Falls Church Mayor Dale W. Dover, the city's first black chief official, has been fired by the Washington law firm, Steptoe & Johnson, in what he said was a racially motivated move. When he tried to vacate his office last week, three uniformed D.C. police officers were called to detain him, according to Dover and a spokesman for the firm.

Dover, a former diplomat in Israel and Denmark and a Harvard Law School graduate, said he was preparing to leave his office at 1330 Connecticut Ave. NW with boxes of his belongings when a partner of the firm tried to stop him.

After lengthy discussions with the partner, Dover said three police officers and a security guard appeared.

"When the police arrived we went through one box of items," Dover said, which contained two pairs of shoes, a Mandarin Chinese book and a list of black alumni of Harvard University, according to Dover. He said the police looked in the boxes and shrugged.

"The police made the judgment that this was a civil matter and not one that merited that level of police action," Dover said. "I was later allowed to leave the premises unescorted with some of my things, not all of them."

A police spokesman said that no record of the incident would have been made without an arrest. Dover was not arrested.

Robert Jordan, managing partner for the firm, said that use of the police was "unfortunate."

Jordan said that the building's security guards, alerted to discussions in Dover's office, overreacted. Jordan, who was at home at the time, said that when he heard about the police presence, he went to the office and "personally dismissed" the police on arriving 25 minutes later. "Nobody was escorted out. Nobody asserted that {Dover} had taken anything."

Jordan acknowledged that a partner had tried to stop Dover from taking the boxes, but Jordan said there was a dispute about what items belonged to the firm and which belonged to Dover. "The only things at issue were client-related documents," Jordan said.

Dover, 41, said that his termination, after seven years with the firm and two months short of possible consideration as a partner, was racially motivated, and that he plans to sue Steptoe & Johnson. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund will handle his case, according to a lawyer with the fund.

Dover acknowledged that his political life has included squabbles and disagreements, but he said those problems did not involve race. "This issue is different," Dover said of his termination from the law firm. "Here I'm prepared to think there may be a racial motivation. I don't cry wolf and I don't capitalize off a situation."

Neither Dover nor Jordan would specify the reasons given for his termination.

Of 85 partners at Steptoe & Johnson, two are black, Jordan said. Jordan said he didn't immediately know the number of black associates at the firm.

Jordan said that race was not a factor in Dover's firing or the police presence. "You're talking to somebody who's been active in support of rights for blacks in all of my career," Jordan said. He said he has supported the Legal Defense Fund, the United Negro College Fund and the NAACP for more than 25 years.

"People get dismissed around here for a whole variety of things," Jordan said. "When people leave here, such as Dale, it's usually after months of discussion about their situation."