Jose Gutierrez, the recently fired former head of the D.C. Department of Administrative Services, yesterday filed suit against Mayor Marion Barry and three other top city officials, seeking reinstatement and $3 million in damages for what he called a conspiracy to ruin his reputation and to punish him for exposing public wrongdoing.
The federal court suit is the latest step in an escalating battle of charges and countercharges between Gutierrez and Barry, who fired Gutierrez last Monday over city contracting practices.
Gutierrez accused Barry and City Administrator Thomas Downs of pressuring him, as the city's top contracting officer, to approve unethical and possibly illegal contracts for political reasons.
The suit charges that Barry tried to "bribe" Gutierrez into signing the contracts with the promise of a better job and, when that did not work, that the mayor then slandered and libeled Gutierrez in addition to demoting and then firing him.
Gutierrez' attorney, Luis Nido, filed a request for a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court, seeking to reinstate Gutierrez to his job immediately. Judge John H. Pratt set a hearing for next Thursday.
Barry could not be reached for comment on the suit yesterday. Downs said he had not yet seen the suit and that, as a result, it would be inappropriate to comment. Barry and Downs in the past have denied any wrongdoing or that they pressured Gutierrez on the contracts.
This week, Barry released a report accusing Gutierrez of repeatedly violating or subverting District purchasing procedures to steer "lucrative, giveaway contracts" and leases to a Gutierrez acquaintance. Barry said the report, drafted by mayoral legal counsel Herbert O. Reid Sr., will be referred to the District's acting inspector general for investigation into possible fraud or violation of the law.
Gutierrez angrily denounced the report, saying it was politically motivated, and he vowed to go to court to clear his name and get his job back.
Gutierrez named Reid as a defendent in his suit, charging that the report Reid wrote contained "false, scandalous and defamatory libel" and was designed to shield actions by Barry and Downs from public scrutiny. Gutierrez charged that Reid, as the mayor's attorney, could not be an impartial judge of Gutierrez' allegations.
The suit requests that the report released by the mayor be withdrawn and that the defendants in the case be restrained from conducting any more investigations of Gutierrez and his allegations "other than through a disinterested and impartial factfinder."
The suit also named Clinton A. Hilliard, director of the D.C. personnel office, as a defendant. Neither Hilliard nor Reid could be reached for comment late yesterday.
Gutierrez claimed that Downs promoted "wasteful contracts because the beneficiaries of the funds . . . were 'political allies' " of Barry. The suit says that when Gutierrez appealed to the mayor, Barry sided with Downs and offered to make sure Gutierrez would be appointed chairman of the Public Service Commission if he signed the contracts. Gutierrez refused and informed Barry that he "considered that offer to be a 'bribe,' " the suit alleges.
Barry later said he "would use all of the powers of his office as mayor to 'get' Mr. Gutierrez for what he had done," the suit alleges.
In a letter to Reid on April 15, included as part of the suit, Gutierrez outlined 14 contracts, leases or city agreements on which he alleged improper conduct. Many of the contracts cited in that letter, including the city's lease of office space at 1111 E St. NW and proposals to replace the city's telephone system, were previously cited by Gutierrez in March when he first made his allegations about Barry and Downs.
Others mentioned in the letter included the purchase of Pepco street lights, which Gutierrez said was negotiated ignoring proposals he made to save costs; property bought from developer Jeff Cohen in the Shaw area, which he said was done without a government appraisal, and a contract for sludge disposal, which Gutierrez said he refused to sign because he had questions about the way the contract was negotiated and because one contractor got many of the awards.