By Emily Miller
May 23, 2012
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) seems to have it out for our military. The department is using the city’s pointless firearm registration mandate to harass, arrest and jail servicemen.
Army 1st Sergeant Matt Corrigan was woken in the middle of the night, forced out of his home, arrested, had his home ransacked, had his guns seized and was thrown in jail — where he was lost in the prison system for two weeks — all because the District refuses to recognize the meaning of the Second Amendment. This week, the city dropped all charges against Sgt. Corrigan, but the damage done to this reservist cannot be so easily erased.
This story will describe how Sgt. Corrigan went from sleeping at home at night to arrested. Subsequent installments of the series will cover the home raid without a warrant, the long-term imprisonment and the coverup by MPD.
Sgt. Corrigan, 35, and his attorney Richard Gardiner appeared before Judge Michael Ryan at D.C. Superior Court on Monday. The District’s assistant attorney general moved to dismiss all ten charges against him – three for unregistered firearms and seven for possession of ammunition in different calibers.
Wearing a blue suit and black-rimmed glasses, Sgt. Corrigan looked unemotional after the hearing that ended his two-year ordeal. Outside the courtroom, I asked him how he felt. I expected some vindication or, at least, relief. Instead, he was weighed down by the losses and trauma of the experience. For court, I put on a face showing I’m okay, he said. Overall, this has broken me.
Sgt. Corrigan was asleep in rented apartment on North Capitol Street in the Stonghold neighborhood at 4am on Feb. 3, 2010, when he heard his name being called on a bullhorn from outside. There was a heavy snow falling — the first storm of what became known that winter as snowmageddon.
Flood lights glared through the front and back windows and doors of his English basement apartment. Matt Corrigan, We’re here to help you, Matt, the voice said in the darkness. An experienced combat soldier, he assumed a bunker mentality and hid in the dark room.
He turned on his cell phone and a police detective immediately phoned and said, Matt, don’t you think this is a good time to walk your dog? The SWAT team outside could obviously see the 11-year old pit bull, Matrix, a rescue from dog fighting, who had been with Sgt. Corrigan since graduate school in Northern California.
I’ll come to the window and show myself, he offered on the phone. Sgt. Corrigan still didn’t know why his house was surrounded, but he knew exactly what he should do in such situations. I’ve been on the other end of that rifle trying to get someone out, he explained.
He said that the cop on the phone answered that, ‘It’s gone beyond that now.’
Sgt. Corrigan volunteered to serve for a year in Iraq from 2005-2006. He’s an Army reservist in a drill sergeant unit based in Alexandria. By day, he is a statistician at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. His unit would generally never be needed overseas, but the Army need people to train the Iraqi soldiers. So, the then-drill sergeant signed up for the deployment because he thought it would be good for his military career.
The reservist and nine other soldiers were embedded with the Iraqi army to train them to be a functional military force. He was stationed in Fallujah during the transition from the assault on the city to allowing the civilian population to move back in and through the elections. The team was spread out over 4 or 5 locations so that each Iraqi company could have a very different tasking from the Marines who operated that battlespace.
Among other duties, the sergeant would go out on patrol with the Iraqis, clear routes of IEDs, prevent new IEDs from being placed in the urban areas. During patrols, he would search for any detail in the street that had changed in a way that would indicate a possible new explosive, then he would scan the horizon for the enemy with the detonator. He says that in his daily life now, he’s still looking for the IED triggerman. He was awarded the bronze star.
His twelve months of service ended without much time to re-adjust to civilian life. In 20 days, I went from being shot at to sitting in a cube wearing a suit, he recalled of the difficult transition returning to his statistician job. Your body is in America. Your head is in Iraq.
Night of the arrest
Sgt. Corrigan never fully recovered emotionally from the combat and continues to have vivid nightmares that gave him insomnia. The Veterans’ Affairs (VA) hospital gave him medication to help him sleep, but by early 2010, he started having new dreams.
I kept seeing my own dead body with my friend and family standing over me, looking disappointed. Sometimes I died in Iraq, sometimes here, he recalled. I didn’t sleep for four or five nights in a row.
At the same time, he was tasked to prepare a mental health manual for his soldiers on mild traumatic brain injury and suicide prevention. On a pamphlet from VA hospital, he saw a link to a website VeteransCrisisLine.net. On it, he found a number for a counseling hotline, which turned out to be a suicide hotline.
When he called it a little before midnight, he asked to speak to someone about the bad dreams and sleeplessness. The woman asked for his name, address, phone number, whether he was active duty, if he was using alcohol or drugs, and his unit. Then she asked if he had any firearms.
Sgt. Corrigan had three personal guns for protection and for competition in his home. He had recently moved from Virginia to the District, but had not registered them because he thought the process was too convoluted and risky.
It didn’t sound right that I could just carry my guns to the police station and not get arrested. He recalled thinking that, I’ll just wait for them to clear up this complicated process and do it then. The only places in the United States that require citizens to register every single gun they own with the government are Hawaii, New York City, Chicago and the District.
After the police raided his home that night, they took the three firearms: a Sig 226 in .40 caliber, a Smith and Wesson 5904 in 9mm and a M1A Springfield Armory Scout Squad rifle.
At the Monday hearing at D.C. Superior Court, Mr. Gardiner petitioned the court to return the property. It took two years for the firearms’ attorney’s other active-duty veteran client, Lt. Augustine Kim, to get his guns returned.
Judge Ryan gave the attorney general’s office three days to file a document in opposition to the release, and he said he will make a decision by the end of this week.
When asked by the VA hospital counselor on the night of Feb. 2 whether he owned guns, Sgt. Corrigan answered truthfully.
The woman answering the suicide hotline would not listen to him. I told her, ‘I don’t have the gun out.’ And she kept saying, ‘Put down the gun.’ She talked like I had the gun in one hand and my cell phone in the other.”
“She insisted I repeat the words, ‘The guns are down,’ he said. I finally got agitated and said, ‘I shouldn’t have called’ and hung up. Then, Sgt. Corrigan took a prescribed sleeping pill and went to bed.
Attack and Surrender
After being jolted awake four hours later, Sgt. Corrigan agreed to exit his home to show that he was fine. As he walked out his front door, he turned the lock on the knob so that it would lock when he closed it. He had a stow-away key in a box outside.
When he opened the door, he saw about 25 officers in full body armor and kevlar helmets, carrying M4 assault weapons. SWAT and explosive ordinance disposal teams were on all sides. Streets were barricaded for blocks. They were prepared to be blown up or attacked, Sgt. Corrigan remembered. Experienced in combat, he knew how to surrender with the least chance of being hurt. He put his hands over his head and spun around so they could clearly see he was unarmed.
In the dark, snowy night, the Iraq vet was an easy target. I looked down at saw 10 jiggly red dots all over my chest, he said, appearing afraid at the memory. I crumbled.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one officer ready to tackle him, so he dropped to his knees and crossed his ankles to demonstrate complete defenselessness.
They immediately zip-tied me tighter than I would have been allowed to zip-tie an Iraqi, Sgt. Corrigan said, pulling up his dress shirt cuff to show his wrist. We had to check to fit two fingers between the tie and the Iraqi’s wrist so we weren’t cutting off circulation. They tied mine so tight that they hurt.
Mr. Gardiner, the defense attorney, still questions whether this initial arrest was legal, since there were no charges against him at this point. The only thing the police had was the word of a VA operator saying he claimed to be a gun owner. He was not read his rights. MPD spokesman, Gwendolyn Crump, would not comment on the case.