A D.C. police officer fired as a result of a complaint brought by a campaign consultant turned political appointee for Mayor Vincent C. Gray has appealed her termination and asked that Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier recuse herself from the case because of her “close” relationship with the complainant.
Veteran Metropolitan Police Officer Micheaux Bishop, in her appeal, said Chief Lanier’s subordinates committed a “veritable cornucopia of due process violations” in firing her to uphold a complaint by Cherita Whiting that the officer was dating a drug dealer, including pressuring a trial board to introduce new evidence, adding a charge and reversing a decision after the hearing ended.
Ms. Bishop’s attorney, James Pressler, wrote that there was no doubt Ms. Whiting’s influence with the police department was “the driving force behind this prosecution.”
Ms. Whiting, who campaigned fiercely against incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, was appointed by Mr. Gray after his election as a “special assistant” at the Department of Parks and Recreation in spite of her recent admission to The Washington Times that she failed to disclose a 2001 felony conviction on her D.C. job applications.
A former Advisory Neighborhood Commission member, Ms. Whiting has boasted of close ties to numerous D.C. officials, including Mr. Gray, Chief Lanier and former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.
“The question logically arises whether as Chief of Police you knew, or should have known, during your lengthy and ongoing relationship with Cherita Whiting, that Ms. Whiting had felony convictions for serious crimes, and whether that renders Officer Bishop’s relationship no different or worse than your association with Ms. Whiting,” Mr. Pressler wrote to Chief Lanier on March 4.
The chief denied having any special relationship with Ms. Whiting or knowing about her felony record. Reached at her D.C. office, Ms. Whiting declined to comment.
Ms. Rhee described Ms. Whiting as a “vocal parent and devout critic” of the city’s school reform efforts, but said she didn’t know much about her and “didn’t know her personally.” Mr. Gray’s office said there was “no relationship between the mayor and Ms. Whiting.”
Ms. Whiting’s influence with the Metropolitan Police Department is outlined in an Oct. 11, 2009, email she sent to Chief Lanier after noticing a news release on the indictments and arrests of 11 people charged with distributing crack cocaine, heroin and PCP. The email, released by police as a part of Ms. Bishop’s personnel case, told the chief that the article was about “Omar Bowman from our neighborhood — His girlfriend is one of your officers. His mother just told me he is staying at your officer’s house.”
Bowman later was convicted of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and sentenced to five years in federal prison.
Ms. Whiting’s email, which sparked an exchange with Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Chiefs Diane Groomes and Michael Anzallo, said Ms. Bishop “just bought a huge house back in July.” Two days later, members of the Safe Streets Task Force interviewed Ms. Bishop to explore a suspected romantic link with Bowman, according to an internal affairs investigative report.
The following day, the FBI interviewed Ms. Bishop, although the internal affairs report said agents concluded she was neither a “person of interest nor a target in their investigation.” After learning of Bowman’s indictment, the report said, Ms. Bishop cooperated fully with the FBI and the Metropolitan Police.
Property records show that Ms. Bishop purchased her home on a short sale and financed it through a registered finance company.
Chief Groomes and Chief Anzallo did not return calls for comment.
Had their doubts
Some police officials had doubts about Ms. Bishop, internal affairs records show. Police surveillance established that she was dating Bowman. The report said they had known each other since they were teenagers, but had not seen each other for 20 years. Having reconnected via Facebook, Bowman had become Ms. Bishop’s personal trainer and they became romantically involved, the report said.
Despite concerns, the reports said, no illegal activity between Ms. Bishop and Bowman was observed. But because investigators concluded that Ms. Bishop knew Bowman was married, according to the report, internal affairs charged her with “conduct unbecoming an officer.” The police department’s disciplinary branch said, however, that it hadn’t previously taken action against officers for such relationships, and the matter was dismissed.
As the police department was investigating Ms. Bishop, Ms. Whiting was complaining about attempts by internal affairs to interview her, the report said. “She voiced her concern to several unnamed high-ranking city officials,” the report said, adding that Ms. Whiting did not want her name associated with the inquiry. A second attempt by internal affairs to interview Ms. Whiting “resulted in her threat to phone the Chief of Police regarding this investigation,” the report said.
According to the Bishop appeal, Ms. Whiting’s access to Chief Lanier was crucial to the outcome of the matter. Ms. Whiting and the chief have known each other since the chief was a commander in Ward 4, where Ms. Whiting is a community activist. According to testimony in the personnel matter, Ms. Whiting told neighbors that she and the chief are close and are Facebook friends.
When asked about Ms. Whiting’s role in the Bishop case, Chief Lanier said: “If you do an article on her as a complainant in a drug-related case, I’ll make a formal complaint against you.” When asked to clarify, she replied, “Why don’t you write your report and find out what that means.”
On Wednesday, police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said, “The Metropolitan Police Department cannot comment on personnel matters or situations that may jeopardize an individual’s safety.”
In January 2010, when Ms. Bishop was told that no charges would be brought against her, she was given a copy of the investigative materials, an internal affairs memo shows. Included in the package was the email from Ms. Whiting to Chief Lanier, which identified Ms. Whiting as the complainant. Word got around Ms. Whiting’s neighborhood that she had complained about Ms. Bishop and, according to documents in the case, Ms. Whiting was angry.
Later, the director of the police department’s disciplinary review division was demoted as a result of the disclosure of the email to Ms. Bishop, and another internal affairs investigation was opened to find out whether Ms. Bishop disclosed the name of a confidential witness, police records show. Agents began surveillance of her again and they learned she was continuing to see Bowman as he awaited trial, according to the records.
Ms. Bishop told the agents she had never witnessed any criminal activity, that Bowman had denied any involvement with drugs and that she and Bowman never talked about his trial status. An internal affairs review of the police database showed Ms. Bishop had never looked up Bowman’s criminal record.
As it turns out, Ms. Whiting had known Bowman for years. In interviews with police officials, she described herself as a friend of Bowman’s family and referred to Bowman as her “brother.” According to a transcript of a March 11, 2010, interview with police officials, Ms. Whiting said, “We are, you know, close.”
In her interview, Ms. Whiting expressed concern that Bowman or his associates might want to harm her or her family as a result of her complaint about Ms. Bishop to the police department. She said she knew Bowman was a drug dealer. “He used to have a gym on Riggs Road,” she said, according to an interview transcript. “And that’s all they were in the gym doing was selling drugs.”
Ms. Whiting said Bowman took her son shopping and gave him cash for good grades. She said her son called him “Uncle Omar,” the transcript shows.
Regarding her complaint to Chief Lanier, according to the transcribed interview, Ms. Whiting told investigators that she wanted to inform the chief that one of her officers was involved with somebody who had been arrested, “so that’s why I reached out to Kathy to tell her. And, she didn’t know. And, you know it had nothing to do with me, as far as I’m concerned with Omar. It was more so looking out for Kat, ‘cause I don’t have any [allegiance] to Micheaux. You know what I’m saying?”
On Feb. 14, a three-member trial board decided to fire Ms. Bishop for maintaining a “close personal relationship” with Bowman after his indictment, disclosing the name of a complainant and providing untruthful testimony during the hearing, according to Ms. Bishop’s termination notice.
In the appeal, Mr. Pressler said it was “not reasonably possible” for the chief to decide the matter “in an unbiased and impartial manner.”
“It is hard to deny that a close relationship exists between you and Ms. Whiting when she repeatedly calls you ‘Kat’ and ‘Kathy,’” he said in the appeal, referring to her interview. He also cited numerous due process concerns, including what he called “special treatment” afforded to Ms. Whiting by Metropolitan Police.
The appeal said a hearing officer attempted to allow Ms. Whiting to testify anonymously and her name was redacted from interview transcripts — unusual measures for an administrative matter. During the hearing, a police official insisted that witnesses leave the area when it was time for Ms. Whiting to testify, according to the appeal, prompting two witnesses to formally complain that they had been intimidated and humiliated.
Mr. Pressler also said in the appeal that it was “highly unusual if not unprecedented” for an assistant police chief to personally conduct the interview of a complainant “let alone the person who was in charge of the investigation,” referring to Chief Anzallo. At one point, Chief Anzallo provided information to Ms. Whiting to correct an answer she had given, according to a hearing transcript.
In the appeal, Mr. Pressler also said the three original panel members were in possession of the notice of proposed charges and the final investigative report in advance of the hearing, which he claimed is prejudicial to his client. When he requested a new panel, those members received the report in advance of the hearing as well, the appeal states.
Then, after the panel issued a ruling, the appeal said the final notice of adverse action contained an “entirely new charge” that had not been presented at the hearing: making an untruthful statement with regard to Ms. Bishop’s denial of a romantic relationship with Bowman after she learned he had been indicted.
Ms. Bishop “had never received notice of any kind regarding this added charge prior to Feb. 14,” Mr. Pressler wrote.
Contrasting the addition of a new charge were “omissions of certain material facts from the hearing,” the appeal said, referring to Ms. Whiting’s prior felony convictions that went unmentioned in the factual findings.
After the panel reached a decision, the members were told of additional evidence that had not been introduced at the hearing and persuaded to change their original decision, according to the appeal. The appeal said the director of the disciplinary branch, Inspector Michael Eldridge “led and/or participated in this discussion … after the close of the hearing.”
Mr. Eldridge said he was “unable to comment.”
Asked whether Ms. Bishop received a fair hearing, another hearing officer, Cmdr. George Kucik, said, “Yes, I thought it was fair.” He declined to elaborate. Another panel member, Capt. Will Goodwin, said, “I have no comment.” The third panel member, Capt. Michelle Williams, did not return calls for comment.
An MPD sergeant, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said a hearing officer told colleagues Ms. Bishop originally was not going to be fired, but the disciplinary branch called panel members and showed them new evidence to support a charge of lying.
Ted Williams, a former legal counsel to the police union, said the addition of evidence and a new charge without notice and a hearing is “highly inappropriate.”
A veteran lawyer who has handled numerous trial boards, Mr. Williams said it was “wholly unfair to face a new charge without receiving due process.” He said if there are outside influences on the process, “it brings down morale throughout the department.”