District police homicide detectives voted unanimously last night to refuse to meet today with Deputy Chief William Trussell, who they charge is incompetent to lead the city's Criminal Investigations Division.
The detectives' refusal to meet with Trussell, who is their superior officer, was an indication that the virtual rebellion within the elite homicide squad is becoming less solvable by compromise.
Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson, who worked to arrange the meeting for this morning, said last night he will have a "significant" announcement to make today about the continuing dispute between Trussell and the squad.
Jefferson declined to discuss the announcement, but a spokeswoman for Mayor Marion Barry said the mayor knows what the announcement will be and feels "satisfied" that Jefferson is handling the dispute properly.
City Administrator Elijah Rogers said he expected Jefferson's announcement would "bring some closure" to the matter.
Reached by telephone yesterday, Trussell said he had been directed by Jefferson not to comment about the controversy. Trussell did say, however, that he had been "under a great deal of pressure" and was feeling tired.
"The matter is in the hands of the chief of police and I've always been faithful to the instructions of superiors. I'll be faithful to superiors till I turn in my tin," said Trussell, 51, a 29-year veteran of the police force.
Yesterday the D.C. police union reiterated its demand that Jefferson appoint a special investigator to examine charges of incompetence and racial bias that have been leveled against Trussell.
In a telegram to Barry yesterday, the union said squad morale "is at rock bottom and public confidence is completely destroyed. Your immediate action is necessary. . . ."
Today's canceled meeting was to have given Trussell an opportunity to respond directly to the homicide detectives' charges that his "interference" has jeopardized major investigations. He was also to have responded to allegations by the detectives that on two occasions he made a remark equating blacks with animals. Trussell is white.
Detectives told Jefferson at an extraordinary three-hour meeting on Monday that Trussell had said: "Not all people go into shock. Animals don't go into shock when they are shot and neither do blacks."
Homicide squad members said yesterday that they had never told Jefferson they would meet with Trussell today as the chief announced Monday.
"We've done everything by vote so far in this thing, and when it came time to take one [on meeting with Trussell] the men decided they were against it," one squad member said. "We're sorry the chief was under the impression we had agreed," he said.
Detective James Slawson, a squad member who is the police union representative for the Criminal Investigations Division, said, "What we felt was that to meet with the deputy [Trussell] would have been counterproductive and produce a confrontation."
"We presented our allegations to the chief [on Monday], we substantiated them and we feel it's up to him to investigate. We know Trussell will have his own side of the story and we think it's up to the chief to interview him and make a judgment," Slawson said.
"We're trying to be dignified about this, but our listening to Trussell is not the proper way to resolve this," he said.
Sources in the department said Jefferson asked Trussell to prepare a written report on the charges against him. Trussell apparently spent much of yesterday in his office reviewing several homicide cases at issue in the squad's charges.
John Markuns, general counsel of the police union, said yesterday that the appointment of "an impartial investigator who has the confidence of the men and Mayor Barry is absolutely vital to resolve the situation."
Markuns charged that Trussell's handling of several major homicide investigations was not a "function of command but indicated a plain lack of ability. Any investigator or sergeant in the squad who handled things the way he did would be up on charges for violations of procedure.
"Of all the people in [the Criminal Investigations Division], he's the least qualified to handle an investigation," Markuns said.
In Monday's meeting with Jefferson, the detectives brought up, point by point, more than two dozen objections they have to Trussell's handling of three major cases: the killing of a Capitol Hill woman in her home last February, a triple slaying in Southeast Washington last September, and the drowning death of a 5-month-old baby in the Capital Hilton Hotel last month.
Among other allegations, the men said that Trussell "contaminated" a suspected murder weapon by handling it at the scene of a crime. They also said that he conducted spontaneous interviews of possible suspects and witnesses at the crime scene without making a written record.
Meanwhile, Police Inspector Isaac Fulwood, president of the Organization of Black Metropolitan Police Officials, challenged a statement by the union on Monday that there is a "crisis of leadership" in the department.
Fulwood, head of the department's financial management branch, said, "There is no crisis here. Chief Jefferson is more than competent to lead this department. Deputy Chief Trussell is entitled to a full and impartial hearing, and Chief Jefferson is investigating."
Asked about the alleged racial comment, Fulwood said, "If it's proved that Deputy Chief Trussell made it, I'd be outraged. But in fairness to him, we have to wait the outcome of the chief's investigation. CAPTION: Picture, WILLIAM TRUSSELL . . . ordered not to comment