A District police officer accused of threatening Michelle Obama has been cleared of administrative charges related to the first lady but was found guilty of posting a derogatory job description on social media and depicting the president as a communist, his attorney said Monday.
Members of a departmental review board ruled that Christopher Picciano, a 17-year veteran who was a member of the elite presidential motorcade detail, should be suspended without pay for 40 days for conduct unbecoming an officer. His attorney, James W. Pressler, said his client is weighing an appeal. The city had sought to have Picciano fired.
“We’re pleased that he was exonerated of all allegations that he made threats against the first lady,” Pressler said. “He has maintained from the beginning that it was an off-the-cuff remark, a joke.”
The U.S. attorney’s office had declined to file charges against the officer, agreeing with the Secret Service that Picciano was not serious with his comment about Michelle Obama. But during the investigation, detectives found troubling though unrelated postings on the officer’s LinkedIn and Facebook accounts.
Those included a communist emblem — a hammer and sickle — superimposed over a campaign poster of President Obama and Picciano’s self-described job description as “zoo keeper of the MPD.” Angry with the D.C. Council over a vote to curtail pension benefits, Picciano wrote on Facebook about taking a rifle to a tall building.
Pressler described the postings as social media musings that weren’t to be taken seriously, though panel members expressed concern during the May hearing about Picciano’s fitness for duty.
Picciano, who has been working in evidence control for the past several months, would like to remain a police officer in the District but has given up on returning to the motorcycle unit that escorted the president and other dignitaries around Washington. “Realistically, I don’t think he has that expectation,” Pressler said.
Gwendolyn Crump, a D.C. police spokeswoman, declined to comment, saying the ruling is a personnel matter. The ruling by the three-member review panel, called a trial board, was not released, even though the proceedings were open to the public. Pressler said Picciano faced two internal charges related to the alleged threat. He was found not guilty of both.
Picciano got into trouble in July 2012 while eating breakfast with a group of officers in a downtown restaurant. They were talking about the first lady’s threat level, and one officer explained that it was high because “a lot of people want to kill her.” Another officer then testified that Picciano said, “Yeah, because I want to kill her” and then showed that officer a picture of a handgun on his phone.
But Pressler said that two separate conversations were crossing the table at the same time. Picciano’s version is that the officer asked who would kill Obama — to which he answered, “I guess I would.” Pressler said his client was also talking about a birthday gift of a .40-caliber handgun and at the moment he made the joke, the picture of the gun downloaded on the phone he was holding up.
The hearing in May included detailed testimony about Picciano’s views on politics and race and whether the accusation by a black officer against the white officer was racially motivated. Picciano’s attorney presented lists of the officer’s awards and commendations, including a medal for saving the life of an 8-year-old girl.