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The criminal indictment of two D.C. homicide detectives last month contains some of the most serious allegations of misconduct against the Metropolitan Police Department in years. But the charges of witness tampering against Erick Brown and Milagros Morales came after more than two years of effort by their legal team to stave off prosecution, including outreach to top officials at the Justice Department. And according to court documents filed last week, a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District initially recommended against criminal charges. The case stems from a fatal shooting at a D.C. nightclub in 2005. The 10-count indictment alleges that the two detectives pressured witnesses to change their story about a man they believed was responsible for the murder. Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia Cheatham began the initial witness-tampering investigation and interviewed the detectives, who were then being represented by David Schertler and Danny Onorato. Cheatham then “submitted to her supervisors a memorandum recommending against any criminal charges,” defense lawyers wrote in an April 23 court filing. But in August 2005 prosecutors told Schertler that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia had recused itself. William Gould, a federal prosecutor from the Western District of Virginia, took over the case and told defense lawyers in July 2006 that he planned to bring charges. At that point, Brown hired Reid Weingarten and Brian Heberlig of Steptoe & Johnson. (Morales stayed with Shertler and Onorato.) Both sets of lawyers met with Gould and rejected “a pre-indictment plea agreement that would involve diversion and the ultimate dismissal of any charges if the Detectives were willing to resign,” according to the filing. The detectives then wrote to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who sent them to the Civil Rights Division. They met with deputy chief David Allred last fall and with Grace Chen Becker, another deputy chief, in February — all to no avail. Cheatham and Gould declined to comment.
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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