While Army Sgt. Matthew Corrigan was sound asleep inside his Northwest D.C. home, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) was preparing to launch a full-scale invasion of his home. SWAT and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams spent four hours readying the assault on the English basement apartment in the middle of the snowstorm of the century.
The police arrested the veteran of the Iraq war and searched his house without a warrant, not to protect the public from a terrorist or stop a crime in progress, but to rouse a sleeping man the police thought might have an unregistered gun in his home.
It all started a few hours earlier on Feb. 2, 2010, when Sgt. Corrigan called the National Veterans Crisis Hotline for advice on sleeping because of nightmares from his year training Iraqi soldiers to look for IEDs in Fallujah. Without his permission, the operator, Beth, called 911 and reported Sgt. Corrigan “has a gun and wants to kill himself.‚?Ě
According to a transcript of the 911 recording, Beth told the cops that, “The gun’s actually on his lap.‚?Ě The drill sergeant told me he said nothing of the kind, and his two pistols and rifle were hidden under clothes and in closets, to avoid theft.
So around midnight, the police arrived at the row house at 2408 N. Capitol Street. Over the next two hours, several emergency response team units were called to the scene, calling in many cops from home.
Police memos from that night describe the situation as involving a man who is, “threatening to shoot himself,‚?Ě but “doesn’t want to hurt anybody.‚?Ě
None of the cops’ documents indicate a threat that warranted a “barricade‚?Ě and the closure of several streets to create “an outer perimeter that prohibited both traffic and pedestrian access.‚?Ě With dozens of cops on the scene, they created a “staging area‚?Ě two blocks away.
Around 1 a.m., the police knocked on the door of Tammie Sommons, the upstairs neighbor in the row house. ¬† Ms. Sommons had lived there since 2008 with her three roommates and, in that time, had become a close friend of Sgt. Corrigan. She had a key to his apartment and often walked his dog Matrix.
“I opened the door to this scene with three cops with guns pointed at Matt’s door,‚?Ě she recalled in an interview this week. “One officer told me that Matt called a suicide hotline and was about to kill himself. I said that was impossible, he wasn’t that kind of guy. I told the police I see him every day and would know if he was suicidal.‚?Ě
Over the next hour, Ms. Sommons repeatedly told the police she was sure that Sgt. Corrigan was merely sleeping. She knew he took prescription sleeping pills because of repeated nightmares from his year in Iraq. The cops wouldn’t listen to her.
“I said to the police, ‘You guys are making a big mistake. He’s not what you think,’‚?Ě recalled Ms. Sommons. She offered to go downstairs and clear up the situation, but the police would not let her.
The officers asked her whether Sgt. Corrigan owned any guns. “I said, of course he has guns, he’s in the military,‚?Ě she replied. Ms. Sommons had never seen the sergeant’s guns, but she is from a military family, in which gun ownership was the norm. She was truthful with the police because she was not aware the District requires registration of every gun.
This month, the U.S. House passed a nonbinding amendment, sponsored by Rep. Phil Gingrey, that said active military living in or stationed in D.C. should not be bound by the stringent firearm laws. Were such a law in place two years ago, Sgt. Corrigan would not have been targeted by the police.
MPD told Ms. Sommons that someone had reported that there was the smell of gas coming from Sgt. Corrigan’s apartment. “I told them that there was no gas in his apartment — ¬† it was all electric,‚?Ě she recalled. “I said if they smelled something, it’s just my roommate who was cooking chicken parmesan.‚?Ě
Still, the police refused to accept the simpler explanation. “The cops said we needed to leave our house because Matt was going to shoot through the ceiling,‚?Ě Ms. Sommons said. “They painted this picture like Rambo was downstairs and ready to blow up the place.‚?Ě
At 3 a.m., the police called in an EOD unit — the bomb squad. ¬† They brought in negotiators. They had the gas company turn off the gas line to the house. ¬† A few minutes before 4 a.m., they started calling Sgt. Corrigan’s cell phone, but they got no answer because he turned it off before going to bed. They woke him up by calling his name on a bullhorn. He then turned on the phone and was told to surrender outside.