When Sonya Proctor took command of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) as interim chief late last November, she decided to do more than warm the chair. On Jan. 2, 1998, she removed assistant chief Rodney Monroe and replaced him with R.C. White, who had retired from the force in 1995 and was chief of the D.C. Housing Authority Police, an entity separate from MPD.
The move stunned the department. “Here she replaces an assistant chief, who everybody believed was responsible for the significant drop in crime…with a person with unproven ability,” says a high-ranking MPD official who requested anonymity.
Proctor’s personnel moves have mystified everyone from public-safety advocates to new MPD hires looking for guidance in how to climb the ranks. However, the interim chief’s ties to White date back more than a decade, to a well-publicized drug-testing snafu in a division that Proctor was supervising. In May 1985, White submitted a urine sample that tested “non-negative” for marijuana. The test was hardly conclusive, and MPD procedures required that the sample be sent for a more thorough evaluation by CompuChem Laboratories in North Carolina’s Research Triangle. White, however, received special treatment: He was allowed to provide a second samplea deviation from department policy. The second sample tested clean.
The local media reported the incident and the internal MPD hubbub that it prompted. The public, however, learned nothing about Proctor’s role in the affair.
In the spring of 1985, Proctor was a lieutenant with MPD’s internal affairs division. Among her numerous responsibilities was supervising the department’s drug-testing program, which MPD brass hailed as state-of-the-art. According to sources familiar with the drug-testing procedures, a fire wall separated the people who collected the urine from those who did the testsa precaution necessary to ensure anonymity and confidentiality. New recruits, cops up for promotions, and anyone receiving a physical were required to fill a cup in the presence of another officer. Up to 150 samples were tested each day for marijuana, PCP, cocaine, and opiates. Anyone who so much as entered the clinic drug-testing lab was required to sign in and out of a logbook.
On May 30, 1985, a urine sample being tested by lab employee officer Vernon Richardson came up non-negative for marijuana. Richardson, a 12-year veteran, immediately informed the clinic’s administrative lieutenant, Robert Noyes, of the sample’s status. Under MPD drug-testing guidelines, the next step was to send the “pending positive” sample for a second test at CompuChem.
But shortly after leaving the room, Noyes returned to the lab and began yelling at Richardson, according to a letter sent by Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) attorney Robert Deso to then-U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova. “‘You all better know what the fuck your [sic] doing back here; you’ve really fucked up now!’” he yelled, according to the letter. Stunned by Noyes’ reaction, officer Claudia Hayes telephoned lab supervisor Marguerite Anastasi, a civilian with more than 24 years at MPD. The non-negative sample, Hayes concluded, must have been submitted by someone important to prompt such an outburst from Noyes.
The urine sample belonged to White, a lieutenant at the time who was up for a promotion to captain. Departmental procedure dictated that officers in line for promotions submit to drug tests. But, according to an internal MPD investigation into the matter, procedure didn’t dictate what happened after White’s sample came out “pending positive” that May day.
According to White, then-assistant chief Carl Profater ordered him back to the clinic to give a second test. Who told Profater to do so is still a point of contention. An MPD official says the order came from then-Chief Maurice Turner via an intermediary, internal affairs commander Jimmie Wilson.
According to Deso’s letter, Richardson, who had never seen White prior to that day, “overheard one of the [internal affairs] officials ask [White] a question to the effect, ‘How is it going?’ [White] replied, ‘I have to see whether or not I have a job first.’”
White and Noyes went into a room and emerged with a fresh samplea second chance that effectively pissed on the department’s vaunted drug-testing program. Instead of testing the second sample in the MPD clinic, lab officials decided to send it straight to CompuChemanother departure from MPD guidelines.
More irregularities followed. According to a source familiar with clinic procedures, the lab routinely secured all samples with an evidence seal and placed them inside an MPD property envelope inside a locked refrigerator inside the locked clinic. But, according to Deso’s letter, “sometime after officer Richardson left the clinic on May 30, 1985, and prior to the time that officer Hayes reported on May 31, 1985,” the lab was entered and the “pending positive” samples, including that from White’s second try, were taken from the secured refrigerator to internal affairs. Two of Proctor’s subordinatesSgt. Richard Caron and Sgt. Steve MacDonaldferried the samples back and forth, according to an excerpt from a 1987 internal MPD report.
The same excerpt reports that Caron returned the samples to the clinic at the direction of an officer whom he believed to be Proctor.
The clinic normally sent samples to CompuChem by UPS or another private courier. But the White samples were deemed special enough to merit a personal escort by MPD officers. According to the 1987 MPD document, Caron met then-Lt. Proctor at National Airport, and the two hand-delivered White’s “new” sample to CompuChem, along with other “non-negative” samples.
The facts behind White’s urine test were revealed in an investigation conducted by a group known as the Cox committee, which was empaneled to investigate allegations of corruption in the ranks. Although the department eventually released an 11-page summary of the committee’s report, the summary omits the committee’s findings on Proctor’s involvement in the drug-testing irregularities. Proctor’s name doesn’t even appear.
According to Deso, Proctor and Caron’s trip to North Carolina marked “the only known instance of a sample being delivered to CompuChem by a member of MPD.”
“How [internal affairs] got into transporting that urine I’ll never understand,” says a former clinic employee.
Although the Cox committee highlighted departmental wrongdoing in the White case, it never answered how Proctor wound up on a plane to North Carolinaa matter that still prompts speculation among MPD officers. “Turner wanted to save his own, and Sonya Proctor was one of those people who followed lock-step,” says a former officer familiar with the incident.
According to high-ranking MPD sources, Proctor’s role in the May 30, 1985, incident revolves around her relationship to one of the more powerful cliques in the force: Turner, Profater, Wilson, and other officials. “They were called the official family of the police department,” says an MPD source. “In the ’80s, under the Barry administration, there was a widely held belief that it was who you know and not what you know….Anybody who wanted to be promoted had to attach himself to some group, because if you stood alone, you stayed alone.”
The affair remained confined to internal MPD gossip until a year after it occurred. In 1986, Richardson witnessed then-Capt. White sitting on an Adverse Action Panel, in effect judging a fellow officer’s alleged drug use. The scene motivated Richardson to take action, and in July 1987 he and Anastasi enlisted Deso to draft a letter to diGenova, who decided not to investigate the allegations.
While the city’s lead prosecutor passed on the White case, the Cox committee decided it was worth looking into. In a series of hearings, Richardson and Anastasi were portrayed as disgruntled employees, scapegoated, and blamed for inefficiencies at the clinic. And when the committee summoned Proctor to testify, the internal affairs lieutenant developed a sudden case of amnesia, according to an MPD source. Under questioning from committee members, Proctor said that she couldn’t recall whether two of her subordinatesCaron and MacDonaldhad taken samples, including White’s, from the clinic refrigerator prior to her trip to North Carolina. The committee’s executive summary for Turner, excerpts of which were obtained by Washington City Paper, reflects the skepticism generated by Proctor’s testimony.
“The committee is troubled by Lt. Proctor’s inability to recall that Sgts. Caron and MacDonald had brought the urine specimens to [internal affairs] on May 30, since she had been present in the office and acknowledged to the committee that she had been involved in the decisions and in directing those sergeants’ actions with respect to dealing with Lt. White’s urine samples,” says the report.
However, the committee’s recommendations were just that: recommendations. Although the committee found that the decision to give White a second test was “inappropriate,” punishment for the suspects in the White case was light: According to the official MPD press release, Turner officially reprimanded Profater and Wilson for “errant judgment” and telling untruths to the investigative panel, Noyes was reprimanded for violating department rules, and no one else was touched. All three men continued to serve on the force.
Proctor denied that she had received any rebukeofficial or otherwisestemming from her involvement. In a recent interview, Proctor issued a boilerplate statement: “No actions were determined to be inappropriate on my part, nor on the part of now-assistant chief White. The finding of the investigation established that there was no misconduct on his part; there was no misconduct on my part.”
Not so. In its report to Turner, the Cox committee wrote the following: “Based on the evidence presented to it, the committee believes that Lt. Proctor did have knowledge on May 30, 1985, that the samples had been brought to [internal affairs] and that she had the responsibility, as to the sergeants under her supervision, to ensure that this deviation from normal practice did not occur. The committee recommends, therefore, that you take the appropriate action with respect to Lt. Proctor in this matter.” Proctor declined to comment on the contradiction between her statement to City Paper and the Cox committee’s conclusions.
White maintains that the drug test was a false positive and would have been proved such in CompuChem’s test; he says he regrets the deviations from department policy that were allegedly made on his behalf.
“I was very displeased with how all of this had happened….I did absolutely zero, nothing wrong, and I got to be sort of used as a pawn in a system….I had nothing to do with any of these decisions. Believe me: I am more angered about this than anybody can ever imagine,” says White.
To salvage his reputation, White went to the courthouse, where he won $50,000 in a defamation suit against FOP for releasing Deso’s letter. Additional suits against the Washington Post and Channel 4 were unsuccessful. But he still feels sick over the whole affair. “This has been an albatross that I’ve been dealing with 12 years,” says White. “I get livid even when I have to explain this….When you write the name ‘Robert C. White, Assistant Chief of Police,’ and use the words ‘drug,’ ‘drug testing,’ that casts a negative aspersion on me. I have been a finalist for chief of police positions three or four times, and I can’t help but to think that this incident has been a determining factor for some mayor or some city manager to say, ‘Let’s go with that guy versus this guy.’”
In the aftermath of the case, Richardson filed grievance reports alleging retaliation from Proctor and others. “Certain officials took actions against [Richardson] and Mrs. Anastasi as soon as this came outlieutenants and their captains,” says Deso.
The grievances reportedly included complaints that Proctor was assigning him backbreaking menial tasks and jobs normally requiring several officers. “[Proctor] gave him all the dirty assignments,” says an MPD source. Richardson retired from the force in January 1994. (Anastasi retired from the force in 1989, reportedly frightened after hearing rumors that MPD officials were planning on “setting her up” in some way.)
A statement signed by MPD spokesperson Joseph Gentile dismisses Richardson’s grievances. According to Gentile, Proctor had “no supervisory role” over Richardson and “did not assign, nor is she aware of anyone else assigning, officer Richardson backbreaking menial tasks and jobs requiring several officers.” Gentile adds, “Chief Proctor denies that she was ‘vindictive’ toward officer Richardson at any time.” In recent testimony before the D.C. Council, Proctor argued that MPD whistleblowers “should be applauded, not victimized or ridiculed.”
Proctor’s actions in the White case certainly don’t compare to MPD’s towering fiascoesfor example, selling hot goods, the theft of MPD funds, and, of course, “fairy-shaking.” But her role in the drug-testing anomalies belies her attempts to profile as an unsullied MPD “outsider.”
“They’re all good old boys,” says a former MPD official of the players in the White case. “If Sonya Proctor was made chief, I think it would be a disaster. She’s part of the problem. You need to clean house.”
At a Feb. 20 graduation ceremony for MPD recruits, Proctor lectured the incoming class on how to handle situations like the one she faced on May 30, 1985: “Yours is a difficult job, as it is for every one of us. The challenge is always to rise above the influences and to do the right thing. There will be great influences from all directions. But with conviction, you must stand your ground. You must do the right thing. It will not be easy. But it will carry you through your career with honor and with dignity.”CP