On Sept. 17, 1997, the announcement ripped through the homicide unit of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD): Show up at the third-floor roll-call room at headquarters in two hours. Sgt. Michael Farish was finishing up his daywork and getting ready to punch out when he heard the news. He knew it wasn’t good. Morale and productivity were at all-time lows in a unit that held the record for all-time lows. “Everyone was wondering what was going on,” Farish remembers.
The meeting went quickly. Cmdr. Alfred Broadbent gave Farish and 16 others the bad news: They were all to be transferred immediately, because MPD Chief Larry Soulsby wanted to make changes. “He basically said, ‘You all need to pack your belongings and get out,’” says Farish. The 17 officers asked where they would be going. Broadbent couldn’t give them an answer.
The homicide fratricide was one of Soulsby’s desperate attempts to shore up public confidence in the waning months of his tenure at MPD. It followed published reports placing homicide’s case-closure rate at around 33 percent, or half the average rate of units in similar cities. And, according to the vanquished homicide detectives, it was a sham. This week, 12 members of the group are filing a formal grievance against MPD, demanding their old jobs, lost overtime pay, and an apology. “I do believe they were wronged, and all we’re asking for is that they be made whole,” says the group’s lawyer, former homicide head Louis Hennessy, an earlier victim of a Soulsby demotion.
The day after their fateful meeting with Broadbent, all 17 officers were assigned to patrol beatsa big-time demotion for sleuths used to combing the city for clues on high-profile murders. Cruising a beat, however, wasn’t the worst of it: Two days later, Soulsby told the media that the homicide officers had been transferred because they were crooks. The officers had committed fraud against the department, said the chief, and were the source of widespread overtime abuses and the poor closure rate. Not only were they being transferred, but they were falling into the crosshairs of the Internal Affairs Division (IAD).
Soulsby’s fiat breezed through the District bureaucracy without a peep from MPD’s overseers. The D.C. Council raised no objections, nor did the control board or the Fraternal Order of Police.
A year later, IAD has produced not one iota of evidence against the homicide workers. The officers plead guilty to only one offense: serving under an incompetent chief. In a letter to MPD Chief Charles Ramsey, they assert, “The manner in which this matter was handled caused the members considerable public humiliation. They were blamed for problems directly related to the former Chief’s lack of leadership ability.”
Glenn Hoppert, the recently retired commander of MPD’s Criminal Investigations Division, says Soulsby managed to uproot the good guys. “I think some of them have been unfairly treated, the ones that were doing a good job,” Hoppert admits. “I thought it was very unfair. There were a lot of hard-working [officers] that deserved better treatment than that….I told them they could work for me any time.”
Farish, for instance, had little reason to believe his job was in jeopardy. A four-year homicide vet, Farish supervised a squad that regularly posted a closure rate well above 60 percentabout double the department average. His performance had earned him commendations from the chief’s office and from his supervisors. His work had led to convictions in 1996 for an infamous murder at the O Street NW market involving four gunmen. Farish was hoping for a promotion. “I didn’t really think there was anything coming toward me,” he says. “I thought there may be a policy change.”
Perhaps there should have been. Despite Soulsby’s shake-up, the homicide unit’s closure rate still hovers at around 40 percent, according to MPD spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile. Some MPD officials believe the rate hasn’t budged a bit since last year. “I don’t know who made the decision to get rid of the [officers], [but] that was one of the biggest mistakes that they made,” says Lamont Baxter, a recently retired homicide detective who survived the mass transfer. He says the experienced officers were replaced with cops who had never worked investigations.
Farish & Co. are poised to come back and help out. Soulsby, they say, promised them in private that they could return to homicide once the investigation was completed. The officers are still waiting. “No one from Internal Affairs ever called to say, ‘Hey, you’ve been exonerated,’” Farish laments. “What I would love to hear is an apology….It would be nice to hear from upper management, ‘We looked at the case, and sorry.’” CP