The U.S. Civil Service Commission, in an unprecedented ruling, has found the D.C. Police Department guilty of discrimination when it fired a black officer in 1973.
"Except for considerations of race," Officer Oatha Ray Batts "would not have been removed" from the force, the commission concluded. It ordered the department to reinstate Batts to the force with full back pay of about $40,000.
The decision ends 4 1/2 sour years for Batts, who lost his savings, his credit rating, and who claims he went partially bald with worry while awaiting the outcome of his appeal.
Beyond that, the case is sustenance for those who maintain that police here routinely descriminate against blacks, even though the department is now 44 percent black and a number of blacks, including the chief, are in influential positions.
"When it all came down, it was impossible to believe," said Batts in an interview. "A couple of guys said, 'You haven't got anything to worry about, they'll take care of it in two or three months.' Then after if escalated into one or two years I didn't think anything would ever happen."
The police department had charged Batts with a wide range of violations, including failure to follow orders, to make roll call on time, to have the proper necktie and socks, and a mustache trimmed to regulations.
They gave him a beat one block long, he said, and once made him guard a brick wall for eight hours. The department fined him twice, and in November 1973, fired him for "inefficiency."
Batts, now 33, was hired in 1970 when the police department was in the middle of a recruiting push to increase the number of blacks. He joined he said, because he found police work exciting and a challenge.
A Vietnam veteran and graduate of Dunbar High School, he said he quickly made it clear that he would not "buckle nnder" to "oppressive" police superiors, or arrest people simply to make quotas, or keep quiet about things he thought were wrong.
"You got to speak out when you find you're getting the dirtiest details," Batts said. "A lieutenant told me why don't I quit and drive me anyway. A sergeant told me he would drive me crazy." In Batt's words, he was the victim of "constant persecution, harassment and discrimination."
The police department last week declined to comment on those allegations.
The subject of raceil discrimination in the police department is a concern af both races. Besides the complaints of blacks, some whites despair that the department, in trying to accommodate blacks, is discriminating against whites. "The word is out that promotions are going to be equally divided between blacks and whites regarkless of merit," said one white commander.
Ron Hampton, a policeman who has been lobbying for years to improve the lot of black colleagues, believes that black policeman are treated so badly today "that morale is very low - a lot of them don't take any real interest in the department." He is the head of the D.C. Afro-American Police Officers Association, which he claims has 250 members.
"The good assignments, the weekends off, are usually held by white officers," Hampton says. "The majority of blacks in the police department are in the patrol division and have bad days off, like Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays."
Hampton said he and some of his colleagues have recently had four hours of conversations with Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson on the subject, but have come away without satisfaction.
"I get the idea he says his hands are tied and there is only so much he can do," Hampton said.
Jefferson, asked for a comment, said through a spokesman, he "does not believe there is any widespread systematical form of discrimination" in the department.
"The chief is not in the position of being Lord and Savior who will recreate a system with blacks at the top," said another spokesman. "Most of the men at the top were here 20 years ago, when the department was mostly white. The system is working well as far as he (Jefferson) can see. Where it (discrimination) does not exist he will take every affirmative action to stop it. Commanders know damn well what's supposed to be done. Prejudicated treatment just doesn't fly any more."
Maurice Turner, an asistant chief of police and the department's equal employment opportunities officer, acknowledged that discrimination exists, but he could not say how widespread it is.
"No doubt there has been tremendous change for the better," he said. "I've served in units 20 years ago where they would rather park their scout cars than put blacks in them."
Turner said he had not had many complaints of discrimination in the three weeks he has been EEO officer. James Baldwin, director of the city's Office of Human Rights, said he has received a half doven complaints of discrimination from police officers in the last year, compared to 38 in 1970.
During the lengthy appeals process in the Batts case, the city's office of human rights investigated his complaint of discrimination, and in May 1977, concluded that he was right.
The investigator for the office, Lycurcus Hill, said in his report that:
Of 24 officers complaining about Batts, all but two were white.
Other black officers, including a supervisor, said they observed "no serious problems" with Batt's performance and claimed he was the victim of discrimination.
Of 13 officers dismissed from the force between 1971 and 1975, 12 were black.
A black officer missed two radio runs and the department relieved him of his scout car. His white partner missed two radio runs, and he was counceled and allowed to remain in his scout car.
A white officer was late for duty 11 times in two years, was once found asleep on duty, and once lost his service revolver and holster. He was not sent to trial board, but was evaluated as "effective and competent" for promotion.
The Civil Service Commission summary in the Batts case incorporates many of the findings in the Office of Human Rights report. The Commission issued its decision on March 3.
While he awaited a decision, Batts lived with his parents, dependent on them for cigarette money and pocket change.
Batts says he looks forward to returning to police work and hopes he'll be assigned back to the 4th District. The supervisors who troubled him, he says, have gone on to other jobs, and he has noticed an apparent improvement in the attitude of sergeants and lieutenants toward him.
The police department has refused to comment on any aspect of the Batts case. "We are in the process of returning him to duty," a police spokesman said. "That's the law and we have nothing to say about it."