D.C. Police Chief Resigns
and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, Nov. 26, 1997; Page A01
D.C. Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby resigned yesterday, less than two hours before the police lieutenant with whom he shared a cut-rate luxury apartment was charged with extorting money from married men who frequented gay bars.
Support for the embattled chief eroded abruptly after reports that he was sharing an apartment at the Lansburgh building that allegedly had been obtained under false pretenses by his longtime friend, police Lt. Jeffery S. Stowe, who received deeply discounted rent after telling the landlord the apartment would be used for police undercover work.
"I cannot allow another controversy to impact on my officers and to detract from their accomplishments," said a tearful Soulsby, his voice quivering as he announced his resignation at a news conference at police headquarters. "My concern for the welfare of my officers and the people they serve transcends my own personal welfare."
Soulsby's departure leaves the beleaguered 4,500-member department in deep disarray at a time when reform efforts were expected to go into high gear. The control board saw Soulsby as the leader who could carry out an overhaul of the department outlined in a series of reports from management consultants.
If the control board and city officials determine they need an outside candidate to lead the department, it could take several months to find a new chief.
Soulsby's departure came after a 90-minute meeting with Stephen D. Harlan, vice chairman of the control board, and a subsequent meeting with several city officials, including Mayor Marion Barry (D), control board Chairman Andrew F. Brimmer and D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D).
Said Soulsby in his announcement: "I have therefore decided on my own accord to step aside as chief of police . . . but not because I feel I have done anything wrong. Although I seem somewhat emotional . . . this is the happiest day I have had in two years."
Soulsby, 47, blamed the media and political infighting for his troubles, saying both detracted from his ability to run the department.
Soulsby yesterday denied any knowledge that Stowe had misled managers of the luxury building on Seventh Street NW to obtain a two-bedroom apartment for $650 a month, less than half the going rate of $1,700 to $2,000.
A spokesman for the building, who asked not to be identified, said: "We were told that we would be cooperating with a police matter, and Mr. Stowe made the contact and put the arrangements in place."
Soulsby said in an interview last night that he was not a party to the discount deal.
"[Stowe] told me he had a couple of friends that could get us an apartment at a reduced rent," Soulsby said. "I didn't think much about it . . . and I was also told the place wasn't that full anyway."
Soulsby said he never talked to anyone in the apartment's office about the rent. "I never dealt with anyone in the office."
Soulsby said that once he found out last week about the arrangement, he called the apartment managers and said he would be out before the end of the month.
"I've moved out," said Soulsby, who said he began packing Monday night. "I'm contemplating where to move next. I'm staying with non-police friends outside the city."
He said he didn't want to get specific because "I'm not a public figure anymore."
"I need to take some time off and chill out," he said. "I'm just tired, very tired. I'm tired of fighting these silly battles.
"I'm actually very pleased to be leaving," he said. "It was a tremendous pressure removed, the moment I decided to leave. It was like taking a 1,200-pound gorilla off my shoulders."
Soulsby said Stowe already had moved from the building. Soulsby said the arrest of Stowe took him by surprise. Regarding the charges brought against his longtime friend, Soulsby said, "It's astonishing. It's wild. It seems so much out of character.
"I trusted him as a friend, and he violated that trust," Soulsby said. "I am very disappointed."
Soulsby said that when he was with Stowe on the golf course, they never talked about the department and never discussed Stowe's personal problems, including bankruptcy.
Soulsby said that he didn't spend much time with Stowe at the apartment because "frankly, he stayed there very seldom."
The chief's departure brings to a close a tenure in office that was marked by other controversies, including the resignations of his four top managers this year; the ouster of his homicide commander and the transfer of 17 homicide supervisors; a homicide unit that solved only one-third of the District's slayings; and mismanagement and waste in several divisions.
Through it all, though, Soulsby had the unwavering public support of the control board, Barry and several council members.
"Chief Soulsby has been one of the best crime-fighting chiefs this city has had in a long time," said Barry, who appointed Soulsby and stood beside him as he announced his decision to step down. "I want to certainly say I'm glad that I made the choice."
Harlan, the control board member who oversees the police department, applauded Soulsby for leading the charge to change the department.
"I have mixed emotions," Harlan said. "He has changed the department in many, many ways. He's made some real tough decisions. . . . Larry Soulsby did one heck of a fine job, and I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart."
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a staunch Soulsby supporter, said it was time for the chief to leave.
"Events . . . have unfortunately overcome this chief and this department, and it's time to step aside," Evans said.
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the former U.S. attorney for the District, agreed.
"I think the decision he made is appropriate," Holder said in a telephone interview yesterday. "It is clear there will be controversy about his involvement with Stowe. The danger was if he stayed . . . then the potential for damage [to the department] was there."
Soulsby was given unprecedented power in February to reshape the department with the help of the control board and the consulting firm of Booz-Allen & Hamilton. Ten months later, the department remains in disarray, and the chief who was going to lead the effort to repair it is now gone.
It will be up to Barry to choose someone who can step in and put the recommended changes in place. The mayor has the legal authority to nominate the next chief of police, who must be confirmed by the D.C. Council.
But Brimmer said Barry will not nominate anyone without prior approval from the "Memorandum of Understanding Partners," a group chaired by Harlan that includes local law enforcement and political leaders working to improve public safety.
Barry said he would work closely with the group, which has been meeting weekly to address crime problems since last winter.
"No person would be nominated by the mayor without the approval and concurrence and support of the MOU partners," Brimmer said.
Brimmer said no decision has been made about who will pay the executive search firm that will look for the next chief. However, he said that if the control board pays the bill, the search firm will report to the board.
Soulsby, who was on the force for 26 years, was paid $110,000 a year. He will receive a $74,800 annual pension, excluding accrued leave and benefits.
Staff writers Vernon Loeb and David A. Vise contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company