In December, Robert Atcheson was promoted to captain within the D.C. police department. As he describes it, his ascendancy up the ranks was as simple as putting in his time and acing the department’s test.
“I’ll tell you what, it feels pretty good,” Atcheson says. “My number was up, so to speak.…Things are looking good.” Atcheson says he now oversees approximately 120 officers as the assistant district commander for the Third District substation.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier sourced Atcheson’s bump to both his test-taking skills and simple timing, saying: “At the time he took the promotional exam, he was eligible.”
Here is what the exam presumably did not cover: Atcheson’s tenure as a lieutenant supervising the Environmental Crimes Unit and the Warrant Squad at various times between the beginning of 2001 and December 2003. That notch on his résumé netted him a lengthy investigation by the department’s Office of Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Compliance.
In August of 2005, the department convened a trial board hearing on Atcheson’s conduct. He faced three charges that covered conduct unbecoming of an officer, use of disrespectful language, making false statements, failing to provide equal opportunities, and discrimination based on race.
He was found guilty on all counts. The board recommended he be fired.
Yet Atcheson wasn’t fired. After appealing his case, then Chief Charles H. Ramsey dismissed the more serious charges and issued him a 30-day suspension for his use of profanity.
Atcheson appealed that decision. An administrative judge had initially decided against Atcheson in September of last year. He has since appealed that decision.
“I never cursed much to begin with,” Atcheson says.
A selection of testimony from the EEO investigation, trial board, and appeal hearing reveals a fundamental schism: There is what Atcheson’s subordinates think of his supervisory skills, and there is what Atcheson thinks of his subordinates.
About That Cursing…
• Investigator Wai Tat Chung: After Chung covered the 2003 IMF protests, Atcheson refused to authorize a half-hour of overtime. Chung brought a union rep with him to a meeting with Atcheson. When the rep stepped out for a moment, Atcheson, Chung says, told him: “You aren’t shit.…You don’t want me to be on your ass every day, you stupid fuck.…You don’t know how many ways that I can fuck you if you pursue this matter.…I helped you guys all the time letting you take leave, and you stab me in the back…so you better make the right choice, if you know what I mean…and if you try to use this against me, I will lie and deny it.…You don’t have a witness…it’s just your word against mine, and I am a lieutenant.” He later called Chung an “ungrateful asshole,” according to Chung.
• Chung also recalled an incident of Atcheson’s profound use of metaphor. He told Chung a story about killing a dog: “This dog had gotten old and was no longer useful, so [Atcheson] went and got a gun and came back and shot the dog. And the thing was that he got a small caliber gun, so the dog was not killed after the first shot, so he just kept shooting the dog and shooting the dog.…In that story he told me…I was that dog and I was no longer useful for him in this unit and that I was going to be removed or discarded.” Chung stated that he was detailed out of the unit multiple times.
• Investigator Joseph Gatling: “‘Fuck,’ he said that a lot.” And he used words like “mope” and “slap” to refer to officers.
• Investigator Corpus Garcia: Atcheson told him if he didn’t complete a specific case involving a fugitive within three weeks, he was going to detail him to “the Gay and Lesbian Unit.” Garcia stated that when he asked Atcheson to show a little more respect, the supervisor replied that “he was going to ‘fuck me in the ass’” if the fugitive wasn’t locked up.
• Garcia also recalled in his statement several more incidents of Atcheson’s fondness for certain words. Of one investigator under his command, he bragged that he was going to “fuck him up.” He also says he heard Atcheson refer to a female captain as “that cunt, that bitch.”
Cursing, Part II: “Piece of Shit” Edition
• Investigator Gatling: He heard Atcheson refer to Investigator Garcia as a “big dumb ass” and a “piece of shit.”
• Investigator Robert Bush: He stated that Atcheson described Investigator Chung this way: “Personally, I think he’s a piece of shit.”
• Lt. Shakir Muslim: He says Atcheson referred to another investigator as a “dumb and lazy, piece of shit motherfucker.”
Atcheson’s defense: He said his profanity was merely “casual.” About his overtime argument with Chung, he explained that both sides got heated and admitted telling Chung: “You know, it’s going to be your fucking word against mine.” During the initial EEO investigation he stated, “I have never called anyone in my life a name.” But at the trial board, he testified he may have used such language to describe subordinates who weren’t producing. When asked if he referred to officers under his command as pieces of shit and motherfuckers, he replied, “I have made reference to that, yes.”
• Investigator Randy Squires: In July 2001, Squires and his brother were arrested while on a fishing trip in Oriental, N.C., for “interfering with a police officer in the line of duty and obstruction of justice,” according to police records. The charges were dropped. Squires eventually won a civil suit against the Oriental Police Department. Before resolution of the case, Squires testified that Atcheson phoned the Carolina cops to tell them that Squires had a “bad attitude” and didn’t get along with his co-workers.
• A month later, Atcheson accused Squires of taking home a police car without authorization. EEO Investigators wrote: “Atcheson informed Investigator Squires that he drove by Investigator Squires’ home and took pictures of the car parked in front of his house.” Atcheson also told Squires that he had followed him to work one morning and took pictures of him exiting the car in the unit’s lot. After Squires refused to admit any wrongdoing, Atcheson said he was going to write him up for adverse action. “Despite Investigator Squires’ repeated requests, Lieutenant Atcheson never showed him the pictures and Investigator Squires was never notified” of any adverse action.
Atcheson’s defense: He testified he was genuinely convinced that Squires had done something wrong both in North Caroline and with the cop car. Atcheson claimed that he witnessed Squires drive a police car without authorization and heard the complaints from others. But police records show he admitted to the EEO investigator that “he had no evidence that Investigator Squires” used the car improperly and “that he deliberately lied to Investigator Squires to prompt him to admit to an offense he did not commit.”
Racing to the Finish
• Lt. Shakir Muslim: Atcheson pressured Muslim to give a white officer a higher evaluation than the other officers in the unit. If he did not comply, Atcheson said he would give Muslim a bad evaluation. Muslim reported that Atcheson “threatened him on a regular basis.” When Muslim reported up the chain of command a white officer’s alleged unauthorized outside employment, Atcheson called him and stated: “You fucked me. You fucked me, didn’t you?”
• Sgt. Louie White: According to White’s testimony, Atcheson met with a white officer to discuss his citizen complaint for harassment. During the meeting, Atcheson told the cop that he if worked east of the river, the complaint would not have occurred. “Since you went uptown where people have half a brain, this is what happens,” Atcheson told the white cop, according to testimony.
Atcheson’s defense: He denied that any of his actions were based on race. The trial board noted numerous EEO complaints in his personnel jacket. He told the EEO investigator: “There a lot of quote, ‘black people,’ black males in high levels of management in this police department who have done things as bad as I have, apparently, or it’s alleged that I have done, and they weren’t removed from their command. There is so much inequity that I can’t prove.”
Atcheson served his 30-day suspension two years ago. He is awaiting a decision on his appeal. A lawsuit concerning Atcheson’s treatment of Squires is scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 27 in U.S. District Court.