- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A veteran Metropolitan Police sergeant says higher-ups at the department and the city council chairman are protecting a manager accused of misusing department funds, failing to rescind defective speed-camera citations and improperly voiding legitimate tickets.

Sgt. Mark Robinson, a 22-year veteran who served with the department’s automated traffic enforcement unit, said the police internal affairs bureau told him that it had upheld allegations he brought against Homeland Security Bureau Program Manager Lisa Sutter, but no punishment or penalties were sought.

He also said that despite being dubbed a whistleblower, he has been removed from his post.

Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Kristopher Baumann said he was not surprised that Ms. Sutter has gone unscathed despite complaints to numerous oversight bodies and adverse internal affairs findings.

“The unit that she heads is a cash cow for the city,” Mr. Baumann said.

Whistleblower reassigned

Sgt. Robinson said he took his concerns about Ms. Sutter to the Metropolitan Police Department, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and D.C. Inspector General Charles Willoughby, but police officials under the purview of Chief Cathy L. Lanier declined to act on the findings by internal affairs.

In a July 13 letter to Mr. Willoughby, Mr. Mendelson, chairman of the council’s Judiciary Committee, wrote that Sgt. Robinson should be considered a whistleblower and that D.C. policy was to encourage whistleblowers to come forward. But Sgt. Robinson said he was moved from the automated traffic enforcement unit to a special events post shortly after he filed his complaints and has not been returned to normal duty.

The Mendelson letter included a statement by Sgt. Robinson accusing Ms. Sutter of giving $25,000 to a nonprofit without proper authority, improperly using automated traffic enforcement revenue to cater a staff meeting, and failing to rescind more than 100,000 defective citations resulting from portable speed cameras while improperly voiding an undisclosed number of other citations that had been approved by sworn police department reviewers.

According to documents attached to the letter, the police department’s office of audit and compliance referred the matter to internal affairs, which upheld some of the accusations, yet police officials took no action.

“If the allegations regarding Ms. Sutter are true and material, corrective and/or disciplinary action should be taken,” Mr. Mendelson wrote, urging Mr. Willoughby to investigate.

‘Not worth their time’

While police department officials did not impose any discipline in response to the internal affairs investigation, it is unclear what action, if any, the inspector general’s office took.

Ms. Sutter declined to comment.

Willoughby spokeswoman Blanche Bruce said the inspector general’s office usually gets back to a requestor “in the appropriate manner, but we don’t talk about ongoing matters.” She also would not confirm whether Sgt. Robinson’s complaints constituted an “ongoing matter.”

Sgt. Robinson said Jessica Jacobs, legislative counsel to Mr. Mendelson, confirmed that Mr. Willoughby’s office had looked into the matter. The sergeant said Ms. Jacobs read to him a written response from Mr. Willoughby to Mr. Mendelson stating that the inspector general had no problems with the police department’s handling of the investigation and decided that the transfer of funds issue was “not worth their time.”

Ms. Jacobs did not return calls for comment.

“It’s confidential is my understanding and the [inspector general’s] office must release it,” Denise Tolliver, chief of staff to Mr. Mendelson, wrote in an email. Mr. Mendelson’s office declined to disclose the letter.

When pressed for further comment, Ms. Tolliver said the chairman “has already sent a letter to the [inspector general’s] office asking for an investigation and MPD Internal Affairs is also investigating.”

At a recent council hearing in which Sgt. Robinson testified, Mr. Mendelson dismissed the matter by saying, “I’ve done all I can do” and invited the sergeant to take his complaints to other law enforcement agencies. Sgt. Robinson said he referred the matter to the FBI on Sept. 24.

Police chief’s response

Chief Lanier’s office denied any retaliation against Sgt. Robinson and said his former unit was “civilianized.”

Police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump denied that the speed cameras resulted in any defective citations.

She said internal affairs investigations are confidential but insisted that they were “acted upon.”

She also denied that Sgt. Robinson was detailed to another unit for filing complaints against Ms. Sutter and calling attention to alleged flaws in the automated traffic enforcement unit.

Ms. Crump said no sworn personnel are assigned to the automated traffic enforcement unit.

Sgt. Robinson refuted Ms. Crump’s claims that there were no statutory violations on the portable speed units, calling the statement “blatantly false.” He pointed to his own experience last November when he received a speed-camera citation that just last week was dismissed by a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing examiner because of the District’s “failure to meet its burden of proof,” according to a DMV notice. He said there are more than 100,000 similar citations, with a revenue potential of more than $10 million.

He also disputed the claim that his former unit had been civilianized, saying other sworn officers have been detailed back to the unit.

“I have been forced to remain in a detailed position because I adhered to the District of Columbia Ethics Manual and reported waste, fraud and illegal conduct to the appropriate authorities,” Sgt. Robinson said.