CLARIFICATION: A graphic Jan. 12 that listed District police officers awaiting trial omitted two officers' names. Officer Andrew James McGill is awaiting trial in U.S. District Court in Maryland on drug trafficking charges. Officer Darrell L. Green is awaiting trial in Fairfax County on grand larceny charges. (Published 01/27/2000)
Thirteen District police officers were convicted last year of crimes that included extortion, kidnapping, sexual abuse and obstruction of justice, a nearly threefold increase since 1997.
With seven other officers currently awaiting trial, including one of three officers arrested just in the last two weeks, a department known for poor hiring and poor training is again paying a price.
"It's hard to put a finger on all of this," said Frank Tracy, head of the D.C. police union. "I'm surprised at this juncture that some of these things are happening and that the convictions are coming at the rate that they're coming."
The department and the D.C. Council have pledged in recent years to increase scrutiny of officers, commissioning a $400,000 study in December 1997 that recommended broad changes in screening, training and discipline.
The study identified gross mismanagement, said Mark H. Tuohey, the special counsel hired by the D.C. Council to do the review. The number of officers currently convicted or facing charges, Tuohey said, is "significant."
In light of the recent convictions and arrests, Tracy said, "I don't know whether the city got its money's worth" in the study.
At least two of the officers convicted last year or awaiting trial had previous run-ins with the law while on the force, but the department failed to discipline or remove them, records show.
Officer Warren L. Pindell, who joined the force in 1990, was arrested Dec. 29 and is awaiting trial on two counts of armed robbery after he allegedly held up two prostitutes' customers.
In 1991, Pindell was charged in Baltimore County with theft for cashing an allegedly forged check at a liquor store, according to documents. He made restitution of $317 and told the judge he paid "in protest," because he didn't remember how it happened.
In 1992, Pindell was found not guilty of carrying a handgun in a vehicle. He also was charged with battery for allegedly punching a girlfriend. The charges were dropped, court records showed. In 1993, he was charged with assaulting the same girlfriend, and the charges were dropped.
Edward Ford, also a member of the class of 1990, is awaiting trial on a domestic assault charge, according to the U.S. attorney's office. In 1993, Ford was charged with simple assault in the District. The charge was later dropped.
"They should have been kicked off the force," said D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).
Union rules and regulations governing unfair labor practices make it difficult to fire officers arrested but not convicted, Evans said.
"It impairs the ability of the chief to fire people at will," he said.
But Tracy blamed elimination of the officer cadet program in 1980 for the department's inability to get rid of troubled officers. The program, Tracy said, weeded out "drug users, criminals and others who were not suitable either by way of character or conduct."
Evans said he believes arrests of officers will escalate because of the 3,400-member department's failure over the last decade to properly screen potential officers.
"It's common knowledge that there were officers hired in the last five to 10 years with inadequate background checks and inadequate psychological checks, and you are seeing the end result," Evans said. "One-fourth to one-third of the officers shouldn't be on the force."
Four officers convicted last year and four of those awaiting trial were hired in 1989 or 1990, police records show, an era when the department was ordered by Congress to beef up the force. Police officials complied but skimped on background checks and training.
The problems extend to upper ranks and across districts. At least two supervisors and two detectives were convicted in 1999.
"The biggest problem is that it paints a picture that all police officers are corrupt," said Chief Charles H. Ramsey. "And there's the issue of the integrity of the department. We can't afford to have officers engaging in acts of misconduct or corruption."
Officer convictions have been on the rise. Five were convicted in 1997 on charges including assault, false statements and sexual abuse. A sixth officer's case was dismissed, according to the U.S. attorney's office. In 1998, nine officers were convicted on charges including perjury, burglary and assault. Seven other cases were dismissed or the officers acquitted.
Officers who pleaded guilty or were found guilty last year were:
* Officer Joseph Gingrich, for making false statements and filing a false report in connection with a shooting.
* Officer Clarence Christian, for misdemeanor sexual abuse.
* Detective Michael A. Cencich, for extortion arising from the shakedown of a prostitution house.
* Officer Donald Jones, for sexual abuse and committing a lewd and indecent act at a video store.
* Officer Milton H. Downing, for attempted aggravated assault.
* Sgt. David M. Goodridge, for theft of perfume he confiscated during a search and subsequently sold.
* Detective John Mehalic III, for kidnapping while armed, second-degree sexual abuse while armed, bribery, stalking and obstruction of justice.
* Lt. Yong Ahn, for receiving illegal gratuities from two District massage parlor operators.
* Officer Wallace S. Najiy II, for obstruction of justice, wire fraud, forgery, tampering with physical evidence and first-degree fraud.
* Officer Marvin Branch, for assaulting a prisoner at the department's central cellblock.
* Officer Kenneth L. Nelson, for five counts of simple assault, two counts of cruelty to animals, theft and 11 violations of a civil protection order.
* Officer Vincent Andrews, for first-degree sexual abuse of a ward, tampering with physical evidence, obstruction of justice and assault.
* Officer Eric Stringer, for misdemeanor domestic assault.
Ramsey said the officers' criminal behavior has embarrassed the entire force, but he said he is pleased that bad officers are being exposed. "You can't have years and years of turmoil and lax supervision and not expect to have problems," the chief said. "Absolutely, it harms our image. But before you can get healthy, you have to weed out what ails you."
The seven D.C. police officers awaiting trial on criminal charges are:
Antonio Cannon (2nd District): Charged with stealing a cellular phone from a motorist he stopped and then using the phone. Cannon was charged with three counts of misdemeanor theft and one count of receiving stolen property.
Kevin Matthews (6th District): Charged with domestic assault.
Kevin Cranford (6th District): Charged with cocaine possession.
Cynthia Evans (6th District): Charged with destruction of property.
Warren Pindell (4th District): Charged with two counts of armed robbery after he allegedly held up a prostitute's customer and took his money.
Derrick Brown (1st District): Charged with sexual abuse.
Edward Ford (Special Services): Charged with domestic assault.
SOURCE: U.S. attorney's office and Metropolitan Police Department