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A rash of sexual misconduct convictions shows that D.C. cops are flashing more than their badges these days.
On the witness stand in D.C. Superior Court in early September, the woman in the burgundy suit heaved raspy sobs. A prostitute for 17 years, she explained how last fall, a routine arrest for soliciting had turned into sexual assault by a D.C. police detective. The woman had been arrested by two undercover police officers cruising 12th and M Streets NW in a red sports- utility vehicle. (Washington City Paper does not publish the names of victims of sexual assault.)
It wasn’t the first time she’d been arrested, certainly. But getting arrested for prostitution in the District is about as time-consuming as getting a traffic ticket. She expected to be in and out of the 3rd District police station in a matter of hours, with only a citation to return to court in a few weeks.
Things went along as usual, she testified, until Detective Vincent Andrews summoned her to have her picture taken. Andrews made her take off the sweat pants she had put on over her skimpy work clothes. She thought the move was unusual, because photos were not a requirement for the arrest paperwork. “They started taking pictures when [prostitutes] started turning up missing,” she explained from the witness box.
The woman stood for the picture, but says she was shocked by what Andrews did next. “He took my hand and he put it on his dick,” she told the jury.
Then, she said, he pressed his hips into her butt and rubbed an erect penis against her while he took off her necklaces. “Stick your butt out,” he allegedly told her. He then made the woman put her arms up on the wall, spread her legs, and pull her skirt up so he could take another “sexy” photo—which ended up in his desk at the station. The photos were discovered later and shown to the jury.
After Andrews took the woman to make a phone call, she said, he told her to follow him out into the parking lot of the police station. “When he walked out of the station, I knew what was up,” the woman testified between tears. Andrews drove a few blocks and parked in front of a fire hydrant. When the woman protested, she told the jury, Andrews said it didn’t matter where he parked because, “I’m the police.”
They got in the back seat, and she complied with Andrews’ insistence that she give him a blow job. She worried that he would make trouble for her if she refused, she testified, but she was still furious. Cops had made her pick up trash, called her a ho. But in her 17 years in the business, none had ever tried to get a freebie. “You worry about tricks, that they’re going to rob you, but the police—they’re going to take you to jail, give you tickets. You don’t expect that,” she said. Hoping for revenge, the woman said she tied up the condom and hid it in her panties, to use as evidence later.
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When they returned to the station, Andrews started getting nervous and pulled her aside to demand to know what she had done with the condom. At that point, the woman testified that she told two other officers in the room, “Please get a sergeant, because something has happened.” She testified that Andrews came over, grabbed her arm, beat her head against the table and yelled, “She got drugs.”
The woman screamed for help as Andrews pushed her on the floor and ripped off her pants and underwear. Andrews grabbed the condom, she alleged, and ran down the hallway to flush it. “I guess everybody was just stunned. I was just begging people to listen to me and believe me. I was on the floor with my pants around my ankles and panties ripped off. I was just begging the officers to stop him, but they just let him walk around,” she said, weeping into her hands.
Eventually, though, Andrews was arrested for first-degree sexual abuse of a ward and obstruction of justice. His lawyer, Nathaniel Speights, a defense attorney of considerable skill who briefly represented Monica Lewinsky, tried to impugn the prostitute’s honesty. He suggested that she was hoping to cash in on her troubles with a lawsuit against the city, and that she had smoked pot the night she was arrested. But it was a tough sell. Even Chief Charles Ramsey was grossed out by the charges against Andrews. He told the Washington Post last year, “I hope he gets convicted.”
It’s been a big year for cops as perverts—which helps explain why these days, hookers have a lot more credibility on the stand than D.C cops. Andrews is the second D.C. cop in the past year that Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Taylor has described in court as a “sexual predator.” Before Andrews, he had prosecuted Detective John Mehalic III, who became known as the “fat gentleman in polyester pants” who forced three prostitutes to have oral sex with him and kidnapped another.
And when he finishes up with Andrews, Taylor will move on to Officer Derrick Brown, who was arrested in February after he allegedly stopped a woman driving near the 3rd Street tunnel with a bag of marijuana. After making her drive to the 100 block of I Street NW, Brown allegedly assaulted her sexually, had her dump the pot, and let her go.
There are still more: Earlier this year, Detective Michael Cencich was sentenced to 15 months in jail after pleading guilty to extortion charges stemming from shakedown of house of prostitution. Then there was Officer Donald Jones, convicted in June of committing lewd and indecent acts and misdemeanor sexual abuse after flashing a video store employee and touching her without her consent.
Add to the list District Officer Daniel Coles, who was indicted in Prince George’s County last fall for raping a 13-year-old girl and molesting another. And Officer Vincent McKie, who was indicted last April on sexual abuse and kidnapping charges after he allegedly detained a D.C. man he found in a parked car and sexually assaulted him. And Officer David Goldfarb, who was arrested in May on charges that he had sexually assaulted two children in P.G. County in the mid to late 80s.
Together, the cases paint a sordid picture of people sworn to uphold the District’s law. Obviously, there will always be a certain number of bad eggs in any police department. But judging from some of the recent criminal cases in Superior Court, it seems that police work also draws a special kind of weirdo—part control freak, part sex fiend, part thug. And the Metropolitan Police Department still doesn’t seem to do a very good job of screening such people out.
Many of the officers convicted in the past year were hired in 1989 and 1990, a now infamous time when the department lowered its entrance requirements in order to hire 1,500 new officers under pressure from Congress. The result was that as many as 40 officers a year were arrested between 1989 and 1994. The department supposedly beefed up its screening process after publicity about the record number of criminals among city cops, and the numbers of arrests and convictions appear to have dropped off, although the police department did not respond to a request for specific figures.
Bert Ennis, director of police human resources, says since his arrival a year ago, the department has taken an even tougher approach to screening applicants. “The process we have in place now is exhaustive,” he says. “It’s because we really don’t want to make any mistakes.”
Still, previous mistakes continue to plague the department. In 1997, the U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. convicted only seven officers. But already this year, seven officers have been convicted in D.C., one was acquitted, and 11 more have cases pending.
Those numbers may reflect more activity by the U.S. Attorney rather than more misconduct within the department. Last April, the U.S. Attorney’s office, the FBI, the inspector general’s office, and police internal affairs, teamed up to create a police misconduct task force and step up prosecutions of bad cops. But other officers believe the numbers are more an indication that bad guys continued to slip through the application process even after the debacle of the early 90s.
“We’re paying the price,” says one source close to the police prostitution unit. This source says the prostitution unit especially has been rife with similar problems that just don’t get publicized. The prostitution unit seemed to attract the weirdos and those looking to take advantage, says this source—guys like Andrews, who had volunteered for the unit two months before his arrest.
It’s no surprise, really, when you look at the testimony of prostitutes over the last year. Prostitutes have testified that they were arrested for soliciting only after undercover cops had exposed themselves, gotten a little genital massage, and felt up the women’s breasts. Police officers are forbidden from engaging such conduct, but the prostitutes, in separate trials, all testified that it is increasingly common. Such illicit perks are likely to draw an unsavory crowd.
The department knew Andrews had some trouble with women before he was accepted into the prostitution unit. He made his first appearance in City Paper in 1996 (“Battered Blue,” 8/23/96) as the lead in a story about police officers and domestic violence. The story reported that in 1994, Andrews had badly beaten up his girlfriend at the apartment he shared with his parents in Mount Pleasant. The woman threatened to call the police, but Andrews reportedly said she would be wasting her time, because, “I’m blue, baby. All cops stick together.”
When Andrews’ fellow officers arrived on the scene, they didn’t arrest him. But when the woman petitioned for a civil restraining order against him, one of Andrews’ colleagues testified that the woman had had injuries and facial swelling consistent with her story, and the restraining order was granted. Officer Paul Rose said in a 1996 interview that a lieutenant at the scene had told him not to arrest Andrews because he was under investigation for something else already.
Andrews’ prior woman troubles were reportedly in his personnel jacket when he was accepted as a volunteer into the prostitution unit. Carl Rowan Jr., a former FBI agent and frequent police critic, says cases like this show that there is a subgroup of officers who revel in the “sheer thrill of abusing authority. You’re bound to have these guys. Sex plays such a large role in the day to day operations of that department. People feel they can get away with it. The whole thing is like a circus. You just have some egregious cases that are quite remarkable, and you can’t ignore them.”