'Contempt of Cop'
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Klotz, who frequently testifies against police departments as an expert witness in brutality cases, said officers may regard a citizen's questions or refusal to fully cooperate as an offense known informally among police as "contempt of cop" a sign of disrespect that could escalate into trouble.
Inez B. Vecchietti, a 70-year-old Bethesda woman, was accused of stealing two grapes at a Northwest supermarket by an off-duty officer working as a security guard. When she protested, Vecchietti alleged in court papers, she was dragged down the aisle, arrested and handcuffed. Charges against her were dropped. The lawsuit she filed was settled last spring by the store for an undisclosed amount, court documents show.
"These are petty incidents, not serious crimes," said Joseph Hart, a former corporation counsel lawyer who now represents clients suing for alleged brutality. "Seasoned criminals rarely are on the receiving end of police brutality. They know how to deal with the police and not provoke them. It's mostly your law-abiding citizens who have never encountered the police [and] who say, 'I've never been arrested before. Why is this happening?' "
That, law enforcement experts say, is where training comes into play. A well-trained officer learns to absorb verbal aggressiveness and not take confrontations personally, according to former D.C. police chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. Officers must understand, Fulwood added, that residents are angry not at the officer but at "the uniform."
"The overwhelming majority of police officers do a good job," added Fulwood, who was chief from 1989 to 1992. "They never use force, never fire their guns, never hit anyone."
But some D.C. officers are what is known in police jargon as "repeaters" cited again and again in citizen complaints and lawsuits.
Officer James T. "Jay" Effler is a 1989 academy graduate who, by 1995, had accumulated 18 citizen complaints, including allegations of using racial epithets, profanity and excessive force, according to internal records obtained by The Post. None of the 18 complaints was sustained by either the Civilian Complaint Review Board or the department. Effler declined to be interviewed.
Effler also was named in three brutality lawsuits against the District. One was settled last year for $10,400; two others were settled for $60,000 and $31,000. In responding to the suits, Effler denied any wrongdoing and said his actions were warranted.
Effler was reprimanded in 1992 after he and several other officers entered Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium the week of the Dallas Cowboys-Washington Redskins football game and carved figure-eights into the field with their police cruisers, according to internal police documents.
"The potential embarrassment that this city could have been saddled with is unprecedented," then-Deputy Chief Donald H. Christian wrote in a letter of reprimand obtained by The Post.
In 1991, Effler was charged with assault for allegedly grabbing and threatening a woman, but the charge was dropped, according to court records. In March 1993, he was placed on administrative leave without pay after being charged with battery and a misdemeanor sex offense in Prince George's County for allegedly running his hand between the legs of a waitress, according to court papers.
Effler, who denied wrongdoing, was convicted of the sex offense in Prince George's, but the matter was dropped when Effler appealed. The waitress told The Post that she agreed to drop charges if Effler performed community service.
In January 1997, Effler was assigned to drive a police official on the day of President Clinton's inaugural parade. At one point before the parade started, a Secret Service agent blocked the path of Effler's car. Effler jumped out of his vehicle, yelled at the agent and got into a scuffle. The Secret Service did not bring a formal complaint, but a Washington Post reporter was in the car and witnessed the incident.
Stephen T. Colo, of the Secret Service inaugural committee, said in an interview that the agent was not at fault. "He was pushed by a D.C. police officer," Colo said. "It was a physical scuffle. I never remember an officer and an agent pushing one another."
Former deputy chief Claude Beheler called Effler, who had served under him on two assignments, "a very good, aggressive officer . . . who liked to go out and lock people up and recover drugs and guns."
Effler accumulated citizen complaints, Beheler said, because he "wasn't real sophisticated. He was the kind of guy who ruffled people's feathers."
Citizen complaints, Beheler said, don't necessarily mean an officer was in the wrong. The most effective officers, who make a disproportionate share of arrests, also tend to generate a disproportionate share of citizen complaints, he added.
But Beheler and several other former police officials said the department for years has had a cumbersome disciplinary system often referred to as "the Bermuda Triangle," where investigations into officer misconduct languish and even vanish.
No one in the department has protected Effler, Beheler said: "The system protects him."
Staff writers Jeff Leen and David Jackson, director of computer-assisted reporting Ira Chinoy, database specialist Jo Craven, researcher Alice Crites and Metro Resource Director Margot Williams contributed to this report.
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