Last week’s D.C. Council hearing on the crumbling Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)replete with allegations of a murder coverup, organized scams by detectives to pad paychecks, and retaliation against MPD whistleblowersproved only one thing: Counting on the council to conduct oversight of the deplorable District government is like hiring Marv Albert to teach a course in bedroom manners.
At the Oct. 10 marathon hearing of Councilmember Jack Evans’ Judiciary Committee, councilmembers showed that they could use a few remedial classes at the Jesse Helms school of power politics. If they had boxed in their witnesses more skillfully, the 11-hour session might have provided answers to at least one of the many startling questions raised by witnesses about MPD.
Those questions include:
•Did a D.C. government official order the murder of numbers runner Carlton “Zack” Bryant?
Former D.C. homicide commander William “Lou” Hennessy testified that the department’s most reliable informant fingered the official shortly after the April 1995 kidnapping and murder of Bryant, considered a hero to some in the Shaw community and eulogized in a Washington Post column by Courtland Milloy. The official wasn’t mentioned by name in the hearing but was rumored to have close ties to Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr.
•Did Barry intervene to kill the murder investigation of his crony?
Hennessy testified that after his squad developed the information from the confidential informant, he learned through his own D.C. government source that Barry wanted him removed from homicide. Immediately after Barry picked Larry Soulsby to be police chief in November 1995, Soulsby transferred Hennessy into exile at MPD’s training division at Blue Plains. Hennessy said he overheard Soulsby tell another officer that Barry had demanded the transfer. WTOP radio broadcast an Oct. 10 interview with the unnamed informant that corroborated Hennessy’s account.
Hizzoner vehemently denies any knowledge of the quashed murder investigation.
•Did homicide detectives engage in a six-year scheme to defraud the government by collecting overtime pay for work not performed?
Capt. William Corboy, a highly regarded former homicide detective who got stuck in the medical services division after sounding the alarm on overtime abuse, said overtime pay “went off the charts” following the murder of 6th District officer Robert Johnson in April.
The police apprehended the suspect shortly after Johnson’s murder. “There was not a single piece of additional work done on the case after the day of the murder,” Corboy said last week. However, Corboy testified, homicide detectives put in for 99 hours of overtime, in addition to their regular 40 hours during the week following the killing. In other words, the detectives rested only five hours over six full days to bang out leads on a solved case. According to testimony at the hearing, one detective turned in a time card showing that he had worked 28 hours in a 24-hour day.
Just think what they might have accomplished if they had shifted their attention to unsolved murders.
•Will MPD retaliate against Corboy and the two homicide detectives who met secretly with D.C. financial control board vice chairman Stephen Harlan early last month?
That’s as certain as the District’s high crime rate, say Corboy and others. Soon after the meeting, the shake-up in the homicide department occurred.
“I believe there is a concerted effort to identify and take care of those detectives who went to Mr. Harlan,” Corboy warned the Judiciary Committee. He said he also expects his sidetracked career to be completely derailed after his testimony last week.
Corboy noted that neither Soulsby nor anyone else in MPD’s upper echelon has spoken out to discourage or prevent such retaliation.
Corboy and Hennessy, the two most credible and critical witnesses among the 29 scheduled to testify, delivered their dramatic disclosures during the final 90 minutes of the hearing, more than four hours after Soulsby and his deputies had left the witness table. The council’s chambers were nearly empty by the time Corboy finished testifying shortly before midnight.
Had Evans & Co. known how to properly conduct an oversight hearing, Corboy and Hennessy would have been the leadoff witnesses, a strategy that would have forced Soulsby to address their allegations. But the chief frittered away the hearing’s first hour by reading a 24-page statement and then spent the next four hours answering questions from committee members.
The council is one of the few bodies that can make Soulsby look good. Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous, who had criticized committee chairman Evans for not including witnesses critical of the department, left after trying to throw a few curves at Soulsby. Chavous asked Soulsby to justify withholding consultants’ reports on MPD from councilmembers and barring them from closed-door sessions of the department’s management reform team. Chavous, known for his early exits, departed in the midst of the interrogation of Soulsby, nearly six hours before Corboy and Hennessy testified.
Councilmembers never raised the Bryant investigation with Soulsby while he was in the witness chair. Evans said later that his committee had examined the allegations last March, when they were first raised in testimony by former FBI agent Carl Rowan Jr., Soulsby’s harshest critic outside the department. Soulsby informed Evans in a March 25 letter that “there is no information that would indicate any association between the suspect and Mayor Barry.”
At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil had placed Hennessy, Rowan, and Corboy on the witness list, and chairman Evans said he had no idea that the men would present new evidence at the hearing. Also unprepared for their disclosures, Brazil sounded as inept as a first-year law student trying to draw a confession from O.J. Simpson.
Rowan said that following the committee’s March hearing, he conducted his own investigation into the murder. In a complicated plot worthy of a John Grisham novel, Rowan claims that the suspect identified in the MPD investigation could not have committed the murder. That suspect, claims Rowan, was in the hospital at the time of Bryant’s killing and died nine days later. Hennessy also testified that he discovered last February that a key piece of evidencehis notes on his conversations with the informanthad been removed from the case file after he left homicide at the end of 1995.
Upon making that discovery, Hennessy said he immediately warned his informant “to be very, very careful.”
Prior to the hearing, Hennessy had gained notoriety because of his well-publicized feud with Soulsby over his removal from homicide. But last week he came across as a sincere, dedicated officer who ran the homicide department skillfully. His ambition, he said, was to solve murders and “provide some sense of closure” to comfort the victims’ relatives.
He now spends his days advising police departments around the country on how to organize their homicide squads. But neither MPD, the control board, nor the Booz-Allen & Hamilton consultants overseeing MPD management reforms have sought his advice, Hennessy told the committee, because he is considered “persona non grata” by the chief and his backers.
Corboy’s testimony, which followed Hennessy’s, conjured up comparisons to Frank Serpico, the heroic New York City vice detective who blew the whistle on police corruption more than two decades ago. Unlike the New York cops, who were taking payoffs to protect the criminals, Corboy said D.C. cops have collected their payoffs from the District and the federal government since the early 1990s.
Corboy retired from the homicide department in 1989 on permanent disability. The prospect of a disabled D.C. cop ever giving up his disability check and returning to work is about as remote as Barry apologizing for destroying home rule. But Corboy recovered and reapplied to the homicide squad in 1992. When he returned, he said he found a department more committed to collecting hefty overtime checks than to solving murders.
Corboy testified that an officer who handled a murder investigation would list numerous fellow officers as having participated in the investigation, although none of them had actually done any work. That way, all the officers would be called to court whenever the case came up and would collect overtime pay.
He described a 1992 murder on U Street NW in which the case was closed at the scene by the investigating detective. But nine officers and supervisors later collected hefty overtime checks for numerous court appearances in the case.
Corboy’s testimony provided the first plausible account of how the homicide department collapsed in less than two years simply because Soulsby replaced Hennessy while leaving the rest of homicide intact.
“The ability to make money without doing any work seriously eroded homicide,” Corboy told the Judiciary Committee.
He said he met for nearly an hour with then-Police Chief Fred Thomas on Jan. 14, 1993, and laid out the details of homicide’s overtime scam. At the end of the meeting, Corboy said Thomas advised him, “Keep your eye on the prize.”
“To this day, I have not been able to figure out what that meant,” Corboy testified last week. He never heard another word from Thomas, regarded as the most ethical and honest police chief the city has had in recent memory.
This past spring, Corboy said he was asked by his supervisors to prepare a report for Soulsby detailing the overtime problem. Corboy finished the report in April and said he is certain the chief got a copy of it. But Soulsby never mentioned the report to him and never took any steps to correct the abuses.
In 1995, Soulsby and Hennessy had imposed restrictions on homicide detectives to try to curb soaring overtime pay. But Soulsby threw out those restrictions in July 1996, when the department’s closure rate on murder cases fell to a low of 30 percent. Despite an upsurge in overtime pay since then, the department is still only solving one-third of the city’s nearly 400 annual murders.
Corboy’s testimony exposes Soulsby as either a pathological liar or a manager on par with the venerable Vernon Hawkins. The homicide overtime findings submitted by Corboy are among at least three studies critical of MPD that Soulsby claimed never reached his in box.
Before last week, Corboy had never gone outside MPD with his reports and complaints about overtime abuses. He admitted that he had tried last December to convey this information to the control board through an attorney, but his overtures were snubbed.
“I’m not proud that I had to do that,” Corboy told the Judiciary Committee. “This is something I’d rather not go through. I just find the department unwilling to grapple with these issues.”
Because of his five-year effort to expose and end the overtime scams within MPD, Corboy has been reassigned to a fifth-floor room at police headquarters where he can make phone calls but cannot receive any. He said he is now regarded within the department as “a dangerous individual” because of his crusade against overtime pay.
Evans has scheduled another hearing for Dec. 12 and promises to answer some of the questions raised last week. This time, he swears, Soulsby will testify last.
Until the control board learns to pay heed to honest, hard-working officers like Corboy and Hennessyand Evans’ committee discovers how to conduct oversight hearingsother MPD whistleblowers are likely to suffer the same fate as Corboy and Hennessy: solitary confinement with no phone privileges.CP
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