Several D.C. Council members, stepping gingerly into the issue of alleged corruption among some police officers, questioned Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. yesterday at an oversight hearing that lasted less than an hour.
The Judiciary Committee hearing marked the first time that Turner has been called to publicly discuss a federal investigation of some members of the force and ended nearly six weeks of his virtual silence on the probe.
Yet the tough grilling normally associated with oversight hearings gave way to gentle questioning by council members and appeared to boost Turner's spirits, which sources close to the chief say have flagged at the specter of a police scandal in the twilight of his 30-year career.
"How was I handled by the City Council?" a smiling Turner said after the hearing. "They always treat me with kid gloves."
Federal prosecutors are presenting evidence to a grand jury alleging that some 4th District vice detectives skimmed drugs and money seized in narcotics raids and tipped drug dealers about a massive drug sweep, and that department officials covered up the misconduct.
But little new information on the investigation came out at the hearing, and Turner declined to answer several detailed questions, citing the confidential nature of grand jury investigations.
He maintained that police officials did not participate in a cover-up and assured council members that the federal probe centered on "two to four -- at most" members of the 4th District vice squad. "The Metropolitan Police Department is not a corrupt department," Turner said. "It is carrying on business as usual; it is locking people up."
At the hearing, Council Chairman David A. Clarke (D) questioned the decision by U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova last month to drop nearly 400 pending drug cases made by the 4th District vice squad after learning of allegations that the officers routinely lied under oath to obtain search warrants.
Turner said he agreed with diGenova's decision to drop the cases and noted that some of the cases could be reopened depending on the outcome of the grand jury investigation.
Turner blamed Detective Curtis Arnold, a 17-year veteran, for a delay in the department's investigation into allegations that drug dealers were tipped off by some vice officers to the 1986 drug sweep dubbed Caribbean Cruise.
Turner told council members that Arnold disobeyed an order to give in-house investigators tapes in which drug dealers identified officers who they alleged tipped them off. Arnold has said that after he conducted a 45-day investigation, his superiors told him to drop the matter.