is always tragic but is especially heartbreaking when it involves a child,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement announcing the investigation.
Park Police officers regularly patrol in the Washington area, where the Park Service has a large footprint. Under the law, those federal officers have the same policing powers in the nation's capital as city police officers.
The Park Police union said the officer inside the car was at “immediate risk of death” when he fired in his weapon, and that the officer outside the car hit his head on the pavement when he fell free of the fleeing car. The union's board said in a statement that both officers followed all policies and laws.
The officer is on paid administrative leave, said a Park Police spokesperson who declined to release the officer’s name.
Martin's family has said the officer who shot the 17-year-old should be arrested.
“I don’t sleep. I don’t eat. And justice needs to be served,” his mother, Terra Martin, said Wednesday.