A Washington, D.C., judge dismissed a gun possession case amid questions over whether the arresting officers wore or had any role in the creation of a controversial T-shirt printed with the name of their police unit, an image of the Grim Reaper and a symbol that an advocacy group says is racist, the Washington Post reports. The decision came as the trial was to begin for Carlos Johnson, 24, who allegedly was found carrying a 9mm handgun last December. He had previously pleaded guilty in a case of assault with a gun. D.C. Superior Court Judge Maribeth Raffinan rejected a request by prosecutors to delay the trial until a police investigation into the T-shirts has been completed. The judge dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning authorities can recharge Johnson.
The dismissal marks the first time a T-shirt is known to have had an impact on a criminal case. The T-shirt came to light last month after an officer was seen wearing it at a restaurant and in court. Police officials pronounced it “disturbing,” suspended that officer and opened the internal investigation. The two officers involved in Johnson’s arrest are members of the same “Powershift” unit, which patrols high-crime areas for weapon recovery and drug activity. Prosecutor Kate Rakoczy told the judge that it was unclear whether either of the officers involved in Johnson’s case had worn the T-shirt. To make sure, she wanted to wait until police completed their inquiry. The Anti-Defamation League calls the cross depicted on the T-shirt a commonly used white supremacist symbol.