- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2015

A judge dealt a blow Friday to D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s defense against a whistleblower lawsuit, ruling that the District couldn’t defend officers’ actions taken in a barricade situation as reasonable in one lawsuit and allege they were “bad judgment” in another.

The whistleblower lawsuit brought by former Cmdr. Hilton Burton stems from his demotion to the rank of captain and alleges that he was retaliated against after publicly challenging statements the chief made about the department’s celebrity escort practices. The Metropolitan Police Department came under fire after actor Charlie Sheen tweeted photos in April 2011 indicating he received a high-speed police escort from Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia to a performance in the District.

Capt. Burton was demoted in August 2011 after testifying before the D.C. Council that the police department commonly provided celebrity escorts - in contradiction to statements made by Chief Lanier.

Chief Lanier’s attorneys have argued that one of the reasons Capt. Burton was demoted was his handling, as the commander of MPD’s special operations division, of a June 2011 barricade situation in which a mentally ill man was killed by officers.

“Burton displayed bad judgement in making a decision,” said attorney Jonathan Pittman.

The characterization was contrary to how the government portrayed the police department’s actions when it was subject to a civil suit filed by the family of the mentally ill man, 55-year-old Jean E. Louis.

The city tried to avoid liability in that lawsuit by calling the police department’s actions reasonable but in this latest case the government has changed its tune and “attempts to avoid liability by asserting just the opposite,” Judge Brian Holeman said.

Capt. Burton’s attorney, Marc Wilhite, called the assertions made by the police department in the two separate lawsuits “a distortion of facts.”

“I don’t think it’s honorable,” Mr. Wilhite told the judge.

As a result of the inconsistencies, the judge instructed the jury in Capt. Burton’s case to disregard all testimony criticizing his handling of the Mount Pleasant barricade.

Chief Lanier leaned forward and stared down at the ground as Judge Holeman issued the instructions to the jury and Assistant Chief Lamar Greene, a codefendant in the case, shook his head.

Chief Lanier, who has said Capt. Burton’s demotion was due to his performance, then took to the stand in her defense for the first time Friday afternoon.

Blocked by the judge from getting into detail over her dissatisfaction with Capt. Burton’s handling of the Mount Pleasant barricade, Chief Lanier instead described a series of other incidents she said made her doubt his ability to run the department’s Special Operations Division.

One incident was Capt. Burton’s handling of a 2010 barricade situation in which officers attempted to make entry into a home where a suicidal man had holed up. The man fatally shot himself after officers attempted to get inside the home.

“I didn’t see why we went in,” Chief Lanier testified. “We should have waited a little longer.”

Another incident involved pushback Chief Lanier she got from Capt. Burton when the department tried to overhaul the way it doled out overtime shifts to officers. She said officers within SOD were unfairly receiving most of the overtime shifts and she was trying implement a plan that would more evenly disperse the shifts.

Chief Lanier testified that Assistant Chief Alfred Durham recommended Capt. Burton be demoted shortly after the June 14, 2011 barricade in Mount Pleasant. However she suggested giving him more time until an investigation into the incident was completed. It was not until July 17, 2011 — the month after Capt. Burton testified before the D.C. Council on the Charlie Sheen escort — that a memo recommending the demotion was submitted to Chief Lanier by Chief Greene.

“That was a sign to me that he felt this was significant,” Chief Lanier said. “He was afraid something else was going to happen.”

The memo referenced “several mishaps” under Capt. Burton’s watch, including another barricade that occurred just days before in which Chief Greene disagreed with Capt. Burton’s handling of the situation.

“I felt he was not operating at the level of commander,” Chief Lanier said.

The trial is expected to resume Monday with a continuation of Chief Lanier’s testimony.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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