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Officer Carolyn Brown claims she was arrested for the wrong reason: her gender.
On a warm Saturday evening in May, Officer Carolyn Brown sat in a holding cell inside the 7th District police station and did something she despised to her core: She broke down and cried.
For Brown, weeping represented defeat, something she had never conceded in her 11 years on patrol in one of D.C.’s toughest police districts. Tonight, though, the situation was different. She—and not some perp—was the one in a cell. Her fellow officers had recast her in the role of suspect. “It was torture,” Brown says. “I cried the whole time. I had never been in jail before.”
And a reading of police reports suggests that there’d been little reason to suspect that she would wind up in jail for what had just happened, either. Around 4:30 that afternoon, according to police reports, Brown heard screams from below her apartment window, in a quiet complex along Livingston Road SE, near St. Elizabeths Hospital. When Brown went to the window, her 25-year-old niece, LaShawn Addison, shouted out, “They are fighting Tina”—Brown’s pregnant 19-year-old niece, Tina Addison, who lived nearby. Brown called the police.
Brown told the dispatcher that she was an off-duty officer in need of assistance at 4030 Livingston Road. A “10-33,” or “officer in trouble,” was issued over the radio, according to police records.
Brown says that when she went downstairs to investigate, LaShawn had a gash behind her ear. Blood ran down her neck. Police reports indicate that her injury required eight stitches; LaShawn says doctors eventually told her that the ear was nearly torn off. But at that moment, she stood dazed; she didn’t even know that she was bleeding.
Clutching a pair of kitchen knives, LaShawn wanted to go back and find her alleged attacker.
According to police records, the incident had been spurred by Lionel “Black” Ford. Minutes before Brown came on the scene, Ford had allegedly picked a fight with Brown’s two nieces, calling them “bitches” and then boasting to his friends that it was “equal rights day,” according to Tina.
When Tina confronted Ford, LaShawn jumped between them, she says, to prevent any altercation. Ford allegedly hit LaShawn in the back of her head, opening up the gash. According to Tina, he then grabbed Tina by the face and threw her against a nearby fence, choking her with his hands.
Brown, of course, had handled worse situations. She calmed LaShawn down, asked her for the details of the incident, and told her to put the knives away, according to police reports.
Brown then went looking for her suspect. The apartment of one of Ford’s relatives was just across the street from her own. She didn’t know Ford personally, but she recognized the name as belonging to one of the many characters who floated around her neighborhood. She found him in the hallway leading to the relative’s apartment, located at 4016 Livingston Road.
Brown grabbed Ford as he was trying to get into his relative’s apartment, holding on to his shirt. According to police records, “Relatives of Mr. Ford were attempting to pull him back inside of his apartment. As a result of the pulling and tugging, Mr. Ford’s shirt became torn.”
Cmdr. Earl Boyd pulled up a few minutes later, and that small rip in Ford’s shirt collar changed from a testament to Officer Brown’s trying to do her job into evidence that would lead to the officer’s arrest. Brown says she tried to explain the situation, but Boyd cut her off. “Don’t leave home,” he told her, according to Brown’s statement to police officials. “You may be going with me.”
When other officers and detectives arrived at 4016 Livingston Road, Boyd told them that Brown had assaulted Ford. “Commander Boyd also stated he observed Officer Brown holding three knives in her hand,” reads a written statement from Detective Bruce Faison, taken as part of an internal police investigation into the incident last June. Faison wrote that Boyd claimed he had “observed Officer Brown involved in an altercation with a subject whom she was pulling by the shirt.”
Both Brown and Ford were arrested and charged with assault.
Brown wasn’t the only one baffled by her arrest. The internal investigation report says that several officers and officials questioned Boyd’s account of events right there on the scene.
According to Faison’s statement, no witnesses—including Ford—could back up Boyd’s story: “According to the male subject who Officer Brown allegedly assaulted, he did not see her with any knives, nor did she hit him in any way.”
Today, Faison says, he still doesn’t know why Brown would have needed to be arrested. “I have no idea,” he says. “[Boyd] made a decision. I don’t get involved with what officials do.”
In Sgt. Darrell Best’s written statement, he says that Boyd wouldn’t listen to anyone about the merits of the case. “Commander Boyd stated to Lieutenant Bunner, ‘Lieutenant when you leave here, do what you have to do, say what you have to say, but when you leave here, she’s leaving here with you,’” Best wrote.
Boyd, however, still deems Brown’s arrest justified. “Based on the interviews and everything that was presented at the scene of the incident, it was my decision that there was probable cause,” Boyd said in an interview about Brown’s arrest. “You have to remember, I was the first policeman there. What I was told and what I saw added up to probable cause.”
Brown’s fellow officers may have had no idea why she was arrested, but the officer herself has a hunch. According to Brown, the run-in on Livingston Road wasn’t the first time she’d seen Boyd that week. And she says the real reason for her arrest has more to do with the first run-in than the second. On the previous Friday, she says, she had encountered Boyd downtown, and his intentions weren’t professional.
Brown says she had bumped into Boyd on the steps of police headquarters, located at 300 Indiana Ave. NW. Boyd was apparently uninterested in talking beat strategy with his younger colleague: “He said, ‘You haven’t had a good man. You need a good man, and I’m the one,’” Brown says. “I told him, ‘No, I don’t mess with married men.’” Brown says Boyd had made other low-level advances to her over the past five years and that she’d paid them little mind.
Boyd emphatically denies the charge. “That’s just ridiculous,” he says. “That’s getting down to plain ludicrous.”
It’s not the first time Boyd has faced such a charge. In letters written to federal and local officials while she was an employee of the MPD in the early ’90s, Sabrina Monroe, a civilian time-and-attendance clerk, claims she was sexually harassed by Boyd. Monroe alleges that Boyd continually made advances toward her from 1989 to 1991, adding that the harassment first started when she was pregnant: Boyd, Monroe says, called her into his office, closed the door, and asked if she felt sexy. Monroe claims that the questions soon escalated into Boyd’s constantly finding excuses to see her. On some mornings, she says, he would already be sitting at her desk waiting for her when she arrived for work. Boyd says none of it happened.
Monroe says the one-liners turned to groping. She claims that in at least one incident, he attempted to rub his “lower abdomen” against her back.
“One day, he cornered me and put his hands in my hair and told me how sexy I was,” Monroe says, adding that he threatened her: “If I didn’t cooperate, then I would be in trouble.” Monroe claims that when she refused his advances, Boyd took work away from her, and eventually she was threatened with termination—a threat Boyd wouldn’t have had the power to carry out alone. She wrote a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but says that the complaint was never fully investigated. She claims a shop steward to whom she’d gone for help simply advised her to apologize.
Monroe was eventually fired, she says, over a mistake in paperwork. She insists that it was Boyd who was responsible for her termination, although department procedures would not allow a superior to wield such arbitrary power. “It seems like he’s on a power trip,” Monroe offers. “That he has to be in charge of a woman. He orders them to do things. If he doesn’t get his way with them—if he approaches them and propositions them for sex [but they refuse him]—then he makes it hard for them.” Monroe now works as a day-care provider.
One police official who has known Boyd since he first came on the police force says the commander has a reputation for unprofessional behavior toward women. “He is part of what was wrong with the police department,” says the highly decorated veteran, who refused to have his name in print for fear of retribution. “He’s one of the leftovers. He’s self-serving, womanizing. He carries himself as a lady’s man; he has unprofessional dialogue with officers…I can’t imagine why he’s still here.”
But other cops say there are plenty of reasons a disgruntled officer could want to bad-mouth Boyd. Over the course of a 23-year career, Boyd has been known for being gruff with the rank-and-file. In an era when police misconduct is rampant, he’s a taskmaster—a reputation that has landed him praise from Chief Charles Ramsey and a puffy profile in the Washington Times headlined “A Watchful Eye.”
Indeed, a Times reporter followed along with Boyd on the day Brown was arrested. The story does not mention the incident, instead presenting Boyd as one of the few officials willing to take aim at sloppy police work.
As a field commander, Boyd serves as a roving supervisor over all police districts. It is his job to make sure patrols are operating smoothly—and to bust heads if things don’t go right.
But Boyd’s interpretation of that job description includes carrying out his own personal biases alongside his professional chores, says another officer. “He goes out to fuck with people—and fuck with people’s lives,” says the officer, who declined to have his name published. “He’s [M*A*S*H’s] Frank Burns of the MPD,” the officer continues. “He makes Frank Burns look like an outstanding person.”
In many ways, Brown is every bit the hardhead Boyd values. She has been involved in two shootings—both were eventually ruled justified—and insists on remaining a patrol officer, specifically because she likes the low-to-the-ground action that the job provides.
“She is an officer who is very aggressive—she’s a very dependable officer,” says 7th District Cmdr. Winston Robinson. “I don’t think you will find too many people who work with her would be concerned about their safety. I think that is a high mark.”
Robinson calls the May incident “unfortunate,” and speculates that perhaps Boyd is still learning the ropes of his relatively new position. “I don’t think it was a woman issue,” Robinson says. “I think it was an incident issue. That’s not something we focused on.”
The way members of Brown’s family who were on the scene remember it, Boyd arrived that day in May looking like a guy interested in only one thing: arresting Brown.
The investigation into Ford’s assault charge pretty much ended with Boyd that day. Her family took LaShawn Addison to the hospital. Less than a week later, Tina Addison started bleeding and lost her baby. Tina and other family members say no officers interviewed either niece about Ford’s alleged assault after the day of the incident.
The following Monday, according to police records, Ford’s assault charge was “no-papered,” or dismissed by prosecutors. The internal police investigation into Brown’s actions explained that prosecutors could drop the charge because they didn’t know about any injuries sustained by LaShawn or Tina Addison. No officer had gone with them to the hospital.
Brown’s charge was also no-papered on that Monday. But she was put on paid administrative leave for a month. Her family wrote letters of complaint to the mayor and police higher-ups. Brown says she’s thinking of filing a civil suit.
In June, Brown was cleared and reinstated by the internal police investigation. The report’s findings state that Boyd was wrong to arrest Brown. “What is clear, however, is that at no time did anyone ever see Officer Brown hit, strike, or assault Mr. Ford in any way,” the report concludes. “There clearly was a lack of probable cause for arresting Officer Brown on the scene. Further investigation was definitely warranted prior to making the decision to arrest her.”
The report goes on to commend Brown for her actions that day. “Officer Brown reacted and responded as any police officer is expected to as a sworn member of the Metropolitan Police Department….Officer Brown’s actions were proper and in accordance with established departmental directives.” CP