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  • Deadly Force series

  •   After Rookie Got Role Model, He Lost Job

    Law and Disorder
    Day One
    D.C. Police Paying for Forced Hiring Binge
    Pride in Badge Keeps Officers on Beat

    Day Two
    Standards Eased in Rush to Expand Force
    After Rookie Got Role Model, He Lost Job

    Day Three
    Police Credibility on Trial in D.C. Courts

    Day Four
    Police Efforts to Clean House Hit Snags
    Some Supervisors Not Affected by Missteps


    By Mary Pat Flaherty
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, August 29, 1994; Page A13

    By the time Edward Wright had been on the police force for 18 years, he'd received a series of suspensions and official criticism for poor conduct, roughing up a prisoner, missing radio calls, unauthorized absences and crashing his patrol car into a parked Volvo after he'd fallen asleep at the wheel.

    Yet when it came time for the D.C. police department to pick training officers for the glut of raw recruits flooding the department in 1989 and 1990, Edward Wright became a role model.

    Wright was paired with Officer Tyrone Dodson Jr. in 1990, assigned to break Dodson in on the streets and teach him what everyday police work was like.

    Before their time together ended, Dodson would be fired and the District would have paid $25,000 to settle a lawsuit. Wright retired with full pension.

    At the very time a rash of young officers joined the department, veterans were retiring in droves, shorting the department in experienced hands who could teach what it meant to be a cop, down in the dirt and down in the soul.

    "You could sense the fabric breaking down," said Robert White, a former police lieutenant who retired in 1989 after 20 years that included teaching at the training academy.

    Supervisors were stretched, with sergeants on average overseeing more than 10 officers – a ratio higher than the 1 to 7 that Chief Fred Thomas said is ideal.

    As the new recruits hired under a mandate imposed by Congress were arriving, 2,351 of the force's 3,880 officers – or 61 percent – became eligible for retirement by 1992. They included more than half of the lieutenants and captains and nearly 80 percent of the inspectors.

    Wright had been hired in 1972. Two months later, personnel files show, his attitude was described as "indifferent." In 1975, he was cited for dereliction of duty. In 1979, he was denied a transfer because of "poor disciplinary conduct and sick leave record" but in 1980 received a transfer for "unnecessary use of force on a prisoner."

    An evaluation from 1986 praised him as a "knowledgeable veteran officer" who readily helped other officers, volunteered for unpleasant tasks and performed his duties in an "outstanding manner" without complaint. His overall ranking was "above average." But at the same time it noted, "Officer Wright has missed radio runs, been AWOL and {had} a scout car accident because he fell asleep. When he overcomes his problems with reference to getting enough sleep and staying awake he will become an outstanding officer."

    By the late 1980s, Wright had been recycled through driver's training because of "preventable accidents" and had received several suspensions. Yet Wright was called on to shepherd Dodson.

    Wright and Dodson were patrolling about 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 19, 1991, when they came upon Bertie Shields using a pay phone at Eighth and Kennedy streets NW in Petworth.

    What happened to him in the next few minutes became the basis of the lawsuit Shields filed against the city and the two officers. Statements Wright and Dodson made in depositions and to the department's Internal Affairs section describe the encounter:

    Dodson and Wright, assigned to the 4th Police District, came upon a loitering crowd and ordered them to disperse. The crowd did, they said, but the officers noticed a man – Shields – on the phone.

    Wright shouted at Shields to hang up, saying the phones were out of service after midnight, a statement Wright said wasn't true but was a technique "we use to try to harass the drug boys."

    Shields stayed on the phone – talking to his wife, he told his attorney – prompting Wright to approach him, hang up the phone and ask for identification. Shields asked, "What is the problem?" Dodson recalled.

    Wright and Dodson ordered Shields to put his hands on a wall and frisked him. Shields said nothing, but when he turned to watch what they were doing, Wright said, Dodson "shoved" him back on the wall, several times.

    After patting Shields down, they found his union card, then a gun and badge. Shields was an off-duty sergeant from the 7th District.

    Realizing they'd frisked a superior, the two called for their supervisors.

    Shields, who suffered head and shoulder injuries in the confrontation and remains on the force, sued the department and received the $25,000 settlement. Shields declined to be interviewed for this article, saying "that was a painful incident, and I'm trying to leave it behind me."

    Wright, who retired in August 1992 with full pension, could not be located for comment.

    Dodson, who was still in his probationary period, was fired. "I was in shock. I was doing what I was hired for. This jammed me good. I can't get on with other departments," said Dodson, who has been driving trucks for a living.

    Dodson said during his deposition that he felt his training was "good" but said, "They pretty much had a factory going down there. ... A lot of people felt it {training} should have been a little longer."

    In reflecting on several police cases he's handled involving younger officers, Ted J. Williams, Shields's lawyer and a former District officer himself, said there were "grave mistakes" made in training partners.

    "The department seemed to put a lot of the young guys with officers who had the kick-butt-and-take-names kind of attitude, and that's what the training wound up being," Williams said.

    During his deposition for the lawsuit, Dodson was asked by Shields's attorney whether the rookie would have had reservations about working with an officer who had numerous complaints against him – as was the case with Wright.

    Without criticizing Wright directly, Dodson said, "I would have a problem if I would have known about it."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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