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WASHINGTON – Fox News, CNN, the Washington Post. The interviews lionizing Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose keep coming. Time magazine named him “Person of the Week.” Book deals are in the offing.
His office door is adorned with a huge thank-you letter from area school kids. Fruit baskets, flowers and other gifts continue to arrive from grateful citizens. One Maryland couple gave him a case of champagne.
Sheets spray-painted with “Moose for President” hang from highway overpasses here. There’s even a “Chief Moose Fan Club” website replete with songs and poems praising the “superhero.” Its founder calls Moose “brilliant.”
Part of me doesn’t care who gets credit for capturing the Beltway snipers, however misplaced that credit may be, so long as they’re off the streets.
My family, like most in the Beltway area, was terrorized by them for three long weeks. After they shot someone near my neighborhood, I set the pump handle at the gas station and jumped back into my car whenever I filled up the tank. I did most of the shopping, zigzagging in the parking lot and feeling like an idiot. No more walking to school; my wife and I drove our school-aged child right up to the school’s side entrance.
We were just as paralyzed and nerve-racked as everyone else around the capital, as the snipers methodically picked off 13 random people. Sounds crazy to live in such fear given the tiny statistical probability of being shot. But unless you were here, you can’t fully understand what a nightmare it was – worse even than the D.C. anthrax scare. You can avoid opening your mail, or take drugs if you’re exposed to germ spores. But there’s no antibiotic for a bullet to the head.
At the same time, another part of me knows that rewarding incompetence validates incompetence, and can even institutionalize it, leading to more mistakes in similar cases down the road.
It’s bad enough that we reward incompetence in public education. Doing it in law enforcement, where mistakes can cost lives, should never be tolerated, especially when Islamic terrorism now threatens us in our homes.
Truth is, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd “John” Malvo, both black Muslims, were caught in spite of Moose, not because of him.
Racial hypersensitivity delayed their capture, costing lives. Moose, a staunch foe of racial profiling, refused to go after suspects of color. (He and his second wife, a white civil-rights lawyer, are pathologically race-conscious, a matter I’ll return to later.)
The sniper task force, which Moose led from start to finish, questioned white men right up to the day arrest warrants were issued for Muhammad and Malvo.
Take Tim Carter and his boss, Mark Fanning. On Oct. 22, task-force detectives paid them a visit at their P-Com Network Services offices in Sterling, Va.
“I was yanked out of a staff meeting,” Fanning told me.
Carter said the detectives asked “embarrassing” questions, such as whether they’d been in the vicinity of any of the shootings.
It wasn’t until the snipers gave themselves away by bragging about another murder in Alabama that police broke the case on Oct. 23.
If not for that boast, Moose might still be profiling white guys.
The whole ordeal could have been over Oct. 3, when D.C. police ran the plates on Muhammad’s car just hours before he or Malvo shot their sixth victim, a 72-year-old D.C. man.
But they weren’t stopped, because according to D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey, “We were looking for a white van with white people.”
Both descriptions turned out to be wrong.
But only the description of the white vehicle was based on eyewitness accounts, not the description of “white people.” That was based on stock psychological profiles of mass murderers (pre-Sept. 11) and phone tips from people suspicious of white spouses, boyfriends and neighbors with guns.
Yet one witness to a Maryland shooting on Oct. 3
described two “Hispanic” men in a white vehicle. Other
early witnesses ID’d “dark-skinned” men in a white
vehicle. At least one witness, a woman, said she saw a
Those physical descriptions of the suspects were dismissed by Moose, while the physical descriptions of the vehicles were treated as gospel. In fact, Moose issued composite graphics of the mythical white truck and van.
But he refused to release a composite sketch of a suspect based on witness accounts, because he didn’t want to “paint some group.” Snipers were terrorizing Washington, assassinating people left and right, even a boy, and the top cop on the case was more concerned about offending a minority group than catching the killers. That’s incompetence writ large and should be called by its proper name, black official or not.
And it wasn’t just white vans that Moose had police look for in those dragnets. They were looking for white drivers.
In fact, police who checked cars on roads and freeways following each shooting were ordered to wave cars by if the drivers were minorities or females, according to one ATF agent. They were told to search only cars with white males behind the wheel.
Even when additional witnesses at a Home Depot shooting, separate from the one witness who lied, described suspects as being dark-skinned, Moose saw only white. In fact, he tossed their statements, implying they were colored by the bad witness. Fairfax County police had to “re-interview” their good witnesses, a spokeswoman told me, who were never heard from again.
Derek Baliles, one of Moose’s officers at the Rockville, Md., headquarters, said that even if they still insisted they saw dark-skinned assailants, it would be hard to believe. He said the lights were bad in the parking garage. He even suggested they could have seen white guys in dark “make-up.”
“We don’t want anyone to give up on the fact that it could be a white guy,” Baliles told me.
It was almost as if Moose and his investigators hoped the shootings were the work of a racist white guy – even though it defied logic, as whites were among his victims.
And the patternless shootings appeared designed only to spread terror in the nation’s capital, which just a year earlier was attacked by Islamic terrorists.
Yet no one on Moose’s task force put two-and-two together.
FBI Special Agent Larry Foust, a task force member borrowed from the bureau’s Baltimore field office, criminal division, expressed surprise when I asked him if the task force had canvassed the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va., which is nine-tenths of a mile from the Home Depot. Astonishingly, he didn’t know that one of the Washington area’s largest mosques, one attended by many black Muslims, was so close to the shooting. Nor did he know that the same mosque was attended by two of the al-Qaida hijackers who slammed the jumbo jet into the Pentagon.
More, it took police three weeks to reach out to the immigrant community, even though it was clear the snipers were new to the area, having not left a local imprint with neighbors and co-workers, judging from all the bum leads, as FBI veteran I.C. Smith pointed out to me.
It was as if Sept. 11 never happened. It just had to be Timothy McVeigh’s long lost cousin. Had to be.
Such tunnel vision is odd. Investigators usually adjust to facts and abandon early hunches that don’t pan out.
Not in this case.
Why? Moose’s background offers clues.
Chip on shoulder
Four times as a Portland, Ore., cop, Moose had to be disciplined for losing his temper in dust-ups with average citizens, most of them triggered by what he perceived to be racial slights by whites.
He was ordered to take an anger-management course (ironically, Moose’s wife, Sandy, has taught an anger-management course at Montgomery College in Maryland). But he got into more racial confrontations.
Still, he was promoted to chief of the Portland Police Bureau.
Even at that level, he couldn’t shake the chip from his shoulder. In another controversy, he had to apologize for making racial slurs against whites. Even the liberal Portland Oregonian lamented his “explosive temper.”
Some white Portland cops complain that Moose discriminated against them.
“I tried to be very open-minded and extend myself to him on many occasions while working with him, but he made it very apparent he has some very strong bias against white males, especially ones with blond hair and blue eyes,” said a former Portland officer who served under Moose in the 1990s.
Moose has what some say is an annoying habit, as a public official, of putting his race in your face.
His corner office at police headquarters is a shrine to the black movement. Figurines of wild African elephants line a credenza. There’s a plaque about black “pride.” Pictures of black leaders line the walls. A poster reads: “Hatred thrives when bigotry is tolerated.”
Moose came to Maryland vowing to end black criminal profiling as he had in Portland. Before taking the job in 1999, he met with the local NAACP.
When he arrived, he said he had reservations about moving to the area because he claimed the Ku Klux Klan was active there, and that it might be a “difficult” place for an interracial couple to live.
Huh? Montgomery County is one of the most liberal enclaves in the Beltway.
He quickly ended black profiling there – apparently only to replace it with white profiling.
A big fan of race-sensitive “community policing,” Moose made Portland cops working the gang beat – during the crack wars, no less – carry blue pocketbooks filled with information about the city’s social-service agencies.
Attorney General Janet Reno liked what she saw, and flew out to recognize him.
As her husband started his new job as Portland police chief in 1993, Sandra Herman Moose began law school in Tacoma, Wash., commuting home on weekends.
Her best pal at law school was a North African man, according to a classmate at University of Puget Sound School of Law.
She and Moose found time a couple of years later to teach a course on “multicultural communications” at Portland Community College.
Sandy Moose’s ideas on race issues are downright scary.
She told CNN’s Connie Chung the other night that she hit the roof when she heard a female newsie call her husband “hostile” after one of his hostile press conferences.
Sandy explained that whole discrimination law is built around that word, which she claims is racially charged and should never be used to describe a black man.
So, apparently we can’t say Muhammad and Malvo are “hostile,” either. Will she defend them if they sue?
If Moose’s blond wife considers “hostile” to be a racial epithet, imagine what Moose considers discriminatory.
This isn’t a chip, folks. This is a boulder.
Moose also has it in for gun owners.
“We need to stand up as a community and attack the supply of guns,” he told the citizens of Portland in 1995.
When Muhammad and Malvo were arrested, Moose said the task force got the “gun” off the street, not the sniper.
And, in an unsettling plea to the public at one press conference, he said, “You need to ask yourself: Who do you know that owns guns, and why?”
Sure enough, the ATF and other task force agencies went around confiscating guns.
Gun-rights groups in Maryland were flooded with calls from worried law-abiding residents.
“We got very interested when folks started reporting attempts to confiscate rifles for ballistic testing,” said Robert D. Culver, co-chairman of Montgomery Citizens for a Safer Maryland.
“I have several reports from men who have had contacts with law-enforcement officers, some of whom rolled over and submitted their firearms,” Culver told me.
Carter of Vienna, Va., says task-force detectives also came to his house on the previous Saturday morning asking to see his firearms.
“They not only wanted to see my rifles, they copied the serial numbers down, as well,” he said. “And then they told me that the ATF may want to test one of my rifles for ballistics.”
Carter, who complied, added: “I now wonder who retains the records of my firearms and for what purpose.”
This was pure insanity.
As Moose and his task force futilely chased “gun-crazed” white ghosts instead of the dark-skinned real killers, they deprived residents of Maryland and Virginia of firearms to possibly protect themselves from those killers.
“How much quicker and how many lives would have been spared in the recent sniper case if Moose had not allowed his prejudices to rule?” asked one law-enforcement veteran in the Washington area.
It’s painfully obvious that Moose – who is a big fan
of Head Start, and is fond of quoting Hillary
Clinton’s pro-welfare pal Marian Wright Edelman – is
no hero. In fact, his personal prejudices may have
cost several lives.
Even so, don’t be surprised if his star rises. Hillary is no doubt eying Moose right now for FBI director in her administration.