A complaint before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by four veteran Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officials accuses Chief Cathy L. Lanier of “a disturbing pattern of discriminatory conduct” in handing down harsher discipline for male officers than female officers.
Cmdr. Willie Dandridge, Cmdr. Hilton Burton, Capt. Victor Brito and Capt. Kevin Anderson identify 10 male officers disciplined and demoted by Chief Lanier and eight female officers who avoided a similar fate, and claim that “when allegations of misconduct swirled within the command staff, if the command official was a woman, she was never demoted and rarely disciplined.”
The discrimination challenge arises as Chief Lanier grapples with what veteran officers and union and legal representatives say is a department plagued by morale problems stemming from what is viewed as her heavy-handed and uneven approach to discipline.
Of particular concern, according to separate discipline cases pending before the D.C. Court of Appeals, is Chief Lanier’s repeated use of a statute that gives her the right to demote commanders to the lower rank of inspector or captain without cause or a hearing. Critics say the statute has been overused and that the chief has used the threat of no-cause demotions to influence the rulings of officials who serve on police disciplinary panels, known as trial boards.
In an emailed statement, Chief Lanier said discipline under her predecessor, Charles H. Ramsey, was too severe. She said she has strived to differentiate between inadvertent mistakes and firing offenses but won’t hesitate to replace members of her department who fail to perform to acceptable levels.
“We still make sure that our officers and officials are accountable,” she wrote.
Three of the four complainants before the EEOC served on trial boards together and caught Chief Lanier’s eye when they repeatedly ruled that discipline recommended by her subordinates was not substantiated by the facts or the evidence. In a notice of a potential whistleblower claim, Mr. Brito said that Chief Lanier called on Oct. 15, 2009, and instructed him to “look at these matters differently in the future” before abruptly hanging up the phone.
Mr. Brito, a 22-year decorated official with no prior record of discipline, was later removed as director of the MPD’s disciplinary branch and demoted from inspector to captain after Chief Lanier disagreed with his decision not to discipline an officer accused of adultery and after a lieutenant under his command released a copy of the investigative file in the case to the officer that included an email identifying the complaining witness.
The witness was Chief Lanier’s Facebook friend and Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s campaign consultant turned political appointee Cherita Whiting, who refers to the chief as “Kathy” or “Kat.”
Mr. Dandridge, also a 22-year veteran who served with Mr. Brito on numerous trial boards, was demoted by Chief Lanier after achieving the rank of assistant chief. “The Chief told me that she was demoting me to put her own people in place, ‘people she could trust,’ ” states the EEOC complaint.
Like Mr. Brito, Mr. Dandridge had a previous run-in with Chief Lanier. In 2007, after being disciplined for allegedly failing to give an order to reduce a backlog of calls for service in the 6th District, Mr. Dandridge said in his appeal that internal affairs investigators ignored tainted evidence and the misconduct of others “because there was a predetermination that Assistant Chief Dandridge would be held responsible for the incident regardless of the evidence.”
According to the appeal, which includes corroborating statements from witnesses who heard an investigator disparage the case, the investigators overlooked evidence because they “presumed that is what you wanted because you ordered the investigation.”
On Aug. 24, 2007, Internal Affairs Agent Phineas A. Young told Mr. Dandridge he was called in while on vacation “to change the investigation,” the appeal states. “You know how it is, you’ve been around,” Mr. Young said, according to the appeal.
Mr. Burton, a 20-year MPD veteran who served with Mr. Brito and Mr. Dandridge on the trial boards, was demoted from commander to inspector in 2007 for alleged inappropriate conduct and suspended for five days, the EEOC complaint says. His appeal, now pending before the D.C. Court of Appeals, said Chief Lanier demoted him before the internal affairs investigation was completed “with no written notice, grounds for the demotion or an opportunity to respond to the action.” He has since been promoted back to commander but at a lower level and lower pay.
Mr. Anderson, a 25-year-veteran, was demoted and no reason was given. He and his fellow complainants all declined to comment for this article.
The EEOC complaint was prompted by an incident involving Assistant Chief Diane Groomes, who was accused in November of giving the answer to a key question on a departmental examination to members of the MPD’s command staff. Chief Groomes was placed on administrative leave and had her police powers revoked pending an investigation. She issued a public statement apologizing for her actions and bad judgment. The investigation concluded that she did not “compromise” the test, the complaint states.
“Upon learning that Assistant Chief Groomes was not going to receive any discipline for her conduct, the complainants began to converse with one another and investigate whether, in fact, preferential treatment was given to [her] and whether preferential treatment was being given to sworn high ranking women officials on the department,” states the complaint. “This research unearthed a disturbing pattern of discriminatory conduct.”
The complaint states:
• Former Inspector Lillian Overton failed to report for a duty assignment and received a 10-day suspension without pay, but was promoted “instead of being demoted like her male counterparts.”
• Cmdr. Jennifer Greene was transferred but neither disciplined nor demoted “amid swirling allegations of misconduct in 2007.”
• In lieu of discipline or demotion, Inspector Dierdre Porter was transferred from her position as director of the disciplinary branch to administrative assistant to Chief Groomes despite research that shows “the chief of police was unhappy with her performance.”
• In 2008, Inspector Cleora Sharkey collapsed from stress and was put on sick leave for several months “instead of being demoted like Inspector Kevin Keegan, who received a demotion to captain while he was on stress related sick leave.” According to court papers, Chief Lanier said Mr. Keegan’s sick leave “did not set a good example to members of the command staff.”
The female command staff named in the complaint declined to comment.