Gorbey Trial Put Cops in Spotlight

Posted May 16, 2008 at 3:17pm

Michael Gorbey’s conviction late last week on 14 counts for his weapons-laden visit to Capitol Hill ended an unusual trial that put Capitol Police in the spotlight.

More than 20 officers testified during the course of the three-week trial, each describing in detail their actions on the day Gorbey was arrested near the Capitol with a shotgun in hand. They came under questioning not only from prosecutors, but also from Gorbey, who represented himself in the trial and argued that the officers were in a conspiracy against him.

In the process, officers revealed information about Capitol Police procedures and priorities rarely spoken about outside of the department.

“It’s not things we would normally speak about in a public forum,” Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider conceded. “We wouldn’t raise these issues on our own.”

Having so many officers testify in one case is unusual, Schneider said. And everyone was called in, starting with those who first saw Gorbey and ending with the officers who handled all the evidence. In between came those who arrested Gorbey, touched his property and eventually found a bomb in his truck.

The details were mostly mundane. But sometimes, officers under oath revealed potentially embarrassing facts.

One officer described why he failed to see Gorbey walk right past him on Jan. 18, decked out in a military flak vest and openly holding a loaded shotgun: The officer was facing the other way, checking his schedule. Another explained why a better angle of the arrest wasn’t caught on tape: The police’s surveillance tapes occasionally fail to save footage.

Such details would probably never have come out otherwise. Capitol Police usually releases only limited information on arrests and isn’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

All the attention caused the department to keep a close eye on the trial, Schneider said, sending an attorney to follow the proceedings. And throughout the trial, Capitol Police officers sat in the hallway outside the courtroom, waiting to be called to testify.

Their testimony helped make Gorbey the first person in Washington, D.C., to be convicted of attempting to manufacture a weapon of mass destruction.

Passed in 2002, the law only requires that a person attempt to make a WMD, not that it explodes or was even a “ticking time bomb.” In Gorbey’s case, his homemade device was a tin can filled with black powder, but it didn’t have a lit fuse. In other words, it wasn’t going to explode by itself.

But prosecutors got their verdict Friday, when Gorbey was convicted of all 14 charges against him. U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor called the verdict “an outstanding and just result in an important case.”

Other than two charges related to the WMD, most were straightforward; they charged Gorbey with possessing the shotgun, sword and ammunition found on him and in his truck.

But a seemingly simple case took three weeks to unfold, partly because of Gorbey’s decision to represent himself and put forth the defense of a government conspiracy.

He claimed that Capitol Police officers planted evidence on him, and he went through every police report to look for inconsistencies — sometimes finding paperwork mistakes.

One of Gorbey’s witnesses provided perhaps the most insight into how the Capitol Police handled the day of his arrest. Sgt. Michael DeCarlo told jurors why the Capitol Police bomb squad failed to find a homemade bomb behind the seat of Gorbey’s truck.

DeCarlo was the senior bomb technician on Jan. 18 and responsible for the technicians who searched the truck. When investigators found the device in a separate search three weeks later — and the media got wind of the incident — he was reassigned.

But it wasn’t until DeCarlo testified that the public heard the whole story.

On the stand, he described a rushed crime scene, where Capitol Police superiors micromanaged and repeatedly asked why the search was taking so long. DeCarlo even explained why he didn’t know that an officer never searched underneath the truck’s seats — where the bomb was eventually found.

“I trusted him that when he said he searched the passenger side, he searched under the seat,” DeCarlo said.