D.C. police chief rebuked again on demotion policies

Judge rules former inspector entitled to back pay, benefits

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Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s policy of demoting command staff without cause or a hearing has been rebuked — again — in a recent ruling by the D.C. Office of Employee Appeals (OEA).

Administrative Judge Eric T. Robinson ruled last month that Capt. Kevin Keegan was wrongly demoted from inspector in 2007 and was entitled to back pay and benefits through the date he retired, more than eight months after his demotion.

The ruling is the latest rejection of the personnel practices of Chief Lanier, who critics say does not respect police due process rights and has officers and commanders alike upset about the process.

Last month, an arbitrator issued a ruling that marks the fifth time Chief Lanier has been overturned after she fired more than a dozen officers who were reinstated on appeal then re-fired on questionable advice from the former D.C. attorney general.

The OEA ruling in favor of Mr. Keegan, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, clears the way for an appeal to be heard in the case of another former inspector who was summarily demoted to captain for his staff’s handling of a complaint by a friend of Chief Lanier‘s, Cherita Whiting.

Mr. Keegan also is referenced in a complaint recently filed by a number of MPD officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that accuses Chief Lanier of discriminating against male commanders she fired or demoted for infractions that did not result in discipline for their female counterparts.

Mr. Keegan joined the MPD in 1981 as a career service employee, according to the OEA ruling, and enjoyed several career promotions over a 27-year career, eventually being promoted from captain to inspector in 2004.

In 2007, Mr. Keegan utilized his sick leave for stress-related reasons, the OEA ruling states, prompting Chief Lanier to complain he was setting a bad example for other officers. On Aug. 5, 2007, Chief Lanier summarily demoted Mr. Keegan to captain, according to the ruling.

Mr. Keegan retired from the MPD on April 27, 2008.

In defending the demotion, the MPD argued that the D.C. Code provides Chief Lanier with the ability to demote high-ranking officers as a means of maintaining trust within the command hierarchy.

Mr. Keegan argued that as a career service employee, he was entitled to basic rights such as notice, a show of cause and a right to be heard at a hearing.

In ruling Mr. Keegan was entitled to such rights, Judge Robinson wrote that he found it “surprising” the MPD admitted to never asserting cause for his demotion.

“For a District government employee to lose their Career Service rights without any written notice, forewarning or choice in the matter is abominable,” Judge Robinson wrote. “MPD cannot easily forego the protections afforded by [Mr. Keegan‘s] Career Services rights when it suits their purposes.”

Mr. Keegan could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Robert Deso, said that in addition to back pay, the ruling means his client will receive an inspector’s salary as retirement pay. He declined further comment.

Attorney James Pressler, the general counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, said the Keegan ruling means that one of his clients, Capt. Victor V. Brito, will have his case heard by the OEA on the same issue of summary demotion of a career service employee.

Mr. Brito was the head of MPD’s disciplinary branch when Ms. Whiting complained about her name surfacing in a personnel matter she initiated by accusing an MPD officer of dating a drug dealer. As in Mr. Keegan’s case, Chief Lanier summarily demoted Mr. Brito, a decorated 22-year veteran with a spotless disciplinary record, from inspector to captain.

“They don’t come any straighter than Vic Brito,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the former MPD chief and a mentor to Chief Lanier, when informed of the demotion.

Mr. Brito also is among a group of four current and former commanding officers who filed a complaint with the EEOC in March against Chief Lanier, accusing her of “a disturbing pattern of discriminatory conduct” in handing down harsher discipline for male officers than female officers.

Mr. Keegan is among 10 male commanders cited in that complaint as having been demoted for actions that resulted in no discipline for female commanders.

Chief Lanier remains adamant that her way is the right way: “This decision is completely inconsistent with prior decisions by both this judge and the OEA Board, both of which have upheld multiple discretionary demotions in the past,” she said in an email sent by her spokeswoman, Gwendolyn Crump, noting that two other summary demotion cases are pending before the Court of Appeals.

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