- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A veteran Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) sergeant gets drawn into a shouting match with a pimp and physically removes him from the police station.

An officer with 21 years on the job deemed “exemplary” by his immediate supervisor is caught moonlighting as a security guard without department approval.

Another officer with no history of discipline gets into a personal domestic dispute that results in criminal charges against him that later are dropped.

These MPD officers have at least two things in common: They all received suspensions on a vote by a three-member police disciplinary panel, known as a trial board, only to be fired by a civilian police official who reports to a uniformed assistant police chief, who answers directly to Chief Cathy L. Lanier.

And, they all stand a good chance of being reinstated by an appeals court or an arbitrator, with back pay, according to attorneys who have represented police officers for years.

The firing and reinstating of police officers is wreaking havoc within the MPD, veteran officers and their representatives say. Beyond the disruption to their career advancement, the officers say, MPD is deprived of their services for months while eventually being forced to rehire them and pay their back salaries.

The resulting rap on Chief Lanier is that she does not adequately respect officers’ rights, and that an uneven brand of justice has undermined officer morale.

Chief Lanier denies that such perceptions exist. Through a spokeswoman, she insisted she has the right to police the police the way she sees fit: “The authority to reject [a trial board’s] recommendation and impose termination has been upheld by arbitrators in decisions dating from 1987 to the present,” Gwendolyn Crump, MPD’s communications director, wrote in an email to The Washington Times.

“The chief will continue to administer the disciplinary process to ensure that those who are not fit to serve as law enforcement officers are removed from the department’s ranks.”

When asked repeatedly to provide a recent arbitrator’s ruling that supports the MPD position, Chief Lanier’s office did not provide one. Yet a 2007 arbitrator’s ruling predating her command states that D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR) governing trial board procedures and officers’ appeal rights do “not authorize the Chief to increase the penalty recommended by a trial board.”

Human Resources Management Division Director Diana Haines Walton, a civilian lawyer who, according to the MPD, reports to Assistant Chief Rodney Parks, authors the rulings that have overturned trial board decisions in violation of the DCMR, according to more than a half-dozen appeals reviewed by The Times.

Sometimes, Ms. Walton imposes the ultimate penalty after trial boards have reviewed documentary evidence, witness testimony and cross-examination before handing down punishment aimed at rehabilitating officers, police discipline case documents show.

Other times, she changes a “Not Guilty” finding to “Guilty,” the documents show, or ignores findings of fact or conclusions of law reached by the trial board.

The MPD did not directly respond to questions about whether Ms. Walton’s decisions require the approval of Chief Parks or his boss, Chief Lanier. “The HR Director’s authority to reject an adverse action panel’s recommendation is and has always been in the department’s disciplinary regulation,” wrote Ms. Crump.

But according to sources familiar with the current protocol for police discipline cases, trial board decisions are hand-delivered to Chief Parks‘ office for review before being sent to Ms. Walton in Human Resources. Says one veteran MPD source, “Everything goes to Chief Parks first.”

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