D.C. Deputy Police Chief William Trussell was temporarily relieved of his command and reprimanded yesterday for allegedly making a remark that was derogatory toward blacks.
Trussell, chief of detectives, was transferred to a lesser job on the force by Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson, who said the racial Remark "damages . . . the public confidence" in the department.
The transfer, effective Sunday, will last until an investigation is completed into other allegations by homicide squad members that Trussell is incompetent to lead them.
In an unprecedented action, the homicide squad broke into open rebellion against Trussell earlier this month, charging that the department was being run "by whim instead of reason." The rebellion posed a critical problem for Jefferson and Mayor Marion Barry.
The reprimand and transfer were announced by Barry, who also released a partial report on the racial allegations against Trussell.
Jefferson's report said a three-week investigation by a panel of police officials showed that "there is an admission" by Trussell that he made a statement "relative to blacks and shock," although there "is not complete agreement in the exact words."
In early May, Trussell was accused publicly by homicide detectives under his command of making the remark, which the detectives said equated blacks with animals.
Trussell, who is white, was quoted by detectives as saying: "Not all people go into shock. Animals don't go into shock when they are shot, and neither do blacks."
Trussell has declined to confirm or deny this precise remark.
The report said that neither Jefferson nor the three-member police panel believes Trussell is a racist. Jefferson said Trussell's transfer "is to be viewed at this juncture as nonpunitive . . . and subject to reconsideration at the conclusion of the entire investigation."
The report also said that, since his appointment to the force in 1949, Trussell has served "in an outstanding manner" and that he has never been subject to any previous disciplinary action.
Nonetheless, Jefferson's report said that police officers in leadership positions should not "express statements that could in any way be misinterpreted or construed as being racially connotative or degrading."
An attorney for Trussell said the report "essentially supports" Trussell's position that he made "no racially derogatory remark."
"What the committee did find is that he made some remarks . . . which were subject to misinterpretation," the lawyer, Robert E. Greenberg, said.
Greenberg said the complete investigation will show Trussell is a "conscientious administrator" who was "taking affirmative action to end questionable practices and serious abuses, and that he was attacked by subordinates seeking to protect their own selfish interests."
Greenberg charged that Trussell "is being disciplined, not so much for what he said but for the adverse publicity generated by the manner in which his accusers chose to air their charges."
The mood among homicide squad members following yesterday's announcement appeared to be one of quiet satisfaction.
"The squad is pleased with the outcome" of the first stage of the investigation, one detective said. "We're grateful to the mayor and the chief for taking the complaint seriously."
A spokesman for the police union, which had called for Trussell's suspension, said yesterday, "We are happy the chief and the mayor have really stood up. We're happy with the results so far. We'll just have to wait and see how the rest of it turns out."
The reprimand to Trussell, 51, a 29-year veteran of the force, was in the form of a "letter of prejudice," the most lenient form of action the chief of police may take in such circumstances. The letter becomes a permanent part of Trussell's personnel record and could be taken into account if he were considered for promotion.
A so-called "official reprimand" is more serious and would have cost Trussell the next scheduled pay increase.
Trussell will be reassigned as commander of the department's field inspections unit, which oversees complance with routine department regulations. The job is normally held by an inspector, one rank lower than that held by Trussell. The position was vacated recently.
Several homicide detectives voiced fears yesterday that Jefferson and Barry, who labeled the racial remark "the most serious of the charges," might "sweep under the rug" the remaining allegations.
"Far and away, we think the competency charges are the most important," one homicide official said.
In an extraordinary, three-hour meeting with Jerrerson on May 7, the detectives gave the chief a four-page list of specific instances charging that Trussell's intervention had jeopardized at least three major investigations.
These were investigations into a triple slaying last year in Southeast Washington, the killing of a Capitol Hill woman in her home in February, and the April drowning death of a 5-month-old baby at the Capital Hilton Hotel.
The allegations include charges that Trussell personally "contaminated" a suspected murder weapon by handling it and refused to allow technicians to gather fingerprints at a crime scene. They also charge he ridiculed the findings of a D.C. medical examiner, and conducted spontaneous interviews with possible suspects without taking notes.
The detectives said they made their complaints public only after Jefferson refused to listen to them.
At that point Barry intervened, telling Jefferson to meet with the detectives and to set up the investigative panel. Barry's actions, according to some police officials and city aides, have strained his relationship with Jefferson.
Last week, after receiving Jefferson's report, Barry said he had called the chief every day to find out why the investigation was taking so long.
The police panel members are Assistant Chief Maurice Turner, Assistant Chief Marty Tapscott, and deputy police counsel Richard Brooks.
Trussell, who is eligible to retire on Sept. 1 with 30 years on the force, has been commander of the criminal investigations division since last September. The command includes the robbery, burglary and sex offense squads as well as the homicide unit.