Guard Shoots Alleged Robber at Chinatown Walgreens, a Frequent Target of Crime

Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post
The Walgreens where a security guard shot an alleged armed robber on Sunday in Washington, D.C.

Six times since July, police allege, the same man robbed the same Walgreens in Chinatown, across the street from the Gallery Place Metro station. The FBI joined D.C. police trying to track him down.

Residents had long complained of crime and decay in the once-bustling downtown Washington neighborhood of shops and businesses that never seemed to fully recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and they had pressed city officials to take more aggressive steps to clean up the area. Prosecutors began seeking stay-away orders to keep those charged with crimes from coming back, and the city planned an initiative to offer resources for those in the area needing help.

Then on Sunday evening – the day before the city was scheduled to roll out that initiative – police said, 24-year-old Kamanye Williams again robbed the Walgreens at Seventh and H streets Northwest, taking a security guard’s gun and grabbing $4,200 in cash from a backroom.

But this time, D.C. police said another security guard shot the suspected robber, now carrying two firearms, sending him to a hospital with critical injuries. The guard, Police Chief Pamela A. Smith said, “did exactly what needed to happen.”

The robbery and shooting illustrated the challenge officials have faced in reducing crime in a central commuter hub and a destination for those coming to sporting events and concerts at Capital One Arena, a few blocks from the Walgreens.

Violent crime increased 12 percent last year in Chinatown, which saw 52 robberies, compared with 40 in 2022, according to police statistics for the patrol area that covers the neighborhood. Robberies, though, have gone down significantly so far this year. Through early February of this year, there had been just three, compared with 12 during the same time period in 2022.

On Monday, officials vowed to make more improvements so people feel safer. The police chief joined Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to announce the opening of a new office a few doors from the Walgreens where police officers and health and other officials will offer services to residents, including help with substance abuse and mental health problems.

The Chinatown-Gallery Place area – where high-rise apartment buildings and hotels sit alongside major tourist attractions such as the National Portrait Gallery and government buildings including the FBI headquarters – is roughly sandwiched between Mount Vernon Square and Pennsylvania Avenue. It includes more than 1,100 businesses employing 28,600 workers, according to city planning documents, and permanent residents number about 3,800.

The troubles in Chinatown have built since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered offices across the city. Streets are pockmarked with vacant storefronts that used to be restaurants and retailers, and residents have complained that the area around the Metro station, devoid of the ebb and flow of office workers, is particularly desolate, though Metro’s general manager said Monday that ridership is “going up.” Last week, the system saw its highest 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. hour since the pandemic.

At a community meeting in August, residents and executives for Monumental Sports & Entertainment – which owns the Capital One Arena and its two principal tenants, the Washington Capitals and Wizards – complained of drug dealing, loitering and assaults. Some people told police they had seen drug deals under the signature Friendship Arch, and they described pushing through the illicit activity to get into the Metro station. Police made arrests, they said, but they would soon see the same offenders back in the area hours later.

Police stepped up patrols with officers on foot and bicycles, and federal prosecutors said they started charging more misdemeanor crimes and seeking court-issued stay-away orders for people they arrested at or near the Metro station, hoping to keep them from returning to the area. Asked if that initiative is working, Smith said she has been in close contact with the U.S. attorney’s office but did not directly answer the question. “When we have asked for stay-away orders, they have been granted,” the police chief said.

In December, the owner of the two sports franchises announced plans to move the teams to a new arena in Alexandria’s Potomac Yard neighborhood as soon as 2028.

Bowser is pushing Monumental to reconsider and to accept the District’s $500 million offer for upgrades. She said Monday’s announcement of the city’s first “Safe Commercial Corridor Hub” in Chinatown was one way of addressing the wide range of issues that can affect public safety, without relying exclusively on police. Monica Dixon, president of external affairs at Monumental, said the initiative “will make a big difference here, and we’re excited about it.” But when asked if Monumental was still considering Bowser’s offer, Dixon said the company was focused “100 percent” on Virginia.

Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Metro General Manager Randy Clarke at Chinatown-Gallery Place.

D.C. officials said other hubs are planned this spring along the U Street entertainment area and in Anacostia.

The mayor said crime in Chinatown and across the city is down, but noted, “We have to work urgently to keep that up. We not only want people to be safe, but feel safe.”

Smith said the new office will ensure officers out on foot and on bicycles reach emergencies faster, and will make crisis counselors from the city departments of behavioral health and human services more accessible to people abusing drugs, experiencing homelessness or suffering mental breakdowns. Authorities said the office could also help free officers to concentrate on more serious criminal matters.

“This isn’t just about crime,” Smith said. “It’s about making sure we can quickly get services to people who are suffering.”

Before Sunday’s shooting, Smith said detectives and the FBI had been investigating armed robberies at the Walgreens, focusing on one man and possibly some accomplices. The robberies began in July and continued at pace of roughly one a month into the winter, authorities said.

Smith said investigators “were closing in on this suspect” when he “came back again” on Sunday.

About 6:30 p.m., police alleged, Williams, armed with a gun, walked into the Walgreens and forced a guard and an employee into a backroom. Police said he took away the guard’s gun, and stole money.

A second security guard then entered the backroom and shot Williams. A police report says authorities recovered $4,265, a black handgun belonging to the alleged robber and a Glock handgun that belonged to the guard.

Armed guards, called special police officers, are licensed by the District. D.C. police said their criminal investigation division and internal affairs are investigating the shooting. The guard who fired his weapons works for a private security company contracted by Walgreens. A representative of Walgreens did not respond to an interview request on Monday.

Smith said additional arrests are possible in the case. She said the suspect was being charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, kidnapping, armed robbery, assault on a police officer and carrying an unlicensed firearm in connection with Sunday’s incident. The chief said he faces six other charges in connection with the previous holdups of the Walgreens.

A police department spokesman, Tom Lynch, said the first robbery at the Walgreens that authorities attributed to Williams occurred July 18. The spokesman said one additional robbery occurred each month in 2023, except for October. Lynch said in each instance, a gunman forced an employee into a backroom. He said most occurred between 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Police said Williams remained hospitalized on Monday and he has not yet made an initial appearance in D.C. Superior Court. It could not be determined if he has an attorney.

A woman who answered a phone at an address linked to Williams identified herself as his grandmother, but declined to provide her name. She said she had not heard of the accusations against Williams. “I don’t have the full story, so I don’t want to comment,” she said.