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Last spring, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer Wayne Stancil was called in to help the department’s homicide investigators, who had failed to solve a murder in the Shaw neighborhood. A man had been shot in the ass at the corner of 5th and O Streets NW; the bullet had struck an artery, and the victim had bled to death on the way to the hospital. Homicide assumed it was just another drive-byinvestigators had no leads, no suspects, no informants.
Stancil swept into Shaw and promptly collared a couple of drug dealers whom he pressed for leads on the case. Interrogations yielded an eyewitness, who claimed that another drug dealer had killed the man. Stancil then orchestrated three stings in which collaborators bought drugs from the suspect. Next, he secured a warrant to search the suspect’s house, where the police found the murder weapon. “He was surprised. He figured we didn’t have anything to hold him,” says Stancil. Then, says Stancil, the suspect admitted to the shooting. Case closed.
In a police force distinguished by its abysmal homicide closure rate, solving a single case in a year is a nice achievement for a cop. But Stancil solved five cases last yearall within a few weekseven though he isn’t a homicide cop.
As the 1st District’s gang coordinator, Stancil trained 15 officers and led a unit that racked up between 79 and 100 arrests a month in 1997. While the rest of the department was blowing hot air about community policing, Stancil was actually doing it. In Shaw, Stancil relied on 40 paid informants and more than 60 tipsters to generate leads on suspects. MPD watchdog Carl T. Rowan Jr. says Stancil is “legendary” within the department. And Terence J. Keeney, acting chief of the Superior Court Division for the U.S. Attorney, says Stancil knows how to put the bad guys behind bars. “[MPD] is looking for guys like this,” says Keeney.
It might be looking for guys like Stancil because he’s not out pursuing murderers anymore. Last November, MPD fired Stancil without ceremony. A colleague pulled up to Stancil’s home in a cruiser and handed him the pink slip.
“I couldn’t understand it,” recalls Stancil. “This couldn’t be happening to me. I had given everything to the department.”
Everything, that is, except some scheduled appearances in court. The department documented seven instances last spring when Stancil had failed to deliver testimony in D.C. Superior Court. Stancil insists that in most cases his testimony was not needed and his absence had been cleared by prosecutors.
A few years ago, Stancil’s absenteeism wouldn’t have become a personnel matter. For ages, the poorly managed MPD barely monitored officers’ court appearances, allowing some to blow off their testimony altogether and others to linger at the courthouse, collecting overtime. The loose-leash policy enabled department detectives to pull down six-figure salaries while sipping coffee at the courthouse cafeteria.
Last year, however, the department decided to get tough. It installed Inspector Joseph Adamany to oversee officers in the courts. Although the new regime has almost eliminated absenteeism, it is purging the department of officers like Stancilofficers who would rather patrol the streets than sit at the courthouse all day awaiting inconsequential court appearances.
“The standing joke was, if you’re running late, you might as well turn around and go home. You’re much better off saving the effort, because you’re going to get slammed either way,” says an officer who was suspended by Adamany’s court liaison operation. “When I come back, I’m not making any arrests.”
Court liaison is the kind of place a cop can snooze without fear of reprimand. On a recent Friday noon, a half-dozen officers are hunched on decrepit wooden chairs in the new court liaison lounge, located on the first floor of MPD headquarters. The 30-inch Mitsubishi television is tuned in to an episode of Blossom, flickering behind snowy static. A lone computer sits on a table, ready to play CD-ROMs about the Fourth Amendment and disorderly conductall part of MPD’s “Self-Directed Development” push.
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But neither the tube nor the computer interests the officers, who rest their heads on folded jackets and stretch out on the row of seats. Many of the officers have been stuck here since 7:30 a.m., waiting on paperwork, waiting on a court time, waiting to process an arrest. “I don’t even think about it no more,” says one officer who has been sitting for more than four hours. “If I do eight, nine, 10, 13 hours a day, then I don’t really care. It’s all a joke to me. [MPD] wants us to be 100 percentmake no mistakesyet management is piss-poor.”
Officers say Adamany has been known to hand out the slips for officers who show up just a few minutes late or fail to show up because the prosecutor has made a scheduling error. The slips are an efficient first step toward suspension and even dismissal.
Two slips trigger a suspension, and Adamany issues about a hundred of them each week. Adamany credits the system with reducing absenteeism from around 30 percent to 4 percent. “You got to do more than just come to work,” Adamany says. “You have to do your job properly. You are going to have to deal with what’s required of you as a police officer.”
The iron-fist policy is nothing new for Adamany. Officers who have worked for him describe him as a tyrannical manager. When he ran the 4th District, Adamany had his subordinates goose-stepping under a constant “crime emergency”Adamany’s coinage for an inner-city state of siege. It didn’t sit well with his officers. “I hate the guy. Goddamn,” says a sergeant who worked under Adamany. “He’s a control freak….There’s definitely some personality problems there.”
Even Adamany admits that his crackdown has screwed some officers. In the beginning, he says, as many as 25 percent of the no-show slips were unwarranted, meaning that the officer had been justified in not showing up for court. A recently suspended officer, for example, says he was penalized for arriving late even though the U.S. Attorney had written Adamany a letter excusing him. The officer testified that he had attempted to call court liaison twice, but no one had picked up the phone. Adamany insists that his office fixed scheduling problems in December, when it installed logbooks in its computer system.
But along with all the accountability comes a truckload of paperwork that Adamany’s office has foisted onto the department. When a no-show is recorded, court liaison sends a report to the offending officer’s district. There, a sergeant must open an investigation into why the officer didn’t show. Each investigation, an officer says, takes a minimum of eight hours to conduct and document.
Frank Hill, an officer representative with the Fraternal Order of Police, says, “The problem is that [court liaison] went too far, too fast. There’s no denying there’s a problem with officers attending court, but the problem is that [the new policy is] too harsh and too inflexible. It impacted the officers who went to court most often most severely.” Of the cases he’s worked, Hill believes at least half have been treated too harshly, and he has called on acting MPD chief Sonya Proctor to look into the problem.
Stancil’s difficulties started just as court liaison was revising its procedures. After receiving a few no-show notices last spring, Stancil learned that he would be suspended for four days, even though his commander called the case against him “bullshit.” Stancil wasn’t happy with the punishment, either, but signed off on the suspension confident that he could make up the lost pay.
Less than two weeks later, he was told to turn in his badge and weapon. Stancil was put on paid leave and told that his suspension would be extended to 30 days. At the urging of his peers, he signed up for a trial board hearing, a court-martial procedure supervised by a three-member panel. When he got the notices for the hearing, he found that his seven court no-shows were grounds for dismissal.
“They probably made a mistake,” Stancil remembers thinking about court liaison. The trial board hearing was set for July 30, two weeks before he would receive an award for solving the five homicide cases. “I thought it was just something that we just had to work out as long as they talked to me.”
Inspector Earl Boyd of MPD’s disciplinary review board, which ordered Stancil’s dismissal, says he didn’t check how often Stancil was in court nor whether his no-shows had any impact on the cases. Sometime after Stancil’s case, Boyd says, he started demanding statements on whether officers’ failure to appear in court had hamstrung prosecutors. “I think it’s important to know,” he says. “I think it’s something we need to know.”
Keeney says that in about half the cases in question, Stancil’s absence had no impact. And none of the cases was dismissed. In the trial board hearing, Stancil admitted he was guilty of one infraction: failure to paper a juvenile arrest. But, he says, the juvenile, who was charged with unlawful entry, was eight months pregnant and apologized. Stancil says he and the U.S. Attorney agreed not to press charges.
Still, in November Stancil was found guilty of failure to appear in court and was fired. Then-MPD Chief Larry Soulsby rejected his appeal, writing that he found “no facts that conflict with or mitigate the evidence presented against him.”
Sitting in a Brookland coffee shop, Stancil cuts the figure of an undercover cop, decked out in a ratty knit cap, knee-length black leather jacket, and jeans. His eyes dart side to side over his glasses, and he speaks in a gruff whisper, as if everyone he talks to could be a suspect. But things are looking up for Stancil. In mid-January, the department reinstated him because it had violated its own personnel regulations in firing him.
You’d think Stancil would be salivating at the thought of hitting the streets, but in truth he’s hoping for a nice, safe desk joba place where he won’t make any arrests and won’t end up in a jackpot for missing the occasional court appearance: “I wouldn’t be comfortable being in the same position I was in before.”CP