Former D.C. police officer Aishah Shelton faced a tough decision last year: remain on the force or resign to stay home with her three young children. The eight-year member of the force chose to stay home.
But a year later, longing for her old job, Shelton, 30, reapplied. To her surprise, the department denied her reinstatement because of her husband's alleged criminal conduct.
Now Shelton and former police cadet Kim Kirkland, who wasn't rehired because of a boyfriend's alleged criminal behavior, have filed suit in U.S. District Court. The women, who claim the department is unfairly holding them accountable for the behavior of others, are seeking $2 million each in damages.
"If I've broken the law, that's one thing," Shelton said in a telephone interview yesterday from her Prince George's County home. "But they've turned me down because of something my husband is alleged to have done. This just really hurts me."
Shelton said her husband of eight years was arrested and charged with carrying a pistol without a license, but that the case against him was dismissed last year.
"You have officers arrested for numerous crimes who get their jobs back," Shelton said. "I'm being treated unjustly."
Kirkland, 27, joined the force as a cadet in 1989, but was later reassigned to a civilian job in the communications unit, which she still holds. She said she passed the police exams and reapplied last year for a uniformed position.
But because her boyfriend was charged with a misdemeanor 10 years ago, she was rejected, Kirkland said, even though the boyfriend was not convicted.
Kirkland reapplied to the force in March of 1998. Shelton sought reinstatement in September.
A department policy dating to 1994 allows temporary or permanent disqualification from the force "if the individual can't substantiate disassociation with that criminal element," said Bert Ennis, the police department's human resources director. The policy is for new applicants only, he said, and the department's internal affairs office is responsible for investigating active officers who have relatives or friends involved in criminal activity.
"The fact that you live in a house with someone, there is a reasonable suspicion that you potentially could have knowledge of the criminal activity that takes place," Ennis said. "The applicant has to prove there is no relationship or risk to the department."
Shelton was prohibited from returning to the force "because of her relationship with her husband," he said.
Detective Frank Tracy, head of the D.C. police labor union, questioned whether the department can justifiably deny admission to an applicant based on the conduct of relatives or friends.
"I know character is important, but if my brother's a crook, why hold me responsible?" Tracy said. "Anybody can have a bad apple in the family, but you can't go around denying employment to someone because of that. If that's the case, all of us would be suspect."
Chief Charles H. Ramsey said he will examine the two cases.
"I have no idea why these women were not reinstated," the chief said. "We need to take a look at it and see."
Ramsey said that the department researches the backgrounds of relatives but that "there's only so much one can be responsible for when it comes to another person."
"We have to take a look at policies and procedures," he said. "If we made an error, we made an error. We'll just have to see."
Staff writer Emily Wax contributed to this report.