D.C. Deputy Police Chief William Trussell, faced with a rebellious homicide squad openly challenging his leadership, said yesterday that he wants to defend himself publicly against charges that he is "incompetent."
Trussell also described as "untrue" an allegation by squad members that a remark attributed to him equated black with animals.
Trussell, commander of the Criminal investigations Division, said a story in yesterday's Washington Post quoting homicide sources implied "that the chief of police has appointed an incompetent as head of criminal investigations." He said he will ask Police Chief Burtell Jefferson to allow him to hold a news conference to "respond fully" to charges made by the homicide detectives.
Jefferson agreed last week to an extraordinary meeting with the entire homicide squad at 8 a.m. today after squad members took their complaints about Trussell to Mayor Marion Barry's office.
"I am confident that I can respond to any thing that's an allegation of mismanagement or improper administration or in any relates to any racial preferences or any racial issue," trussell said in an interview.
Trussell was first asked about the squad's charges last Friday, but refused to comment then. Jefferson, who was out of town most of last week, declined through a spokesman to comment yesterday.
Homicide squad members, in an action believed to be unprecedented on the force, have charged that Trusell's personal intervention into some cases has jeopardized their investigation. And last week, 42 of 45 men in the squad signed a letter expressing "collective rage" at Trussell's abrupt transfer of a senior homicide lieutenant who had argued with him about the handling of cases.
At this mornings meeting, to which Trussell has not been invited, squad members said they also will bring up the remark about blacks that Trussell is alleged to have made recently.
Sources in the squad quoted Trussell as saying: "Not all people go into shock. Animals don't go into shock when they're shot and neither do blacks." The sources said that Trussell, who is white, made the statement in the presence of four white detectives.
"That remark is quoted is untrue," Trussell said yesterday. "I have full recollection of what's being alluded to and it's not at all like" it was reported, he said. "I'm going to explain [to the chief] that remark in detail."
"If there is one issue in this matter that should be resolved, I would say that would be the most important," Trussell said.
He said he would like to be at the squad meeting today and will ask Jefferson for permission to attend. "I don't feel guilty about anything," he said.
The homicide squad is one segment ot Trussell's criminal investigations command which also includes the burglary, robbery and sex offense squads and other plainclothes units.
Trussell, a 29-year veteran of the force-almost entirely in the uniform division - was appointed head of the Criminal Investigations Division by Jefferson last September.
Complaints by homicide detectives about Trussell's "mishandling" of major cases began surfacing almost immediately after the appointment. The dispute reached a climax last week when Trusslel ordered the transfer of Lt. Raymond Pierson out of the squad.
Squad members said they will concentrate at the meeting this morning on Trussell's role in three specific cases: the killing of a woman in her home on Capitol Hill, a triple slaying in Southeast Washington, and the drowning death of a five-month-old baby at the Capitol Hilton Hotel.
It was apparently a dispute over the handling of the drowning case that sparked the Pierson transfer.
"I'm not angry" about the allegations, Trussell said, "i'm disturbed" about the effect on the police department.
He said he felt he and Jefferson have been "held up to ridicule," in the press.
"I certainly hope to have - and see no reason for the chief to deny me - a press conference," he said. "I think the public has a right to know or at least make a fair decision as to whether or not I have the ability to head that division."