Demoted Commander Sues D.C. Police Chief

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A veteran D.C. police official has filed a federal lawsuit against Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, saying she humiliated him and acted with "evil motive" in demoting him two ranks and putting him in charge of the city's central cellblock.

Robin Hoey built a large following of neighborhood support as commander of the 6th Police District, which covers a large area east of the Anacostia River that has among the highest crime rates in the city. Hoey, who had led the district since 2004, was demoted to the rank of captain last month.

The suit, which also names Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), says Lanier started addressing Hoey as "Captain" on April 19, right after taking away his commander's badge. Hoey's demotion was among the first moves made by Lanier, and he says she gave him no reason for moving him to the department's lockup facility.

Publicly, Lanier has provided no details, saying only that she has the right to form her own "command team." She replaced Hoey with Robert Contee, who had led the special operations division.

The demotion caused Hoey "to suffer . . . emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, embarrassment and humiliation," the suit says. Hoey has been on leave since the move but said he plans to return to work soon.

The suit, filed last week, asks that Hoey be reinstated to commander with back pay and benefits, as well as unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. A D.C. police commander with 20 years in the department receives about $143,000 annually; a captain with the same experience is paid at least $109,000 a year.

Lanier downgraded Hoey's position about two weeks after the D.C. Council approved her nomination as police chief. She had been acting chief since late December.

According to the suit, Lanier acted against Hoey "with evil motive, actual malice, deliberate oppression, with intent to injure."

Lanier released a statement yesterday through her spokeswoman, Traci Hughes, saying the move was best for the city.

"It's not the Metropolitan Police Department's policy to comment on personnel matters. However, Chief Lanier made the decision to change the command of the Sixth District in the best interest of the department and the community," the statement said.

Hoey, a 23-year veteran, has said he went on leave because he was suffering from high blood pressure.

Some residents said they like and respect Contee but still want Hoey back. They said they appreciated the way he came by to check on them. He frequently attended community meetings.

"People out here are very upset about this," said Johnnie Scott Rice, 66, who lives in Fort Dupont. "We haven't seen any reason to justify the demotion."

Robert J. Spagnoletti, former attorney general for the District, said Hoey's filing was unusual for an employment suit.

"You don't see that many senior members of law enforcement challenging their reassignment," said Spagnoletti, now a partner with the firm Schertler & Onorato. "As a paramilitary organization, they're used to being told where they are assigned."

The other unusual aspect of the case, he said, is that the suit does not allege discrimination.

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