If D.C. police officers are accused of violating department rules, the Metropolitan Police Department has a process to investigate and apply discipline, if necessary. The process culminates in a full evidentiary hearing before a trial board of three high-ranking police brass.
That, by law, should be the final word.
But in the confounding case I am about to describe -- based on trial board findings and an MPD memo -- a civilian in the MPD's human resources division took it upon herself to overrule the panel of top cops and apply discipline. Which raises a question I have asked in the past: What does the MPD have against street cops?
This saga began on January 27, 2011, a cold and icy night in the nation's capital. Gloria Benbow called 911 and asked police to restrain her fiance, Kevin Jackson. Officers Tamika Hampton and Kimberly Sillah responded. Both are veteran, respected cops.
As they approached the row house in D.C.'s far Southeast, they were not aware that Benbow had called cops at least 12 times for domestic violence complaints. Or Jackson had been charged with assaulting a police officer three times before. Benbow saw the cops and said: "Lock him up. He just hit me."
Hampton and Sillah tried to calm everyone down, according to trial board testimony. Jackson, a very large fellow, said: "You b-----s better call for male officers." He rushed them.
Sillah and Hampton backed out of the house into the yard. Sillah called for backup. None showed. Jackson came out and threatened them. He had a hand behind his back. They drew their weapons and ordered him to show his hands. He kept coming at them and screaming. They fired and dropped him. He spewed threats as he was wheeled away.
The department initiated its review and found Sillah and Hampton had violated rules by using too much force. Last July, it moved to fire them. I repeat -- fire them. Sillah and Hampton appealed to the Trial Board.
In the interim, Jackson was found guilty in Superior Court of assaulting the two cops. He admitted in court that he threatened and intimidated them.
In January, the Trial Board heard the case. Among the surprising testimony, Assistant Chief Patrick Burke testified that neither he nor other officers who had determined Sillah and Hampton had used excessive force even knew about the past police assault charges against Jackson. The Trial Board heard 13 veteran cops testify. Some told of trying to arrest Jackson in the past; all said Sillah and Hampton were good cops.
In February, the Trial Board exonerated both. On April 19, Diana Haines-Walton, director of MPD's Human Resources Management Division, cited the Trial Board's ruling but declared them "Guilty." She ordered a 10-day suspension and retraining. She had to mention that both had spotless records.
Hampton and Sillah are appealing. But more damage has been done by Chief Cathy Lanier and her lieutenants.
"The message to street cops," Hampton says, "is the department will not back us up. Why threaten us for doing our job?"
Perhaps it's time for the City Council to find answers.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.