WASHINGTON POST December 23, 1994


AGAIN GUNFIRE shatters the peace around the White House. This time it involves a homeless man, shot twice by a U.S. Park Police officer in front of the White House as he wielded a large knife at officers. This latest incident was unlike the shooting three days earlier, when 9mm bullets fired in the wee hours of the morning by an unknown gunman landed within yards of the presidential mansion and went through a first-floor State Dining Room window. Tuesday's shooting also differs sharply from the assault weeks earlier by a Colorado man who blasted away at the White House with a semiautomatic weapon. In this week's shooting, someone died. White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said Tuesday's incident "underscores the nature of violence in our society and that nobody's immune." That is true. But this shooting raises as many questions as it answers.

A widely seen videotape of the incident shows the victim, Marcelino Corniel, in a face-off with four law enforcement officers who have their handguns trained on him. According to the FBI and other eyewitnesses, Mr. Corniel had chased U.S. Park Police officer Stephen J. O'Neill from Lafayette Square to the sidewalk in front of the White House while brandishing a large knife. We still don't know why Mr. Corniel went after Officer O'Neill. Confronted by officers who had responded to Officer O'Neill's need for help, Mr. Corniel--again according to the FBI-- refused to drop the knife and refused to lie on the ground." Apparently for not following orders--and with dozens 'of tourists and pedestrians looking on -- Marcelino Corniel was shot down. Park Police officials say it was a tough call to make under some pretty awful conditions. But a man is dead. And now officials must defend that decision to fire.

From the videotape, Mr. Corniel appears to be standing still before he was shot down. He obviously needed to be subdued. But, it is being asked,were there less violent means available for bring him under control, such as the use of Tasers or stun guns, pepper spray or other nonlethai devices' At bottom, was deadly force justified? .... The metropolitan police department's homicide branch, which has jurisdiction over Marcelino Corniel's death, is investigating. Although fellow officers are involved, the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. attorney who must review the results must be objective, fair and honest.

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