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When Mayor-elect Adrian Fenty announced his nomination last week of Cathy Lanier to serve as chief of the D.C. police department, he was delivering a victory of sorts to local cops. Lanier, after all, was a homegrown choice. She had spent 16 years on the force in a variety of capacities, including foot beats, motorcycle patrol, and a swift rise into several coveted leadership positions.
In the days since her unveiling as the chief-in-waiting—conditional upon confirmation by the D.C. Council, of course—Lanier has come off as a grand proponent of community policing, an acolyte of outgoing Chief Charles H. Ramsey, and a longtime ally of Fenty, a politician she assisted by getting aggressive on criminals in the city’s 4th District.
Yet Lanier’s story highlights a cardinal rule of stubborn bureaucracies like the D.C. police department—namely, that you can’t rise through the ranks without generating an ample paper trail.
From her first days as a beat cop in the 4th District, Lanier learned just how much her peers valued her involvement on the force. “I guess the first time I walked into the roll call room, hooting and hollering, ‘fresh meat’ comments by the officers in front of the officials, nice ass, damn she’s built like a black girl, that kind of shit that went on,” Lanier, who is white, would later say in a deposition. She frequently fielded—and always rejected—entreaties from colleagues to go on dates and beyond. “I had a training officer who would routinely, in front of other male officers, make it a point to see how red he could make my face by telling me—making extremely graphic comments about what he was going to [do] to me orally, oral sex, how good he could perform oral sex on me and how he could make me scream,” Lanier stated.
She clashed with the department’s macho culture again when she became a patrol sergeant in the 6th District. In 1995, Lanier and another female officer filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against her 6th District supervisor, Lt. Ronnie Foye. Lanier’s account of Foye suggests a classic scumbag.
According to court records, Foye repeatedly ordered Lanier to come to his office, where he engaged her in personal conversations and asked her out on dates. During those encounters, Lanier made it clear that she had no interest in seeing Foye outside of work and asked him to stop calling her in for meetings—requests that were delivered via the police radio so all of Lanier’s colleagues could ponder Foye’s summonses.
On one occasion, Lanier contends, Foye ordered her to drive him to an event outside of their command district. When she objected, her boss told her she was working as his “chauffeur” for the day. During another trip, he recounted to her that one female officer had given him a “blow job” in his office and shared other sexual exploits, according to her complaint. At one public meeting, she contends, Foye grabbed her from behind and pressed himself against her.
Lanier’s complaint alleges that Foye’s supervisor “endeavored to protect” him from punishment. So Lanier took her case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As with many EEOC complaints, the process yielded nothing. That’s when Lanier and her colleague Lena Johnson sued the city in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The District eventually settled with Lanier and Johnson. As part of the settlement, the city coughed up $250,000, and the police department agreed to institute a more aggressive sexual-harassment-awareness regime.
Lanier also knows what it’s like to be on the other end of an intra-departmental beef.
Starting in late 2002, Lanier served as the commander of the department’s special-operations division, in which capacity she oversaw the department’s Horse Mounted Unit (HMU). An experiment in community outreach and PR, the fledgling unit operated out of stables that the department shared with the U.S. Park Police in Fort Dupont.
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Sgt. Leo W. Scully Jr. and Officer Michael L. Mentzer, veteran officers who helped manage the unit, started encountering problems early on Lanier’s watch. Problem No. 1 was lodging for the horses. The Fort Dupont stables were small and outmoded, so the officers wanted better digs. They formed a citizens’ group to reach out to the department and councilmembers to find a cheap home, preferably a barn on the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital. “We were looking to fund the project for the housing of the horses from citizen and corporate donations,” Scully says. “And consequently we were putting together a model community-policing project.”
When their choice of stable was rejected, they continued to “advance” complaints up the chain of command.
The other problems were just as pressing—that certain officers engaged in “abuse and neglect of the horses” and that they weren’t hitting the streets. “I was trying to hold people accountable to do their job,” Scully explains. “There were officers within the unit that were not doing their job—they weren’t caring for the horses, and they weren’t patrolling on horseback. I used every type of management style to get these individuals to do their job, and nothing worked.” On several occasions, he says, he brought these issues to Lanier.
Lanier’s reaction helped to trigger a February 2006 lawsuit against Ramsey by Mentzer and Scully. In their complaint, Mentzer and Scully contend that after they started to protest mismanagement within the department and the HMU, they “were targeted for harassment” and that officials—including Lanier—violated the D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act.
The complaint yields some insight into how skilled Lanier had become at bureaucratic infighting. In September 2003, Mentzer sent a letter addressing his concerns about the HMU to an assistant chief—in other words, someone who stood above Lanier on the org chart. Lanier responded by accusing Mentzer of “sticking a knife in her back, and telling him that she will not forgive him,” according to the complaint.
Those words stuck with Mentzer and Scully, providing them with a frame of reference for subsequent experiences on the force. Such as the aftermath of a rowdy Park Police bash. On April 9, 2004, Mentzer and Scully attended a party with U.S. Park Police officers at which “[o]ther officers…became disorderly,” according to the complaint. Several days after the incident, internal affairs officers relieved Mentzer and Scully of their police powers because they had not provided a written statement of the incident, even though they notified their superiors following the party.
In June, the two were instructed to return to work. The complaint alleges that Lanier insisted she did not have the proper paperwork in order. Mentzer and Scully were kept off for several more days. The two officers allege that no proper investigation had been conducted regarding the rowdy Park Police cops. The officers were out of their unit for two-and-a-half months and, in the end, no disciplinary action was ever taken.
Within a month, Scully was removed from the HMU.
After Mentzer and Scully filed grievances with the D.C. Office of Human Rights and subsequently the EEOC in early 2005, Lanier pushed to transfer Mentzer out of the HMU. The complaint alleges that Lanier “falsely backdated” her letter in an effort to suggest that the personnel move came before their filings.
The lawsuit further alleges that Lanier sought to have Mentzer investigated for a previous incident, one that had been “considered closed.” On top of that, Lanier “attempted to cast” Mentzer “as emotionally disturbed” and ordered him to spend time on the couch with the department’s shrinks. “That was just one more avenue of retaliation,” Mentzer says.
Mentzer would eventually be transferred out of the HMU. The complaint alleges that even after a vacancy was posted for the unit, Scully was not allowed to return.
Scully tells LL that because his case is still pending, he’d like to defer comment for now. “The facts that are stated within the lawsuit are correct,” he says. On Lanier, he had no comment.
The Fenty camp also shielded Lanier from commenting on the case or on her management style. Instead, it turned the matter over to the mayor-elect’s legal counsel, Peter Nickles, who says he does not recall discussing the HMU lawsuit with Lanier before Fenty announced she was his pick to be chief. “That is one where I haven’t had a chance to advise her, but I would advise her not to talk about it,” says Nickles. “It’s just inappropriate to comment. She’s very forthcoming and she’s not a lawyer,” he says. “Judges don’t like it when parties to a lawsuit are commenting in the press.”
Mentzer was more forthcoming, telling LL that he would characterize Fenty’s choice for top cop as “vindictive” and that Lanier’s work as a supervisor was “poor in every aspect.”
Ms. Boss Hogtie
Lanier has spent the majority of her career as a disciple of Chief Ramsey. On matters of everyday policing, that means hitting crime hot spots and making the most of technology. And on the question of handling the protesters who routinely alight on Washington, it means no mercy.
Prior to the much-anticipated April 2000 IMF/World Bank demonstrations, Lanier, by now an experienced white shirt, was charged with preparing a plan for “prisoner control,” according to a deposition she would later give in a civil case. Among the measures that Lanier & Co. developed during the planning exercise was a method of prisoner restraint known as “hogtying,” in which the detainee’s left wrist is cuffed to his right ankle.
Lanier justified hogtying as a sound way to prevent arrestees from escaping, assaulting police officers, or assaulting other arrestees. The tactic, she said in a deposition, had “met all of those goals.” It was also a painless way of containing the much-hyped globalization activists, at least based on the 10- to 15-minute hogtying beta test to which Lanier submitted herself. “[I]t was not uncomfortable. In fact, I recall sitting on a couch in the commander’s office with my cuff to my ankle and to my wrist, and was able to not only sit and stand but could also lay down with relative ease.”
Lanier claims that she received no complaints over the hogtying issue in 2000.
Then came the events at Pershing Park. In September 2002, another round of anti-globalization protests hit D.C. Everything was going smoothly until several hundred people assembled in Pershing Park at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Ramsey and his top deputies panicked, ordering the arrest of everyone in the park without giving any warnings.
The roundup netted not just protesters but also passersby, tourists, and others. They were hogtied, and some of them remained restrained for up to 18 hours. They would dispute Lanier’s “not uncomfortable” assessment of hogtying, pointing out that the restraints hampered their circulation and left them numb in places.
The policies that Lanier helped to put in place caused the District bad publicity and steep legal costs. Ramsey, Mayor Anthony A. Williams, and other city officials refused to admit to any wrongdoing, claiming that they were merely protecting the city in the age of terrorism.
Court proceedings and D.C. Council hearings led by Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson would eventually force out the truth and spur new legislation to prevent such incidents from ever happening again. In January 2005, the city paid out $425,000 to seven Pershing Park victims, part of a settlement that also required a letter of apology from Ramsey to the plaintiffs.
Ward 3 Councilmember-elect Mary Cheh plans to probe Lanier’s involvement in the demonstrations when she comes before the council for confirmation. “I do want to return to that whole event,” says Cheh, who served as a special counsel when the Judiciary Commmittee investigated the mass arrests in Pershing Park. She has a few questions for Lanier: “Did anything about those processes strike you as unusual or inappropriate?” As for Lanier’s boast that she tried the hogtie on herself, Cheh isn’t overly impressed. “Did she put them on and sit on a mat for 12 or even 24 hours?” Cheh asks.
The Pershing Park experience, though, didn’t sour Lanier on mass arrests. During a march on the occasion of President George W. Bush’s second inauguration, police officers under Lanier’s supervision swept up roughly 70 protesters in Adams Morgan following a spasm of vandalism. Plaintiffs in a January 2006 federal lawsuit claim that the cops repeated the sins of Pershing Park in failing to issue orders to disperse. They claim they were arrested despite the fact that they were attempting to break from the protest and had not committed any of the alleged property crimes.
In an affidavit on the Adams Morgan roundup, Lanier admitted that no orders were issued prior to the arrests. But she justified her actions by playing up the threat posed by the protesters: “Members of the group were carrying pipes and torches.”
•This week, the Washington Post splashed a front-page headline proclaiming Lanier planned to fight crime by focusing resources on hot spots around the city. She even rolled out a new term to describe the units that would undertake her bold new initiative: “precision patrol teams.”
While LL applauds Lanier’s admirable attempt at Ramsey-style branding, she appears to be describing her predecessor’s old invention.
Lanier’s “precision patrol teams” sound an awful lot like Ramsey’s old “focus mission teams,” which also amounted to a roving force that targeted the city’s high-crime areas during shifts when most crime occurred.
“I’m not sure it’s different,” says At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who chairs the council’s Judiciary Committee. He’ll likely be running Lanier’s confirmation hearings next year.
Mendelson says that he had breakfast with Ramsey and Lanier on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Over eggs and ham, Lanier laid out her agenda—including the newfangled crime-fighting teams. The councilmember says he asked her if she wasn’t merely describing the Ramsey strategy. “Isn’t it the same thing?” he asked.
“She said, ‘Yeah it is the same or very similar,’” Mendelson recalls.
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