The D.C. police homicide squad is in open rebellion against the department's chief of detectives, Deputy Chief William Trussell.
In the challenge to a commanding officer, apparently without precedent on the force, members of the squad have begun a well-coordinated protest campaign that has pressured Police Chief Burtell Jefferson to schedule a meeting with them at 8 a.m. tomorrow.
Forty-two of the squad's 45 members signed a letter this week expressing "collective rage" at Trussell's abrupt transfer of a senior homicide lieutenant. The letter charged that the department is being run "by whim instead of reason."
Squad members also have taken their protest to Mayor Marion Barry's office and to Capitol Hill.
Members of the squad-generally considered the elite unit of the police force-allege that Trussell's personal intervention has jeopardized some of their major investigations. Included are investigations into a triple slaying in Southeast Washington last September, the killing of a Capitol Hill woman in her home in February and the drowning death last month of a 5-month-old Swedish baby at the Capital Hilton Hotel.
In an interview this week, one eight-year veteran of the squad characterized Trussell as "our Captain Queeg," referring to the erractic behavior of the ship captain in "The Caine Mutiny." "I guess that makes us all mutineers," the detective said.
"We aren't children," the detective said, "and we know that this thing can backfire. But, God knows, it can't get any worse around here."
The 12 black detectives on the squad also are particularly incensed about a remark allegedly made by Trussell in which they believe he equated blacks to animals. Trussell is white.
Reached for comment, Trussell declined to discuss problems in the homicide squad or cases under investigation and hung up on a reporter. Jefferson was out of town and could not be contacted.
Trussell is a 28-year veteran of the force with only limited investigative experience. He was appointed by Jefferson last September as commander of the Criminal Investigations Division, which also includes robbery and sex offense squads as well as homicide and other painclothes units.
Dissent began surfacing in the homicide squad shortly after Trussell's appointment. Over the next few months, squad members quietly began com- plaining about Trussell to senior police officials, including Jefferson.
The dissatisfaction erupted 11 days ago when Trussell abruptly ordered the immediate transfer a veteran squad lieutenant, Raymond Pierson, who had argued with him about the handling of the drowning case.
A list of about two dozen specific objections to Trussell's personal intervention in the three cases has been prepared by the homicide detective.
Among other things, the men allege that Trussell:
Refused to allow techicians to process a slaying crime scene for fingerprints.
Refused to let investigators travel out of town to conduct interviews in one of the cases.
Personally "contaminated" a suspected murder weapon by handling it at the scene.
Conducted spontaneous, informal interviews of possible suspects and witnesses without making a written record.
Contrary to standard practice, ordered two detectives for a period of three weeks not to type a record of their investigation in a slaying.
Ridiculed the findings of a D.C. medical examiner in one case and declared that there was no need for the medical examiner's office to be involved in homicide investigations.
The squad members said they will also complain about the remark about blacks that Trussell is alleged to have made during a recent discussion with four white detectives.
"Not all people go into shock," Trussell is alleged to have said. "Animals don't go into shock when they're shot and neither do blacks."
According to sources, the four white detectives heard Trussell make the remark.
When Pierson, the veteran lieutenant, was ordered transferred, the police union representative in the squad, Detective James Slawson, immediately attempted to meet with Jefferson, but the chief declined to see him.
Jefferson was quoted by squad members as telling Salwson that the transfer "was not a legitimate union matter" since lieutenants are not covered in the contract.
"We were unanimous, right then, to walk out of here, or demand transfers or call in sick or something," one detective said, "but Ray [Pierson] talked us out of it." Instead, the men composed the letter to Jefferson, sending it through the chain of command.
Capt. Ariff Mosrie, head of the homicide squad and Trussell's subordinate, declined to forward the letter, advising the men that the letter "could be counterproductive.
Squad members also began trying to bring pressure on Jefferson from the outside.
Slawson, who has declined to speak to reporters about the dispute, telephoned City Administrator Elijah Rogers last Wednesday. He told Rogers of the complaints and said Jefferson had refused to see him, squad members said.
A short time later, Rodgers, a chief aide to Barry, called Slawson back. He said the chief would see Slawson and for Slawson to expect a call. About 30 minutes later, an aide to Jefferson told Slawson he could met with Jefferson that afternoon. After an hour-long meeting, Jefferson agreed to the squad meeting set for tomorrow.
Other members of the homicide squad have met with aides to Rep. Bob Wilson, (R.-Calif.), and a committee aide to Rep. Mario Biaggi, (D.N.Y.). The aides assured them they would inform the congressmen of their complaints.
Biaggi is a highly decorated former New York City policeman, and homicide detectives met Wilson while investigating a recent assault on the congressman's wife.
Over the weekend, several of the normally tight-lipped squad members sharply criticized Trussell. "He's just about destroyed the morale in this office," one said.
Many men in the squad are apparently concerned that Mosrie is being "caught in the middle" of the dispute. "He's too good of a detective and cop not to agree with us 100 percent, even thought we know he can't say so," one segeant said.
"The [Trussell] just won't let him run the squad the way it ought to be run, instead of all this damn crystal ball gazing," the sergeant continued. "There's just no command structure around here anymore. Trussell just ignores the captain and supervisors and sends investigators out chasing after rainbows."
"He [Trussell] has his own screwy notions about how cases are supposed to break and he tries to make the evidence fit his imagination," the sergeant said.
Mosrie declined to comment directly on the dispute, but characterized the men in the squad as "dedicated professionals, the best investigators there are. Now they're upset and I can understand why."
"Ray Pierson was respected and admired and his transfer coming on top of the other complaints just set things off," Mosrie said.
Pierson, a 21-year veteran of the force, with more than half his career in homicide, requested immediate retirement three days after his transfer. He apparently will leave the force May 31.
In a brief interview yesterday, Pierson said he thought he was transferred "only because I had questioned Deputy Chief Trussell's judgment."
Pierson said he had questioned Trussell's judgment on several occasions, "but only when I felt his actions . . . were in conflict with established investigate technique . . . or would have had an adverse effect on the squad's productivity and morale."
Pierson also criticized Chief Jeffrson for not taking "investigative and corrective measures sooner. I hope after that meeting [tomorrow] he'll begin to take the whole thing seriously." CAPTION: Picture, BURTELL JEFFERSON . . . called meeting with detectives