JACK B. JOHNSON, the Prince George's county executive, campaigned for office in 2002 on the strength of his record as a crusading prosecutor tough enough to go after police officers accused of brutality. His four prosecutions of police officers on allegations of misconduct yielded no convictions but burnished his credentials as a courageous reformer.
Fast forward two years. To fill the newly created job of county deputy director for homeland security, Johnson last week named Keith Washington, a police corporal who was temporarily suspended from the force in January after an off-duty scuffle and faces an internal investigation. In separate incidents involving the homeowners association on whose board he sits, Mr. Washington was accused of assaulting a property manager, shoving the association's treasurer and berating the association's president. According to The Post's Avis Thomas-Lester and Ovetta Wiggins, Mr. Washington was also sued for arresting an Adelphi man who had protested Mr. Washington's treatment of a motorist; an initial $260,000 judgment against him was overturned on appeal.
Mr. Washington, who has 14 years on the police force and has served in the Army and the National Guard, might have the requisite experience to deal with matters involving homeland security. But it's fair to question whether he has the interpersonal skills to be effective in his new job. More broadly, his appointment has prompted doubts about Mr. Johnson's own judgment. Like any elected official, Mr. Johnson is entitled to install his own people in key positions, assuming they are qualified. But some of his other personnel decisions have raised eyebrows. Days before Mr. Washington's appointment, Mr. Johnson named a new acting fire chief, Lt. Col. Darrell Odom, whose record includes three arrests and a 1980 conviction, for simple assault, a misdemeanor.
Both appointees supported Mr. Johnson when he ran for county executive in 2002; Mr. Washington sometimes served as his driver. Mr. Johnson insists that both men are well qualified. He points out that Mr. Washington has not been convicted of any crime; and as for Lt. Col. Odom, his sole conviction was nearly 25 years ago. "Are these people condemned forever?" asked Mr. Johnson. "Can they never move up in life?" Point taken. But it's also fair for county residents to ask for political loyalty to count less in the appointments process than the quality, credentials and background of appointees.