A D.C. police officer won a $37,000 jury verdict yesterday against a former commander who ordered him to get rid of his dreadlocks.
Jeffrey V. Robinson, a 6th District patrol officer, has been battling the department for more than two years over his hairstyle. To Robinson, the locks are an expression of his religious beliefs and African American heritage. To his supervisors, they were a sign of insubordination.
Robinson was about to be fired in 1997 when he obtained a court order that kept him on the job. Yesterday, he won additional vindication when a jury in U.S. District Court decided he had been treated unfairly. The jury found that then-police inspector John C. Daniels attempted to kick Robinson off the force after he filed an internal complaint and went public with the dispute.
"It's been a long road, but thank goodness I hung in there," Robinson said after the verdict.
Robinson, 25, said he began wearing dreadlocks in December 1996 as a sign of his devotion to the Nazarite religion. When his commanders protested, he filed an internal complaint in February 1997. His supervisors then put him on leave, sending him home until he cut his hair. For weeks, he reported for duty and was sent home for disobeying an order.
In April 1997, after a story about the dispute appeared in the City Paper, Daniels and others initiated dismissal proceedings that triggered the lawsuit. The D.C. government is liable for the award, which provides $12,000 in lost wages and compensation for "pain and suffering."
Robinson's attorney, Diane A. Seltzer, said he is considering another suit alleging religious discrimination. She said dreadlocks are not barred by police guidelines and called three dreadlock-wearing officers as witnesses. Robinson keeps his shoulder-length locks tightly wrapped when he reports for duty.