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D.C. officer who tried to stop chase ‘humiliated’ by boss, suit says

Capt. Steve Andelman of the D.C. police is suing the department after he was allegedly retaliated against for trying to stop a police pursuit that resulted in a crash on the George Washington Parkway. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

A D.C. police captain sued the District on Tuesday, alleging he was retaliated against after trying to stop a high-speed pursuit last month that ended with a car overturning on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, causing injuries and bringing rush-hour traffic to a halt.

The litigation comes months after D.C. police changed policies related to high-speed chases and a commission charged with reform deemed them “inherently dangerous” following the deaths of two young men.

Steve Andelman, 52, is a 13-year veteran of the force, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court. On March 7, according to the suit, the police captain was serving as watch commander when he received a radio request from officers to pursue people suspected of stealing glasses from a Georgetown optician — part of a rash of “flash mob” incidents in recent months.

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Andelman denied permission to pursue, the suit said, “because he believed the incident involved a theft of property, not a robbery that involved violence, a weapon, or a threat of imminent danger to anyone, including the suspects.”

“Absent such a threat of danger to the public, MPD policy does not permit a high speed vehicular pursuit to take place,” the suit said.

Andelman’s order was overridden “almost immediately” by a superior, the suit asserts, and the subsequent chase from the District into Virginia ended when the pursued vehicle overturned near the Spout Run Parkway exit to the George Washington Parkway.

Andelman’s lawsuit said he discussed how the incident should be described with other officers that evening.

“All agreed that the incident was being mislabeled as an unarmed robbery to justify the pursuit after the fact,” the suit said. Instead, they thought it should have been labeled as a theft.

D.C. police said in a statement on March 8 that a 16-year-old, whose name was not released, was charged with unarmed robbery in connection with the incident, which a police report refers to as a robbery.

Though news reports indicated that a 34-year-old suspect was injured in the crash, no one else has been charged in the incident, according to D.C. police.

“The suspects in the vehicle sustained substantial injuries, and it is simply fortuitous that no other vehicles or pedestrians were involved,” the suit said.

After Andelman contradicted a superior’s characterization of the incident as a robbery that would permit a high-speed chase, he was “openly humiliated, denigrated and disparaged,” the suit said.

A pattern of mistreatment began even as Andelman, according to the lawsuit, alleged that a superior accused Andelman “of calling off a legitimate pursuit” and “attacked his credibility, reputation, work performance and stated that he planned to discipline Cpt. Andelman because of his actions.”

When Andelman sought a transfer out of the 2nd District, the request was denied, the lawsuit said. When Andelman sought to see a counselor, his request was denied over the counselor’s objection.

On Monday, he received a 14-day suspension for accidentally deleting an email about shift schedules on New Year’s Eve even though the deletion caused “no staffing issues, conflicts or problems,” the lawsuit said. And on Tuesday, he received a written reprimand for failing to complete an assignment, even though he is on unpaid sick leave.

The suit is seeking Andelman’s transfer to a different unit and $1 million in compensatory damages.

A spokeswoman for D.C.’s attorney general’s office declined to comment. D.C. police said they do not comment on pending litigation.

In an interview, Andelman said D.C. police policy allows pursuit in “extremely limited” circumstances. He said the disagreement about whether to allow the pursuit was not the result of a personality clash but was an “abuse of power.”

“It’s just a miracle that no one was killed,” he said.

Pam Keith, Andelman’s attorney, said the District’s whistleblower laws protect him whether or not he properly classified the crime as a theft where pursuit was not permitted.

“Captain Andelman is now victim of a coordinated, concerted effort to discipline him out of the MPD,” she said, using an abbreviation for the formal name of the D.C. police, the Metropolitan Police Department.

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A D.C. police general order issued last year precludes police chases unless the suspect is a threat or a crime “involved an actual or threatened attack which resulted in or could have resulted in death or serious bodily injury.”

“When a member is engaged in a vehicle pursuit, the overriding responsibilities are the protection of human life and property,” the order says.

That order came after the D.C. Police Reform Commission, created after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd in 2020, concluded that police pursuits were “inherently dangerous” and recommended limiting them.

Though the commission acknowledged that D.C. police permitted pursuits only in “extremely limited circumstances,” it questioned “whether MPD officers adhere to these restrictions” and said the D.C. Council should take legislative action.

The report cited the deaths of 20-year-old Karon Hylton-Brown, who died in a scooter crash in 2020 after being pursued by D.C. police, and 22-year-old Jeffrey Price, who ran his dirt bike into a police vehicle in 2018. Price’s family contended in a lawsuit that police intentionally blocked his route, while a police investigation said Price’s reckless driving caused the crash.

Still on unpaid sick leave as he looks for another assignment in the department, Andelman said he loves his job but cannot return to work in a “toxic environment.”

“I’m very committed to MPD,” he said. “If the department changes for the better, we have that much more trust.”