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District residents who had been counting the days to the completion of Charles Ramsey’s contract and praying for the arrival of a new, more engaged Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) chief sank into a funk two weeks ago. That was when the city’s top law-enforcement officer, appearing at the Ward 5 Crime Summit, announced that he will be moving his wife and son from Chicago to the nation’s capital.
The public announcement of the familial move appears to be part of a larger Ramsey strategy to gain support for his efforts to have his contract renewed. Judiciary Square sources say that Ramsey already has broached the topic with Mayor Anthony A. Williams but has yet to receive a favorable response.
“There have not been any discussions at this point regarding the chief’s contract,” Margaret Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety, said through a spokesperson.
Ramsey is in the fourth year of a five-year contract granted by the control board, which signed him to a generous arrangement after the board’s previous chief, Larry D. Soulsby, proved a disaster. Not even a team of consultants financed by the control board could keep Soulsby propped up; he eventually resigned amid a scandal over how he and a roommate had obtained a luxury apartment.
In 1998, when the smooth-talking Ramsey was hired after being passed over in Chicago for the job of police chief, District residents and elected officials believed they had found their savior. They expected to see dramatic reforms and the implementation of the celebrated Chicago model of community policing.
But even as the crime rate has dropped, the MPD has remained wrapped in Soulsby-era dysfunction. The homicide closure rate stood at an abysmally low 36 percent last year. The department has continued to overspend its budget, particularly on overtime for some senior-level administrators—a revelation that prompted the D.C. Council to prohibit such compensation. And concerns about corruption, police abuse, and racial discrimination persist. The city recently signed a five-year agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice that requires the implementation of new policies and procedures aimed at ending a long history of excessive, and sometimes deadly, force by some MPD officers. Earlier this year, an e-mail scandal erupted, in which it was revealed that police officers were exchanging offensive comments about women, homosexuals, and African-Americans. Those e-mails served to substantiate complaints that had been made by representatives from the NAACP and the National Black Police Association about discrimination and racial profiling.
Ramsey “has a good public relations strategy—he looks good in front of a microphone,” says Ronald E. Hampton, head of the National Black Police Association. “But there’s no substance behind that.”
Hampton says that during the e-mail uproar, Ramsey promised to conduct focus groups and convene a task force to address the issue of racial profiling, as well as develop a data-collection system to track such incidents. “He hasn’t lived up to any of the things he said,” adds Hampton.
“One of the things that bothers me [about the chief] is that his verbs are always future tense,” says Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, chair of the council’s Committee on the Judiciary, which oversees the police department.
When the control board sunsets on Sept. 30, it is expected to assign Ramsey’s contract to the city. Williams might demand changes to the agreement before accepting it, Judiciary Square sources say. But Ramsey’s local performance may be overshadowed by the favorable international profile he has developed, following his handling last year of World Bank protesters. That reputation is sure to be enhanced later this year, when the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund hold yet another round of meetings in the District.
And, despite dissatisfaction among many residents, there is a general belief that finding a new police chief wouldn’t be easy. “We could do a lot worse than Ramsey,” says Ward 2’s Jack Evans, who was on the committee that selected him.
Too bad District officials have fallen into the pattern of making evaluations based on how bad things could be, instead of how much better they should be.
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When Williams called in Inspector General Charles C. Maddox on Feb. 6 to investigate charges of what appeared to be improper, and perhaps even illegal, fundraising activities by members of his inner-office staff, critics said the mayor was just buying time. They figured he was asking for the investigation merely to push the fundraising issue out of the news.
If that was the mayor’s goal, he’s received a remarkable assist from Maddox. Five months after the initial request, and despite having a staff of 105 employees to call upon, Maddox has yet to release his report. Last month, when LL spotted him on Capitol Hill and asked about the status of the investigation—which also had been requested by Ward 5’s Vincent Orange, head of the council’s Committee on Government Operations—the inspector general said only that he was still interviewing principals and it would be another two or three months before he finished up.
Neither the public nor the mayor is well-served when an investigation into accusations as grave as those against the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, Mark Jones (according to personnel director Milou Carolan, Jones remains on unpaid administrative leave)—which indirectly implicate former Chief of Staff Abdusalam Omer—isn’t concluded with greater dispatch. The mayor is left defending his reputation and asserting that his administration has conducted itself ethically, while the public is left to wonder whether he is telling the truth.
When the mayor was caught using his office and government resources to push for passage of the charter amendment that altered the D.C. Board of Education, councilmembers were enraged, accusing him of improper behavior. They even introduced legislation to guarantee that it wouldn’t happen again. And when it appeared that the mayor’s staffers were involved in improper fundraising activities, Orange sent his letter to the inspector general asking for an investigation.
But when one of their own—At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil—is accused of what might be a violation of the city’s Standards of Conduct Act, councilmembers dummy up, even raising questions about the veracity of the complaint.
“Right now, all I’m hearing is hearsay,” Council Chair Linda Cropp said when LL asked whether she was looking into the allegations made by Willie “Don” Matthews (6/22). Matthews, you’ll recall, was hit by a car but says he hadn’t even considered filing a lawsuit against the motorist until he was encouraged by Brazil during an unsolicited telephone call. Matthews says he went to a doctor on Brazil’s recommendation and then was hit with a $495 bill.
Matthews’ story is more than hearsay. Finally returning LL’s nearly half-dozen telephone calls, Brazil, an attorney specializing in personal-injury law, admits to having represented Matthews. But Brazil says that “attorney-client” privilege prohibits him from providing any details—to which Matthews says, “I’m not no client of his.”
Brazil says he and Matthews have “differing recollections” of how their arrangement began. Matthews says he mentioned the accident to Brazil staffer Irving Hinton and then got a call from Brazil a few minutes later. Brazil says, however, that Hinton “has no recollection of Matthews calling” the councilmember’s office. “I must have talked to [Matthews] at some point,” Brazil says, “but I don’t know who called who.”
Brazil continues: “Very few cases come to me through the office. I try hard to separate the two [the job of councilmember and the job of being a lawyer] and to make clear what capacity I’m acting in….But what I tell everybody is that if you’re hurt, go to a doctor.”
Brazil says that he sometimes provides callers the names of doctors but never makes an appointment for them, as Matthews claims. He says that generally, if a potential plaintiff doesn’t have the “wherewithal,” or if there is nothing to be gained, then there is no reason to pursue a claim. In the case involving Matthews, neither Matthews nor the motorist who hit him had insurance. As to the $495 medical bill Matthews incurred, Brazil says he is not responsible. He says that when a person is pursuing a claim, “medical treatment for their injury is not something we’re liable for.”
Cropp says she does not intend to request any investigation by the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) into whether Brazil and Hinton violated the city’s Standards of Conduct Act when they allegedly solicited business from Matthews. She says she did talk with Brazil, but “will not discuss personnel matters.”
Cropp may not be talking, but the OCF’s director, Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery, is. After reading LL’s report of the case, she says that the “matter is under review.”
Further, LL has learned from several government and civic sources that as recently as last year, at an Aug. 30 community candidates forum, Brazil appeared to be soliciting business. At the forum, held at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, Brazil answered a question about actions that could be taken against landlords who don’t abate for lead poisoning by reportedly saying, “Well, you could hire me,” according to a government source who attended the forum.
A Washington City Paper reporter who was also there remembers Brazil’s response slightly differently, however. According to the reporter’s notes, Brazil said: “My suggestion is to retain a law firm. My point is: Get help. There is a legal remedy for lead poisoning.”
Raise your hand if you believe that Brazil would have referred the questioner to a law firm other than Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot, where he is a partner. —Jonetta Rose Barras
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