9 Officers Allege City Blocked Off-Duty Job
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Nine D.C. police officers have filed a class-action lawsuit against the police department, alleging their superiors interfered in their efforts to work off-duty for a shopping mall last year.
The action is the latest development in a legal battle between the police union and the city in connection with off-duty security provided at Gallery Place in downtown Washington.
The department is attempting to fire an officer on internal charges of illegally setting up off-duty employment for his colleagues at Gallery Place. Police officials are also seeking to suspend three other officers on internal charges they worked off-duty at Gallery Place without permission.
The class-action lawsuit, filed in D.C. Superior Court last week, alleges that when several other officers filed paperwork seeking permission to work at the mall, the department delayed granting their applications.
Top police officials then "began to pressure" management at Gallery Place to enter a contract with the department to provide the security, the suit alleges. Gallery Place soon entered into such a contract with the department and dropped its contracts with the other officers, according to the suit.
Sgt. Gregory I. Greene, chairman of the D.C. police labor committee for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, said the department is trying to provide off-duty security as a way to boost the city's revenues.
"This is nothing more than a shakedown," Greene said.
Greene also complained that on-duty supervisors have to oversee off-duty officers on the security details. He said such obligations distract attention from street patrols.
"What do they do if one of the officers scheduled to work for the businesses doesn't show up?" Greene said. "They are going to take [replacement officers] from their" patrol areas.
Police officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying they will not discuss pending litigation. They said that the D.C. inspector general and internal affairs detectives were investigating the officers who worked at Gallery Place and how the department's contract was handled.
In court papers filed in an earlier legal action connected to the dispute, city lawyers said they could conduct such security details for private businesses or events, most of which deal with traffic and pedestrian control, under a law passed by the D.C. Council last year.
Assistant Chief Winston Robinson said the department conducts about two dozen such details a day. The security operations are supposed to be conducted on streets or other public areas to handle traffic and crowds, Robinson said.
The department typically charges private groups about $50 an hour to provide an officer to work security and traffic details. Officers seeking work on their own charge far less -- about $25 an hour, union officials said.
Gallery Place, which is next to the MCI Center in the 700 block of 7th Street NW, dropped the department as its security service last year and has since hired a private firm. Marc Bing-Zaremba, who manages Gallery Place, declined to comment.
The class-action suit amends an earlier legal action that sought to prevent the firing of officer Martin Freeman, a 14-year-member of the force, on charges he improperly "brokered overtime" for his colleagues at Gallery Place. Freeman filed an injunction to block his firing in March. Under department rules, officers are not allowed to negotiate such security work for other officers.
Police officials are seeking to suspend three other officers -- Duane Fowler, Andre Powell and Billy Robin -- without pay for 25 days on charges they worked without permission at Gallery Place, said Anthony Conti, who represents Freeman and the other eight officers in the class-action lawsuit.
Conti said Freeman has done nothing wrong and never was paid to work at Gallery Place. He said the department is seeking to fire Freeman because he spoke out against the department's security contract with Gallery Place last year.