Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson has chosen as his deputy director of homeland security a police corporal who was temporarily suspended in January after an off-duty scuffle and is facing an internal investigation, authorities said.
In an announcement posted on the county's Web site this week, Johnson (D) named Cpl. Keith Washington, 43, to the newly created job, touting his "extensive military background," knowledge of anti-terrorism tactics and community ties. Washington is already serving in the $73,000-a-year job in an acting capacity, county officials said.
His appointment comes the same week that Johnson named an acting fire chief, Lt. Col. Darrell Odom, who has three arrests and one conviction for simple assault in his past. Both men supported Johnson in his 2002 electoral bid; Washington sometimes served as his driver.
"There are few appointments as important as this one," Johnson said in the posting about Washington's job. "With his extensive experience and local ties, Keith Washington will lead this county in the right direction ensuring that the office of Homeland Security provides the protection and required services that the county needs and desires."
Johnson and Washington did not return calls seeking comment yesterday and Wednesday. Odom was out of town and could not be reached.
Some community activists expressed concern about the background of Johnson's latest appointees. "That's troubling to know," said Arthur Turner of Kettering. "I know sometimes people make mistakes, but in some positions, especially ones in law enforcement, I would prefer to have someone who is not blemished with violent incidents."
Others pointed to a pattern of rewards for Johnson's friends and campaign supporters. For example, Shailender K. Gupta, a Greenbelt accountant who was Johnson's campaign treasurer, received $75,000 to study the Prince George's hospital system. Another supporter, former state delegate David Valderrama, received a $53,000 county contract to monitor the construction of public schools. Neither man had any experience in the area he was paid to study.
County Council members said there was little they could do about Johnson's selections. "The reality is we don't have a say in who is appointed," said council member Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Bowie), chairman of the council's public safety committee. "We'll have to work with whoever the county executive thinks is the best candidate."
Vernon Herron, the county's homeland security director, said Washington's military and police experience will enhance the office. "Mr. Washington's record speaks for itself," he said. "In my opinion, he is more than qualified to be a deputy director."
Washington, a 14-year veteran of the force, served for five years in the Army and has spent 19 years in the reserve, where he has received training in homeland defense, a county spokesman said. He worked as a detective in Hyattsville before joining Johnson's security detail.
The appointment allows Washington to remain on the police payroll while serving a long-term assignment to the homeland security staff; his salary will increase from $57,500 to reflect his new responsibilities, said John Erzin, a county spokesman.
As Washington assumes the new post, an internal probe continues into three incidents at meetings he attended as a board member of the Simmons Acres Homeowners Association in Accokeek.
On Jan. 28, he was accused of assaulting a property manager. He was charged with a misdemeanor and suspended with pay pending an investigation. The charge was dropped March 23, court records show.
Two association officers said they filed separate complaints against Washington alleging verbal and physical harassment.
Dennis Tozser, the association's treasurer, said Washington pushed him at a Jan. 7 meeting. "He actually shoved me," Tozser said. "He was trying to bait me into a fight, so he shoved me in the chest."
Kathryn Keys, the association's president, said she filed a complaint after Washington verbally assailed her Jan. 14. "He confronted me after a board meeting and started yelling, screaming and cursing at me," Keys said in an interview.
A police spokesman said yesterday that internal affairs investigators last week passed their findings to a civilian complaint oversight panel, which will conduct an independent inquiry. The results will be turned over to Police Chief Melvin C. High.
Washington has also been the subject of scrutiny for an on-duty incident. Washington and several corrections officers were accused in a civil suit of violating the rights of an Adelphi man who was arrested and strip-searched after protesting the way Washington treated a motorist.
A jury in May 2000 found for the plaintiff, David P. Maslousky, and awarded him $260,000. The case was later appealed, and at a new trial, Washington prevailed, said Maslousky's attorney, Terrell N. Roberts III.
Herron said Wednesday that he was unaware of the lawsuit. He said earlier in the week that he had investigated Odom's background in April before the 24-year veteran was brought back from retirement to be a lieutenant colonel.
On Monday, Johnson announced that Odom would serve as acting fire chief when Chief Ronald D. Blackwell leaves for a similar post in Anne Arundel County on Aug. 20.
Odom, 49, was found guilty in 1980 of simple assault and sentenced to 10 days in jail and a $300 fine, according to D.C. Superior Court records. The jail time and $200 of the fine were suspended. Two years later, Odom was charged with possessing a prohibited weapon and simple assault, charges that were never prosecuted, records show.
In 1992, he was charged with simple assault in an incident involving his wife at their Northwest Washington home, court records show. Initially, Odom was ordered to stay away from the home, where the couple lived with their two children. He was later ordered "not to strike" his wife. The case was eventually dismissed, and Odom tried to have the records sealed.
Staff writer Henri Cauvin and researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.