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  • Deadly Force series

  •   Police Efforts to Clean House Hit Snags

       
    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 and
    Keith Harriston

    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Wednesday, August 31, 1994; Page A01

    Since 1991, 256 D.C. officers who were fired or suspended have had their penalties overturned by courts and labor arbitrators solely because the department took too long to mete out punishment.

    A 1990 D.C. personnel rule gives supervisors 45 days to start disciplinary action against an employee once the supervisor learns of a wrongdoing. Police department disciplinary records show it has missed that deadline 256 times.

    As the department confronts the rising number of officers hired in 1989 and 1990 who have been arrested or breached regulations, it also has to confront its failure to quickly oust them and others. Because justice has not been swift, it has not been sure.

    The personnel rule that imposed a time limit for disciplinary action hit the department at a critical period. Misconduct cases that predated the 1989 and 1990 hiring rush already were in the pipeline when the glut of cases from that hiring flooded in.

    For more than a year, the department interpreted the time rule as a guideline, rather than a requirement. The result: It lost case after case against errant police officers, and one bad officer after another returned to work side by side with the clutch of rookies.

    Lugenia Dorothy King, a veteran narcotics detective who joined the force in 1978, was fired and rehired. She tested positive for cocaine use in 1989. The U.S. attorney then sought the release of 32 inmates convicted on her testimony – some of whom were freed – and the dismissal of 88 pending cases in which she was the essential prosecution witness.

    In 1991, the department took her badge but took too long to do it. King was rehired and is still on the force, working in the 5th District in Northeast Washington.

    Police Chief Fred Thomas said the rehired officers aren't on the streets. "I put them in places where they have little direct contact with the public" – and less chance of adding to the department's legal liability, Thomas said.

    But that deployment creates a group of fully paid, fully armed clerks, who each collect at least the base salary of $27,732 a year, plus back pay. They are banking time toward pensions again.

    The group of 256 fired and suspended officers account for 10 percent of all the cases decided by the department's disciplinary board since 1991.

    Compliance Improves


    The department's compliance with the personnel rule has been improving. Of the 363 disciplinary cases heard in 1991, 135 were overturned because of 45-day rule violations. In 1992 and 1993, when about 500 disciplinary cases a year were handled, about 50 each year were overturned for that reason.

    So far this year, 12 of 280 disciplinary actions have been overturned because of 45-day rule violations. The number could be reduced further.

    "We've told the district commanders we would come out and clarify how the rule works to make sure they understand," said William B. Riley, head of the disciplinary review board since 1992. "But no one has taken us up on that."

    D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke sponsored the legislation that imposed the new deadline for taking action against employees. Before the law was passed, employees faced continual uncertainty about whether they might be punished. Yet employees were required to file complaints within 15 days if they wanted to take action against supervisors.

    The rule says "adverse action shall be commenced" in the 45-day period. Police department lawyers, according to court filings, said the word "shall" made the rule a guideline; a word like "must" would have made it a requirement, they reasoned.

    Labor arbitrators consistently rejected that argument in individual cases. Yet department officials clung to their interpretation and privately chalked up the losses to pro-labor bias among arbitrators.

    By the time D.C. Superior Court Judge Richard S. Salzman told the department last summer that compliance with the 45-day rule was mandatory, disciplinary actions against hundreds of officers had been overturned.

    Losing the Big Gamble


    The department lost big by that decision because, in a major gamble, it had asked the court to review a consolidated set of 10 firings.

    Salzman ordered the department to take back all 10. They returned as a group, were recycled through the police academy and went back to work in late spring – even though the department sought otherwise. "We let them linger awhile at the academy. We offered them money. They wanted to keep their jobs," Thomas said.

    The actions that prompted the dismissals of King and the other nine officers are outlined in department records. The records show:

  • Kirk V. Roache was fired in 1992 after he was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence at 103 mph in a 45-mph zone. Roache, who had been hired in 1989, got his job back and now works in the 4th District in upper Northwest Washington. The disposition of the driving case could not be learned.

  • William Fenton, who joined the force in 1978, was fired in 1991 for hitting a prisoner with a pistol. A jury found him guilty of possession of a prohibited weapon with intent to use it unlawfully. He now works in the 4th District.

  • Curtis Reed III, who joined the force in 1988, lost his job in 1991 after he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend. The disposition of the case could not be learned. Reed is assigned to the 7th District in the Southeastern corner of the city.

  • Leonard Davis, who joined the force in 1972, was fired in 1991 after testing positive for cocaine use. He is now in the 6th District, in far Northeast and Southeast Washington.

  • Yvonne Prince, who joined the force in 1986, was fired in 1992 after accumulating four adverse personnel actions in one year. She is now in the 3rd District downtown.

  • Milford Washington was fired after failing a random drug test and rehired after the 1993 court decision. On his first day back on the force, he was given a drug test. He failed, and was fired again, according to department records.

    Three of the 10 officers who were rehired after Salzman's decision appear by name in the court records with details of their disciplinary proceedings. Only one gave a detailed interview, however.

    The rest of the "45-day guys," as they've been dubbed, did not respond to several telephone messages The Washington Post left at their workplaces. They also declined formal interview requests through the department's information office.

    Officer Timothy Craggette used a knife to flatten the car tire of a man he suspected of drug dealing. Then he allegedly threatened the man by holding an uncapped hypodermic needle to his neck, according to court papers.

    At a police trial board, Craggette – who became an officer in 1985 – pleaded guilty to a departmental charge of destroying a citizen's property in the 1990 incident, but he denied threatening the man with a needle. The department fired him.

    Graveyard Shift


    Since he was rehired, Craggette's tour of duty starts nightly about 11, at the top of the graveyard shift in the 2nd District west of Rock Creek Park. Craggette passes out radios to officers going on patrol in Georgetown and neighborhoods north.

    When the shift ends near dawn, he collects the radios.

    In between, Craggette rides a desk and does little tasks, chores, busy work. "I kill time" is the way he summarizes it. But any hope supervisors hold that tedium might accomplish what termination couldn't is wasted.

    As Craggette put it: "Handing out radios is not an ideal job, no. But I'd dig a ditch for the same money if that's what they wanted."

    A police officer's salary is decidedly better than the money Craggette received from collecting unemployment benefits and repairing lawn mowers during the three years he was jobless pending the Superior Court decision.

    The suggestion of a department buyout – "no one talked a precise dollar figure to me" – slightly appealed to him, Craggette said, but when police officials "started talking about how we'd hurt credibility, it was offensive. I thought, 'I'm all right. I want the job back.' "

    Long before he and his colleagues returned, though, they had been branded retreads, Craggette said. "Our reputations preceded us."

    Puncturing the tire, Craggette said, "was stupid. I wish I'd been smart enough to let the air out." But he considers himself no worse an officer than some supervisors who have been promoted. "They make the general {internal department} orders, then go out and break them or bend them." Using that standard, he said, "I didn't deserve to get thrown out."

    A Night to Forget


    A night of beer, dope and shooting led to the firing of Officer Timothy Toland, court records show. They show that Toland, who joined the force in 1988, was off duty when he drove his personal car to the police station where he worked – "after drinking substantial amounts of beer" – picked up marijuana from a suspect dealing in drugs and put it in the car. In Prince George's County, a passenger in the car fired a gun out of the window, drawing the attention of police, who pursued and arrested Toland and two companions.

    Toland was fired after a charge of possessing marijuana was placed on the "stet docket" in Prince George's District Court, which means that the charge would be dismissed after a year if Toland stayed out of trouble.

    Toland, who now works nights in the 4th District, said his dismissal and subsequent return were "pretty embarrassing, as you can guess, but I was specifically advised by my supervisors that it was not in my interests to talk with anyone in the media and that I should just keep my mouth shut now that I'm back."

    Sgt. Thurston Genies, who joined the force in 1987, said he, too, saw no reason to talk about his firing. "There's no point now in my adding any spice to it."

    His problems started with a call from his mother-in-law, court records show. As described in the filings, she disclosed to Genies' supervisors that he had not told the department about his emotional problems. Genies later admitted to police investigators that between the ages of 15 and 18 he had been hospitalized briefly more than once and received psychiatric care for "erratic but nonviolent behavior," the records state.

    He had no recurrence by the time he was 25 and joined the force in 1987, Genies told investigators. But on his police application, according to court records, he answered no when asked whether he had ever been treated by a psychiatrist.

    Because his application mentioned some previous medical treatment – for a broken wrist suffered as a child – but didn't mention the psychiatric stays, the department fired Genies for "fraud in securing an appointment" to the force. The department told the court its interest in "mentally fit and honest" officers ran counter to Genies' "personal interest in job security."

    Court records indicated that the department took four months too long to initiate action against Craggette and Toland and one month too long against Genies.

    The 45-day rule is "a bad rule," said Riley, head of the disciplinary review board since 1992. But "it's something we've got to live with."

    The living isn't easy, especially, Riley said, "when I hear about some of these guys coming back all cocky with attitude, bragging about they got over and have it so easy."

    During the D.C. Council's original debate on the 45-day rule, it discussed creating special circumstances for the police department since police cases often involved related criminal investigations. But talk of exempting the police department from the rule or giving it a 60-day window went nowhere.

    An officer who has been arrested faces two levels of possible punishment: by criminal court and by the police disciplinary board.

    No Guarantees


    A finding of not guilty or a decision to drop a criminal case doesn't guarantee the officer keeps his job or avoids suspension. The disciplinary board's standard of proof – a preponderance of the evidence – is less than a court's standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt."

    Officers, under their union contract and city personnel rules, also may appeal the board's decision to the chief of police or others.

    The union has been loath to argue for change in the 45-day rule.

    J.C. Stamps, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police Labor Committee, said officers reinstated after a firing "received their due process. Both sides must answer in 45 days. This is what happens when the department fails. It's that simple."

    Simple, maybe, but not tolerable, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly said.

    She is "open" to either adjusting or doing away with the 45-day rule for the police. And she said, "I can assure you we keep a watchful eye" on those who have returned. "It's absurd that we are stuck with them."


    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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