Parents of Afghanistan war veteran who died after DC incident are fighting for his honor
Times Union, Albany, N.Y.
CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — Surveillance video from a McDonald's captures the last moments in the life of a former football player and Afghanistan war veteran from Clifton Park. But it's what the tape doesn't show that has outraged his grieving parents.
Paul and Gail Casey, the parents of the late Patrick Casey, recently obtained about 20 minutes of grainy footage taken inside the Washington, D.C., restaurant during the early morning of Sept. 23, 2011, just before their son was involved in a confrontation that ended his life. The couple have memorized every head-turn in the recording. They view it with skepticism and dread.
It shows several diners, including their son and two friends, and three men, one of whom landed a fatal blow to Pat Casey outside the restaurant. The 33-year-old master's degree student at George Washington University hit the sidewalk, police said, and died from massive head trauma in a hospital four days later. No one has been charged in his death.
The incident occurred outside the restaurant and was not captured on the tape. The video has no sound. But it does not appear to show Patrick Casey instigating the altercation or blocking others from the exit, as police alleged days after his death.
The images undermine the police version of events and raise more questions than answers, Paul and Gail Casey said. They accused police of mishandling the investigation and sullying their son's memory by making public statements that are at odds with the contents of the video.
"We feel the video exonerates Pat," Paul Casey said in a recent interview.
The couple's feelings are shared by David Lindsey of New Jersey, a college friend of Pat Casey's who, along with a female friend, met up with the Shenendehowa graduate on Sept. 23 for fast food after a night out.
In his first interview with the media about the tragic evening, Lindsey, 25, told the Times Union that D.C. police questioned his account of the confrontation for two hours and tried to steer him into blaming his dead friend.
"They tried to imply we or Pat pushed someone," Lindsey said in a phone interview. "They had an agenda. This whole thing is mind-boggling to me."
Police have not publicly identified the man who punched Pat Casey and the two others who were involved in a verbal disagreement with him and Lindsey. In a phone interview last week, Commander George Kucik of the Washington, D.C. Police declined to respond to questions about the investigation.
"All the facts were presented to the U.S. Attorneys Office, and it decided not to prosecute the case," Kucik said. "The U.S. attorneys office basically concluded that the actions of the individual who struck Mr. Casey were consistent with that of an individual acting in self-defense."
U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr., responded to the Caseys' concerns in a May letter. He told them the office concluded there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges because the government could not prove the person who punched Pat did not act in self-defense, or in defense of a third party. The matter could be re-opened if additional evidence materializes, Machen said.
The Caseys say they won't rest until they set the record straight about their son's death and undo the damage to his reputation. They hired Albany attorney Michael Koenig for legal advice. "We would have greater confidence in the decision not to prosecute had the investigation been better handled and the answers we received more consistent," Koenig said.
The couple are relentless in their pursuits. They went to the McDonald's in Georgetown this week and interviewed a store manager who said the restaurant had four surveillance cameras functioning the night of Pat Casey's death, including one with a view of the front door.
"We were never told of the additional videos," said Gail Casey, adding that they hope to obtain the additional videos.
The family levels most of their criticism at D.C. Police Capt. Michael Farish, who told reporters Sept. 30 that Pat Casey may have instigated the confrontation and he or someone with him initiated physical contact with a push. Pat Casey began interacting with others in an "annoying" way, and "wouldn't let anyone leave" the restaurant, Farish said.
There's no evidence of that on the video because it didn't happen, said Lindsey, who graduated from George Washington University in May with a master's degree in international trade and investment policy. He recounted a time line of events.
Three individuals started "talking trash," and made a joke about Pat Casey's receding hairline, Lindsey said. That caused Pat Casey to walk to their table. Pat Casey told the three he had lost hair "because of his time in Afghanistan or something," Lindsey said. Lindsey said he then stood up, told the three, "have fun going home alone guys," and tossed what was on his tray in the garbage.
Lindsey said one of the three men grabbed him as he tried to leave the restaurant, and Pat Casey tried to step between them with his hands down. Outside the restaurant one of the men hit Pat Casey, Lindsey said. "He had no idea the punch was coming," Lindsey said. He immediately called 911.
The Caseys were initially given access to a two-minute portion of the McDonald's video on Nov. 8. They returned to the U.S. attorney's office to watch its entire contents on Jan. 18. The family submitted a Freedom of Information request for their own copy. They received it July 10 and shared it with the Times Union. Police edited the copy to blur the three men who clashed with Pat Casey and Lindsey, but recently agreed to send an uncensored version, the Caseys said.
The couple are dismayed that Capt. Farish publicly stated their son had been drinking before going to McDonald's, while ignoring video evidence of the three other men wrestling and pushing each other while in line for food. Farish also stated Sept. 30 that detectives had interviewed people on both sides of the confrontation, which the Caseys later found out from police wasn't true. While investigators identified the three men in Casey's opposing party within days, they did not interview two subjects until Oct. 1, and the man who struck Pat Casey until a later date, Kucik told the Caseys in an email.
They say Farish publicized inaccurate information days before a grand jury convened to consider the case. "The statements certainly would not encourage additional witnesses to come forward," Paul Casey said.
Paul and Gail Casey learned of Farish's news briefing from a reporter who called them while they were driving home from arranging their son's funeral. They want Farish to recant his statements. Asked about the family's concerns, Kucik said Farish had stated what he believed to be true at the time.
Casey grew up in Clifton Park and excelled as a member of the Shenendehowa and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute football teams. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound offensive lineman joined the Army in 2006 and learned Arabic. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 for a year. In a letter to his parents, Army Capt. Alexander Patterson described the Clifton Park man as his "counter IED-expert," or soldier who discovered improvised explosive devices.
"Day after day, he would lead the patrol with twice the ammunition, explosives and humanitarian aid than that of the other soldiers," Patterson wrote. Pat Casey discharged from the military and arrived in D.C. in August 2011.
He had grown a beard and was wearing a long pair of shorts when he arrived in McDonald's around 2:22 a.m., according to the video. He spoke with Lindsey and Lindsey's friend before the three sat at a table near the back of the restaurant. Pat Casey did not order food or interact with anyone other than those in his party until he sat down.
Three college-aged men arrived at 2:28 a.m. They were identified to the Caseys only as "yellow shirt," "gray shirt" and "plaid." The three take seats at the rear of the long and narrow restaurant near Pat Casey. At around 2:40 a.m., Pat Casey shared a joke about football and soccer with people who prosecutors later said were German tourists.
A minute later, Casey snaps his head to the left toward the three men sitting by the front window, apparently in reaction to something they said. Pat Casey stood up and walked to their table. Lindsey picked up his tray and moved out of the picture toward the door, followed by "yellow shirt." The remaining parties momentarily congregate near the door before "gray shirt" and "plaid" disappear outside behind Pat Casey.
It's 2:42 a.m. Pat Casey, black belt in karate, football star and battlefield leader, lies unconscious and bleeding on the pavement. The three men with the different colored shirts flee.
"I think Pat was killed," Lindsey said. "Pat's killer is walking the streets free."