- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2011

An attorney for veteran Metropolitan Police Department Inspector Victor V. Brito says his client’s demotion to captain and removal as director of disciplinary branch after he disagreed in a case sparked by a complaint by Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s Facebook friend Cherita Whiting was made “without any legitimate factual basis” and violated his due process rights.

In a previously unreported but still-pending appeal, attorney James Pressler wrote that Mr. Brito’s rights were violated by the chief to “scapegoat” him for the police department’s failure to appease Ms. Whiting and that Chief Lanier is punishing his client for not doing something he would have been prevented from doing under the department’s own rules: taking it on himself to redact the name of a complaining witness from the file.

A decorated 22-year veteran with a spotless disciplinary record, Mr. Brito is among a group of four current and former commanding officers who filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March against Chief Lanier and the Metropolitan Police Department.

Asked for a comment from the chief on Mr. Brito’s pending appeal and why she demoted him, Gwendolyn Crump, Chief Lanier’s spokeswoman, said, “We cannot comment on personnel matters.”

Mr. Brito also has declined to comment on the case.

But Mr. Pressler said in an interview last week that in hindsight his client could have seen the handwriting on the wall. A separate whistleblower claim notice filed for Mr. Brito said Chief Lanier called him on Oct. 15, 2009, to demand why, as a sitting member of a three-member panel that hears police disciplinary matters, he was finding officers “not guilty” and not terminating them as proposed by the department.

“Capt. Brito explained that, in every case, the panel had adjudicated the case objectively, and had based its decisions on the evidentiary standards required by MPD rules and regulations,” Mr. Pressler noted in the appeal, adding that the chief responded by saying, “We cannot allow these people to remain on the department” and instructed Mr. Brito to “look at these matters differently in the future” before abruptly hanging up the phone.

Mr. Pressler said that the chief’s implicit warning for his client was that he had better start ruling in the department’s favor on matters that are supposed to result in independent fact-finding and adjudication.

“The effect of the failure to follow basic rules of due process has had a devastating effect on the morale of the sworn membership of the department,” said Mr. Pressler, who represents scores of Metropolitan Police officers and also serves as general counsel to the Fraternal Order of Police. “A climate has developed in which officers accused of misconduct feel as if they cannot get a fair shake.”

Mr. Pressler said Mr. Brito knew Chief Lanier was unhappy with him for not seeing things her way, but it wasn’t until he crossed paths with Ms. Whiting that he was demoted. He said his client was in his first week as director of the disciplinary branch in December 2009 when a case came to his attention as the result of an email complaint to Chief Lanier from Ms. Whiting, a vocal Ward 4 activist who represents herself as a friend of the chief, whom she refers to as “Kathy” or “Kat.”

The complaint was about an officer who had been dating a D.C. man who was indicted in a drug conspiracy.

Mr. Brito ultimately dismissed Ms. Whiting’s complaint. That dismissal led to a chain of events culminating in Mr. Brito’s demotion along with the firing of the accused officer, Micheaux Bishop. Ms. Bishop argued in a separate appeal that her firing was the result of a “veritable cornucopia of due process violations.”

Mr. Pressler wrote that the cases expose a troubling accommodation of Ms. Whiting by Chief Lanier and her subordinates, and a punitive culture within the police department that does not respect the rights of its sworn members. In requesting that the chief recuse herself from the Bishop case because of “a close professional and/or personal relationship” with Ms. Whiting, Mr. Pressler wrote that there was no doubt that Ms. Whitings influence with the Metropolitan Police Department was “the driving force behind this prosecution.”

He also wrote that there was no factual or legal basis for Mr. Brito’s demotion and attributed it to the chief’s special relationship with Ms. Whiting. “Had it been Jane Doe, this never would’ve happened,” Mr. Pressler said.

Ms. Whiting is a former campaign consultant to Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who received a political appointment after his election. She was “terminated with pay” in April, according to documents released by the mayor’s office, after The Washington Times reported that she admitted to failing to disclose a 2001 federal wire fraud conviction to her D.C. government employers.

When Ms. Whiting made her original complaint against Officer Bishop, an investigation concluded that there was insufficient evidence the officer knew about any criminal activity involving the man she was dating, according to internal affairs documents. Yet there was some indication she knew the man might still be married.

On the advice of his predecessor and his staff, Mr. Brito dismissed the complaint in January because the Metropolitan Police Department had not traditionally disciplined officers charged with adultery, the documents state, and considered the matter closed. That same day, Officer Bishop came to the disciplinary unit, where a police lieutenant provided her with a copy of the investigation, including the original email complaint “as has been pattern and practice for the branch,” according to a memo from Mr. Brito to his commanding officer.

Three weeks later, on Jan. 27, after Ms. Whiting became angry that her name had surfaced in her neighborhood as a complainant, Chief Lanier called Mr. Brito into her office “to discuss why the department was not taking disciplinary action in adultery cases, and why Officer Bishop was provided a copy of the investigation,” according to the Brito appeal.

The next day, the appeal said, Chief Lanier called the inspector back to her office, removed him as director of the disciplinary branch and demoted him to captain, despite an internal investigation that said the lieutenant who released the email complaint to Officer Bishop did so “independently and without prior authorization or discussion with Capt. Brito.”

In the appeal, Mr. Pressler wrote that numerous police officials reviewed the Bishop investigation and never labeled Ms. Whiting as an anonymous complainant. He also said it was inappropriate for acting Assistant Chief Rodney Parks to investigate Mr. Brito’s handling of the matter since Chief Parks, as Mr. Brito’s supervisor, could be a material witness in the case.

• Jeffrey Anderson can be reached at jmanderson@washingtontimes.com.

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