Leaked documents have revealed that top Washington, D.C., police blocked the firing of 21 current officers who had been accused of criminal misconduct.
A panel of high-ranking D.C. police officers overruled firings sought by the department, according to documents reviewed by Reveal and WAMU/DCist. In all, there were 24 firings recommended, but 21 officers were suspended or acquitted by an internal advisory panel of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), DCist reported.
Domestic assault, indecent exposure, stalking, DUIs, assault with a deadly weapon and fraud were some of the criminal misconduct the cops had been accused of.
The Adverse Action Panel blocked the termination and instead issued much lighter punishment – an average of a 29-day suspension without pay, DCist reported.
MPD’s Adverse Action Panel is a rotating three-person board made up of high-ranking officers overseen by Chief of Police Robert J. Contee, Reveal reported.
But according to Mike Gottert, who served as the director of MPD’s Disciplinary Review Division from 2016 to late 2019, it’s rare for police to get fired after a panel hearing. “Obviously, when we recommend people to be terminated, we think they should be terminated,” he said. “We’d go through this whole process, and the panel would say no for whatever reason.”
In fact, during Gottert’s tenure, the Adverse Action Panels overturned nearly two-thirds of all terminations his department recommended.
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Trial boards tend to prevent the department from terminating officers for misconduct, DCist reported.
“It is hard to argue you have an effective accountability system when this number of officers remain on the force, even though the agency itself thinks they should not be police officers,” said Christy Lopez, co-chair of D.C.’s Police Reform Commission.
The hacked documents were made public by DDoSecrets, a transparency nonprofit, Yahoo reported.
A ransomware attack on D.C. police in April by a group called Babuk resulted in the hacking of 250 gigabytes of police data. Misconduct investigations and disciplinary decisions were buried in tens of thousands of records that included a controversial gang database, intelligence briefs on right-wing activists and emails describing the conduct of a specialized police unit trying to suppress robberies, DCist reported.
Unlike other large police departments, MPD protocol does not permit its police chief to decide on punishments for offending officers.
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The department did not seek to terminate 40 officers believed by the Internal Affairs Division to have been driving drunk or recklessly. Other criminal conduct the department did not try to fire current officers for included recklessly handling a firearm, harassment, property damage, stalking and theft.
“These systems that MPD set up to punish or at least give officers their day in court when they committed an infraction, they don’t really work,” said Ronald Hampton, a retired MPD officer who has advocated for more accountability as a member of the city’s recently created Police Reform Commission. “It’s seated in the culture of the institution; it’s going to take more than setting up more systems within the organization to deal with it.”
Photo: Robert Contee, Chief of Police for Washington Metropolitan Police, center, discusses preparations for rally planned by Donald Trump allies who support the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Sept. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)