It was hot that day, and Vincent Andrews and his girlfriend were arguing over whether he’d been faithful to her, when things got ugly. Court records indicate that Andrews clamped his hands around the woman’s neck, beat her head against the metal bed frame in his room, and pummeled her face with his fist. She fought back and threatened to press charges, but that couldn’t have worried Andrews much. After all, he was a D.C. police officer.
“I’m blue, baby,” he said, according to two of the woman’s lawyers. “All cops stick together.” Then, according to court filings, he threatened to make the young woman leave “by the window or by the door.” She chose the door. A few blocks away, the 24-year-old woman reached a pay phone and called a friend, who advised her to call the police. She managed to flag down a patrol car, which accompanied her back to the second-floor apartment at 14th and Harvard Streets NW where Andrews lived with his parents.
By then, other officers were already at the scene. Andrews had called them and accused his girlfriend of stealing something from his home. The young woman told the officers her side of the story. And then they left. No reports were made. Nobody was arrested. No one was taken to a hospital. Three days later, the woman showed up at the Howard University Hospital emergency room. She was still suffering from scalp contusions and head trauma, according to medical records in the court file.
There wouldn’t be much of a record of Andrews’ July 1994 assault on his girlfriend (who wishes to remain anonymous), except that she sought legal help from D.C. Law Students in Court to obtain a restraining order. Andrews fought the petition, even bringing his parents to court for moral support.
According to one of the woman’s lawyers, Ed Shacklee, the desk cops at the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) 3rd District station stonewalled them when he and his law students tried to interview the officers who had first responded to the woman’s call for help. “The front office totally blew us off,” says Shacklee. And although the fact never came out at trial, Shacklee also discovered that a 3rd District official had ordered his officers not to arrest Andrews when they found him at the crime scene. One of those officers, Paul Rose, confirmed the order in an interview. (He says a lieutenant told him Andrews was subject to a pending investigation and that he should not be arrested.)
Rose crossed the thin blue line and testified against his fellow officer. Rose told the judge that when he found Andrews’ girlfriend she was suffering from scratches and puffiness associated with bruising on her face. As a result, Judge Rhonda Reid-Winston found that Andrews had indeed assaulted his girlfriend, that his testimony was not credible. She granted a restraining order. Not long after that, the young woman left town, her life in a shambles. Andrews still carries a gun and wears a badge as an MPD officer in the 1st District. He did not return calls for this story.
Inside the zone of privacy that surrounds every abusive relationship, there is a special place for battered women whose partners are cops. The women who live there are muzzled by the raw violence of police officers who break the very laws they’re sworn to enforce. And the fraternal culture of police, judges, and prosecutors ensures that the public knows little about these women’s private hell. But a survey of area courts, legal clinics, and women’s shelters suggests that the dilemma faced by Officer Andrews’ girlfriend—of being victimized first by the man she loved and then by other law enforcement officials—is an all too common one.
“I would say we have a high percentage of people in policing who are also involved in domestic violence,” says Ronald Hampton, who retired from MPD in 1994 after 20 years of service and now runs the National Black Police Association (NBPA). “The inherent problem is that in this culture the whole thing is about being a man. Policing is about being a man, and some things are allowed and tolerated. Being rough, tough, pushing people around, telling them what to do, that’s part of the culture and that’s OK. By the time they get caught, it’s probably not the first time.”
In fact, the conventional wisdom among women’s advocates is that police officers are disproportionately represented among batterers. A profession that produces an inordinate amount of divorce, suicide, and alcoholism also seems to breed domestic violence. While empirical data on the subject are scarce, one 1992 study published in the journal Police Studies surveyed more than 300 volunteers at a law enforcement conference. More than 40 percent reported at least one episode of physical aggression during a conflict with their spouses or companions in the previous year.
“The police officer personality, there’s a lot in common with batterers. It attracts people who like to have control and power,” says Susan Hoffman, an attorney with Crowell & Moring and a member of the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council.
Others believe that it’s not necessarily a personality type but police work itself that can contribute to intrafamily violence. “This is a job that is pretty emotionally damaging,” says Dr. Beverly Anderson, who heads MPD’s Employee Assistance Program. Even so, she believes cops are no more likely to employ violence in intimate relationships than other people. “The data is just not out there.”
Yet anecdotal evidence suggests that D.C. cops are just as guilty of battering women as the people they’re supposed to be locking up—if not more so. Two years ago, the Washington Post published a series on the 1,500 officers MPD hired under pressure from Congress in 1989 and 1990, when the District lowered its standards to hire quickly. The Post published a list of 45 officers hired in 1989 and 1990 who’d been charged with criminal offenses but kept their jobs. While much was made of the drug and weapons offenses, little attention was paid to the fact that nearly a quarter of those officers had been charged with crimes involving domestic violence.
The Post story offered only a thin slice of data about a few dozen officers. More complete data on the incidence of domestic violence among the city’s police force is still impossible to come by. Here and around the country there are anecdotes, unsatisfying surveys, and no tangible set of measurable facts. And there’s a reason for that: The victims aren’t talking. Not to the cops. Not to the courts. Not to reporters. Often not even to their own lawyers.
“The truth is that the deck is stacked against women who live with or are married to police officers,” says Anne O’Dell, a retired sergeant on the San Diego Police Department. She spent the last six of her 20 years with the force investigating domestic violence, including cases involving her fellow officers. She’s now a national consultant on cop spousal abuse. “Cops are a lot more dangerous than the average bear. They’re trained, they’re armed, they know how to make the women sound crazy, and they know how to get to people they work with. There are no repercussions for that behavior.”
Julie Blum, executive director of My Sister’s Place, a battered women’s shelter in the District, says she regularly sees women who’ve been battered by police officers. Most of them, she says, don’t seek legal help. “The level of despair is much, much higher [in cop abuse cases], because one of the first things you usually ask a woman when she comes in the door is, ‘Have you been to the police?’” Blum explains. “It’s a natural reflex that when you’re in trouble, you call the police. And that doesn’t help her at all. It’s just hell.”
In fact, three women contacted for this story through their lawyers and another police officer declined to be interviewed, saying they feared reprisals from their MPD husbands. Two of those women have left their relationships (one of whom has initiated criminal proceedings against her husband). The other is still married and living with the man because she’s afraid he will kill her. Her fears are well founded.
In 1993, MPD Officer David Rowland was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murdering his girlfriend, Christie Hoyle, after they had an argument over plans to attend an MPD Christmas party. And Hoyle was no helpless suburban housewife. She was a fellow police officer; Rowland killed her with her own gun. Later, he confessed to another officer, who, instead of arresting him, stonewalled prosecutors who later sought his aid in prosecuting Rowland, according to Post reports on the trial.
Cops are protected by an almost impenetrable edifice designed to safeguard their jobs and that also keeps a tight lid on information. The union, the department brass, and city officials close ranks around wayward cops who assault their intimates. For instance, the list of officers with criminal records MPD released to the Post two years ago is no longer available because several of those officers named sued the department for invasion of privacy. The matter is still in court. Citing privacy reasons, MPD’s general counsel denied Washington City Paper’s Freedom of Information Act request for a similar list of officers charged with criminal offenses for domestic violence in the past two years and for a list of those brought up on administrative charges for domestic abuse.
Outside of MPD, there are a few other places where abusive cops come to light. Prosecutors, for instance, see some of the bad eggs. But roughly 80 percent of D.C. cops live outside the District, so if they get in trouble with the law, they fall to any number of jurisdictions. In Prince George’s County, which claims a sizable D.C. police population, legal assistant Patricia Herbert handles domestic violence cases in the State’s Attorney’s office. She recalls seeing five or six D.C. police officers come through the system in the first half of 1996 but says the office prosecutes almost 6,000 domestic violence cases annually, and tracking the handful of D.C. cops among them is nearly impossible.
Really, though, abusive cops who surface in the criminal justice system tend to be the exception, not the rule. National Black Police Association director Hampton says he’s seen firsthand how police officers deal with other cops who have assaulted women. “They are often not punished adequately because they are police officers. When it was your police friend it was handled in other ways.”
As in Andrews’ case, abusive D.C. cops are much more likely to get slapped with a restraining order than to be arrested. When judges grant such orders, it means they have found legitimate evidence of prior abuse and future danger. An Urban Institute study of battered women applying for restraining orders found that 56 percent of the women had sustained serious physical injury during the incidents that led them into court.
Meshall Thomas, project manager of the Emergency Domestic Relations Project in D.C Superior Court, handles nearly 200 protection-order petitions a week. She estimates that between January and June more than 10 cases involving D.C. police officers crossed her desk. Of the one or two cops she sees implicated in domestic violence every month, “not many of them get arrested,” Thomas says. “They’re police officers. They have this old buddy system. They don’t usually make an arrest.”
Probably the best source of information about police who abuse the women they profess to love is other cops. Domestic troubles are the stuff of early-morning breakfasts at the FOP, and grist for the ever-churning MPD gossip mill. Cops know all too well the hidden tales of the long-suffering wife who’s been beaten by her lieutenant husband for decades but never once picked up the phone to call for help. But even good cops have mixed feelings about airing their colleagues’ dirty laundry.
One sergeant who wishes to remain anonymous acknowledges that domestic violence is widespread in the department but says, “Listen, I’d like to help you. But I have my loyalty to the guys I work with, and I can’t see ruining their whole lives for something that may have happened a long time ago.”
In the early morning hours of May 30, 1994, 25-year-old Teresa Graciano got into an argument with her boyfriend, George Batista. According to a Prince George’s County police report, Batista had accused Graciano of cheating on him, and in a drunken rage he threw her against a wall and a glass window in their Beltsville, Md., apartment. Batista pounded Graciano’s face with his fists and threatened to kill her. After struggling to break free, Graciano climbed from the couple’s balcony onto the balcony of a neighbor. Her face was so swollen that the neighbor didn’t even recognize her. When the police arrived and Graciano told the officers she lived next door, the neighbor fainted, realizing that the battered woman on her balcony was her friend.
When the ambulance arrived to take Graciano to the hospital, she was suffering from swelling in both eyes. She had bite marks on her left forearm and her right leg above the knee. She was taken to the University of Maryland’s shock trauma unit in Baltimore for possible skull and spinal fractures. If she hadn’t been treated so promptly, she would now be partially blind. Her eyeball had been dislodged during the beating and the bone around it was crushed. Plastic surgeons installed a steel plate inside Graciano’s face to repair the damage.
The man who inflicted it knew what he was doing. Batista was a decorated MPD officer, trained in the use of deadly force and sworn to uphold the law. During his six years with the department Batista received commendations from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the chief of police. He was vice president of the D.C. Hispanic Officers Association at the time of the assault. When he was arrested, Batista told P.G. County Detective Timothy Estes that he had been drinking and that the detective “did not understand his culture,” according to the arrest report filed in P.G. County Circuit Court.
The State’s Attorney’s office charged Batista with felony counts of assault with intent to disable, malicious wounding, assault with intent to maim, and misdemeanor assault and battery charges. As with many victims of domestic violence, Graciano was reluctant to prosecute her boyfriend. According to Assistant State’s Attorney Roland Patterson Jr., Graciano refused to discuss the beating with hospital social services personnel. While she had told her neighbor that Batista had threatened to kill her, Graciano would not repeat the allegations again when detectives interviewed her in the hospital.
Meanwhile, Batista enlisted legal help from a union-referred law firm. One of attorney Robert Matty’s first moves was to help Graciano file an affidavit with the court asking prosecutors to drop the charges against Batista. Batista then married Graciano, and Matty attempted to get the case dropped on the grounds of marital immunity. But Matty’s efforts were foiled because the P.G. County cops had conducted a model investigation. They took photos of Graciano’s extensive injuries as well as pictures of the inside of her apartment showing the wreckage left from the assault.
Based on the photo evidence and on testimony from hospital medical staff and Graciano’s neighbor, prosecutors were able to press ahead without the victim’s cooperation. “I’ve been with this office for eight years, and I have not seen many felony cases where the office went forward in spite of the wishes of the victim,” says Patterson. “But in this case, the injuries were so severe that the office decided to stand by the prosecution.”
Still, by the time the case went to trial in January 1995, Graciano was seven months pregnant, and when she took the witness stand, she completely recanted her original story. Graciano told the jury that it was she, not Batista, who had started the fight, and that she had snuck up on him while he was sleeping and beaten him with a lamp. He had merely hit her in self defense. Prosecutors countered with evidence that Batista, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 180 pounds, was not suffering from any injuries at the time of his arrest that would suggest he had defended himself against his 5-foot-3 girlfriend.
P.G. County Circuit Judge Arthur Ahalt barred prosecutors from telling the jury that Batista was a police officer, ruling that the information was unduly prejudicial to Batista. Nonetheless, the jury returned guilty verdicts on two of three felony charges and a misdemeanor charge of battery—leaving Batista facing up to 10 years in prison. The jury’s verdict, however, wasn’t enough to put Batista behind bars.
After the conviction, Batista’s lawyer entered a motion for a new trial, arguing that the state had failed to prove that Graciano had been permanently disfigured by the assault—“her beauty,” he wrote, remained intact. Judge Ahalt agreed and dismissed all the felony convictions against Batista, sentencing him to five years’ probation on the remaining misdemeanor charges. (The state declined to retry the felony case after learning that Ahalt had retained jurisdiction of the case.)
After the felony charges were dismissed, Batista and his lawyer went to work trying to get his job back. He had been suspended from MPD after his arrest, but Batista asked Ahalt to change his sentence to probation before judgment so there would be no finding of guilt in the case—and Batista would not have a criminal conviction on his record. If Batista stayed out of trouble during the probation period, he could have his arrest record expunged. The whole matter would be wiped from public memory and Batista might get his job back.
D.C. police officers rallied to Batista’s support. They wrote letters to the judge urging him to grant Batista’s request so that he could be reinstated to the department. They cited his dedication to the community and to public safety. Officer Hiram Rosario, the president of the Hispanic Officers’ Association, who had bailed Batista out of jail, wrote that “Mr. Batista enjoys his profession as a police officer and keeping his job would enhance his family’s future.”
Batista’s field training supervisor, retired Sgt. Francisco Velez, wrote that Batista “always displayed a genuine interest in the problems facing society today.”
Ahalt was apparently persuaded by the outpouring of support from Batista’s family and colleagues—as well as from his wife, who wrote a letter expressing how “very embarrassed [she was] for everything that has taken place.” On April 12, he granted Batista’s request, placing him on five years’ supervised probation. Ahalt told prosecutors that he did not believe the state’s interest in further punishment of Batista outweighed the damage that his incarceration would inflict on his family; he was, after all, their sole breadwinner.
Today, Batista has no criminal conviction. The department finally fired him May 31—almost two years to the day after Teresa Graciano climbed over her neighbor’s balcony in terror and desperation. But Batista is appealing the decision, and his lawyers argue that because of the department’s prior history of retaining officers in similar situations, Batista should be back out patrolling city streets.
Even union officials say they couldn’t defend Batista’s attempt to return to the department, given the injuries he inflicted on Graciano. But Rosario sees nothing wrong with his support of Batista’s effort to return to the ranks. He says he merely wants to see that Batista is not treated differently from any other non-Hispanic officer. “We support our members,” he says. Besides, he adds, “we have people [in the department] who’ve done things 20 times worse than what he did….We have a deputy chief who shot at his girlfriend!”
Charles Roscoe Bacon has become a legend in police union halls and a precedent in D.C.’s administrative law. In 1981, Bacon was charged with assault with intent to commit murder in Prince George’s County for allegedly firing shots at his girlfriend. The charges were dropped after the woman refused to testify. But MPD investigated the incident internally and recommended that Bacon be demoted. He appealed and moved on up the managerial food chain to become deputy chief. In 1993, another woman filed a criminal complaint against Bacon charging that he had intentionally rammed her car with his. No charges were ever brought against him.
Bacon’s 15-year-old victory over the department’s effort to discipline him has proved to be a legal gold mine to the police union as it sought to defend officers accused of domestic violence and other misconduct. Ron Robertson, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police labor committee, says, “We have used what we call the ‘Bacon Defense,’ and we have won a lot of cases with it. But it has to do with fair treatment. There’s a guy who shot at and tried to kill his girlfriend on more than one occasion and nothing happened to him. Rank and file should have the same treatment.”
The Bacon case has added a twist to D.C. law, which generally holds cops to a higher standard of behavior than other government employees. A misdemeanor conviction is not automatic grounds for dismissal for most District employees. Cops, though, can be dismissed for engaging in conduct that could merely be construed as a criminal offense—a helpful distinction in cases of domestic violence, where the victims are often reluctant to prosecute.
Yet when a cop beats his wife or girlfriend, the reality is that it’s more often treated as a sign of job stress, a mistake to be rectified with a few visits to the MPD Employee Assistance Program rather than hard time.
“Just firing people—if you went around firing all the people who did it, nobody would have a job,” says Robertson. He says the department needs a better system for intervening in the lives of stressed and abusive officers and should work harder to get them into treatment rather than firing them. “The first thing is you need to get someone some help. What other profession do you know that [people] get fired for beating their wives?”
Not too many cops seem to get fired for domestic violence. When an officer gets slapped with a restraining order by his injured wife or girlfriend, MPD has no written policy regarding what supervisors should do. Police officials say that in theory an officer served with a restraining order in the District should be arrested. If the order is issued from another jurisdiction, however, there is no policy. Police officials say supervisors should at least order the officer into counseling, but there are no penalties for failing to do so.
Hampton says that during his time on the department supervisors rarely sent officers to counseling for bashing their girlfriends. “I don’t think they took it serious,” he says. “They had to work with these guys, and some of the managers and supervisors were having the same problems as the guys were.”
Every now and then, MPD actually tries to fire abusive officers. But thanks to the baggage left by the department’s Charlie Bacons and to judges who can’t see past the uniform, officers fired for domestic violence often come back to the department to roost.
Lynette King had been separated from her husband, 4th District Officer James King Jr., for about four months before he kicked her front door down one night in 1993. She had changed the locks after he moved out of their one-bedroom apartment in Takoma Park, Md. Earlier, James had advised the 25-year-old Department of Agriculture secretary that if he ever found a man in her house, he would kill them both. When James arrived on her stoop in the wee hours of the morning, Lynette refused to let him in, according to police reports.
His old keys no longer worked, and James became enraged, pounding on the door with his foot. Lynette ran into her bedroom, called the police, and barricaded the door with a dresser. Unclothed, she opened a window, hoping to flee, but she realized that the second-floor leap would be a treacherous one. Lynette crouched behind the dresser, praying the police would come quickly. Then she heard a gunshot. Her husband had fired through the bedroom door with his 9mm Glock service weapon. The bullet lodged in the rear window behind her. Had she been standing up, it would have hit her.
A few moments later, James broke through her bedroom door, yelling, “Where is he? Where is he? You know who I’m talking about!” James jumped on the bed and pointed his gun barrel into the mattress. “Is he under the bed? Is he under the bed? If you don’t tell me, I’ll shoot through this bed!”
Lynette swore she was alone and yelled back, “Get the fuck out! Don’t kill me, just get out!” When he heard the sound of approaching sirens, James fled the scene.
When the Takoma Park police arrived, a sobbing Lynette told one of the officers that she was afraid of her husband, but she would give them a statement. Later, she told MPD investigators that James has a tendency “not to ventilate….One incident just blows everything to bits. And when he gets to that point…I’m very scared to be around him.”
While the police were in Lynette’s apartment, James telephoned his wife and told her he was sorry—he didn’t mean to hurt her. She handed the phone over to 4th District Sgt. William Nesbitt, who had been summoned to the scene. He ordered James to surrender his weapon at the 4th District station. The department immediately put James on administrative leave with pay, and a few days later Prince George’s County issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of assault with intent to murder, burglary, reckless endangerment, and assault.
The state’s attorney later dropped the charges after Lynette declined to prosecute, but MPD moved forward with disciplinary proceedings against James anyway. In his defense, James offered up a story strikingly different from the one his wife had told police. In a statement to MPD, James said his wife had invited him over that night hoping to reconcile, but that when he arrived she wouldn’t let him in. Suspicious, he attempted to kick the door open, and when that failed, he went around the side of the building to look in her second-story window—which was 17 feet above and 35 feet away from where James claimed to be standing.
Nonetheless, James said from his vantage point he saw a man zipping up his pants and placing a handgun in the waistband and that he feared his wife was being assaulted. He ran back to the front of the building and kicked the apartment door in. Once inside, James said he saw a man pushing his wife into the bedroom of the apartment and closing the door. He said he drew his gun and police ID and used his shoulder to force open the bedroom door. That’s when his gun accidentally fired, James said. When he got into the bedroom, James said, he saw the man jump out the window and flee.
The MPD trial board didn’t buy the story. After conducting its own investigation, the board wrote in a decision, “The Panel finds Officer King’s theory of an accidental discharge incredulous considering the totality of the circumstances.” Based on the evidence collected at the crime scene, the board concluded that King had fabricated his entire story.
In its final recommendation, the board wrote, “The Panel…finds that Officer King’s personal accountability for his actions to be maliciously committed and intentional. The effect of this offense on the agency’s reputation and on Officer King’s ability to perform with sound judgment would likely render similar poor judgment. Therefore…the Panel finds no alternate sanctions short of removal.”
James King was fired in June 1994. But that was hardly the end of the story. He appealed the ruling, arguing in filings with the D.C. Office of Employee Appeals that he should not be dismissed because he had suffered no criminal conviction. He also argued that the charges against him were the product of a vengeful woman who had engineered a “damsel-in-distress” situation to destroy his career after he dumped her.
James and his attorney managed to get Lynette, who did not testify at the appeals hearings, to write an affidavit claiming that her statements to the police “were exaggerated and made under duress,” adding, “what happened between us and our domestic situation (between a husband and wife) should not be the determining factor regarding employment.”
On July 12 this year, administrative judge Sheryl Sears sided with James. In her decision, Sears wrote that not only did she believe James’ story about the intruder in his wife’s apartment, but that she did not find Lynette’s earlier testimony to the trial board to be credible. She ordered MPD to reinstate James’ job, pay, and benefits lost because of the department’s disciplinary action.
Joan Meier, director of the domestic violence clinic at George Washington University Law School, says the judge’s decision really isn’t all that surprising. “They’re not getting the point that [domestic violence] is worse than a drug crime, it’s worse than robbing a bank, but you’d never think twice about [cops] losing their jobs for that,” laments Meier.
To all appearances, David Wilhight is a stand-up guy. Neighborhood groups have twice honored him as officer of the year during his six years with MPD. But last September the cherubic-looking Wilhight was arrested for assaulting his live-in girlfriend, Brenda Smith, when she tried to return an engagement ring and move out of their home. Smith suffered a bruised thigh and foot.
This April, Superior Court Judge Mildred Edwards sentenced Wilhight to six months of unsupervised probation and told him she hoped he would be able to keep his job. Noting that the couple had reconciled, she said, “My hope is you have a long and happy relationship with each other. I have great hope this situation will never happen again.” Less than six weeks later, Wilhight was back in court, charged again with assaulting Smith and her 12-year-old daughter. He is now in jail awaiting trial.
A warm, giggly woman who works as a teaching assistant at Seton Elementary School, Smith was horrified when her personal life was splayed out in the Washington Post after Wilhight was arrested the first time. But unlike most women contacted for this story, she was willing to talk about the dynamics involved in domestic violence cases that involve police officers.
“It was just a bad spat,” Smith says. “It’s not worth talking about. It’s not like he was knocking my head around.” The first time she called 911 to report Wilhight, Smith says, they had been fighting over whether she should see a doctor about her foot, which was infected and swollen. “He stepped on it,” she says. The “battering” alleged by prosecutors has “just been isolated incidents—two, three times over five years,” she says. “We’re normal people. Goodness gracious! He’s not a monster. David has never tried to hurt me hurt me.”
But in an intake report taken by the U.S. Attorney’s office, Smith said Wilhight had started beating her shortly after their relationship began in 1991. She reported trying to leave him at least four times before, but the violence always escalated. “Sometimes we say things when we’re angry,” she explains, adding that after being raised with five brothers, “I’ve never been afraid of any male and I never will be. I know how to take a licking and I know how to dish one out.”
Smith says that Wilhight’s job created enormous pressure. She’s seen the toll police work has taken on other people’s marriages, and she believes that Wilhight tends to keep a lot of the stress pent up until it “just comes out in bad ways.”
“David has a control problem sometimes,” she says. “I’m a stubborn black woman. I don’t like to be grabbed on. I was angry. I was hurt. And I was confused that we were fussing about stuff. It’s something that happened that shouldn’t have.”
Smith says she and Wilhight are still friends. “He’s not a violent person.” She’s in constant contact with Wilhight’s lawyer and is collecting his mail and attending to his affairs while he’s in jail. Her daughter writes him letters and sends pictures to him there. “He can be a very sweet and considerate guy. He would be a wonderful father,” she says. “But he has grown up seeing some things differently.”
Smith has told the assistant U.S. Attorney working on her case that Wilhight needs counseling, not jail time—albeit mandatory counseling. “Some people are more into control than others,” she says. “Some men like to say, ‘we’re the king of the castle,’ but these are the ’90s now. You not Tarzan, me not Jane.”
Sitting at the conference table in the 3rd District police station on V Street NW, Inspector Sonya Proctor is arguing that MPD is committed to fighting domestic violence. Articulate, engaging, and one of the few high-ranking women in the department, Proctor comes to this table with none of the baggage of much of the male leadership of the department—no sexual harassment suits, no attempted murder charges. And she used to work in internal affairs, investigating other officers charged with misconduct, so she knows as well as anyone that D.C. police officers are not exempt from the problems they deal with in the community.
However, she’s not ready to acknowledge that police officers are any more likely to use violence in their personal relationships than any other citizen. “I’ve never seen anything to suggest that there is any greater representation of batterers among police officers than construction workers,” she says.
Proctor believes that the department has come a long way in how it deals with its own officers when they are involved in domestic violence. “We treat police officers the same as anybody else. The law is very clear on that,” she says. “I’ve seen the department change significantly. There was a time when the department did not get involved in officers’ personal lives. That has changed radically.”
She says MPD is finally realizing that it pays to get a jump on personal problems by referring people to Employee Assistance or other counseling. But her statement raises the inherent contradiction: If hitting your wife is a crime, should it be treated with counseling? Or should the department take a zero-tolerance approach, the way it does to drugs?
“You really need to look at each individual case,” says Proctor. Police officials need to take into account whether their officers’ off-duty behavior affects “their ability to perform their duties.” Proctor also says other factors should be considered, like the presence of injuries, witness accounts, the involvement of children, and the existence of a restraining order.
She adds, though, that domestic violence cases are never as clear-cut as women’s advocates often make them out to be. For instance, what happens when a cop arrives on a scene and discovers a man and a woman who both have bloody noses?
Basically, she says, the department uses the same criteria for evaluating cases of domestic violence among its own officers as for other cases in the community. “If there’s probable cause for an arrest, it’s all very clear what should happen,” says Proctor. “Ultimately, I believe the department will do what’s in the best interest of the agency and the community.”
Stacey Chestang is a 25-year-old mother of four. She met Officer Clarence Allen one night about two years ago when her car broke down. He was working and stopped to help her. He was married, but the two started seeing each other, and Allen eventually got divorced. Allen moved in with Chestang for a while, until about November of last year. He was on administrative leave for his involvement in an off-duty shooting, says Chestang, and he was under a great deal of financial pressure from the child-support payments he was making when he was arrested for assaulting her. Her D.C. Superior Court case moved slowly forward and was eventually dropped in April when Allen was arrested again, this time charged with burglary and assault.
The slender volumes of Allen’s domestic battery case paint a picture of a woman who was stalked. Chestang had a stay-away order against Allen from the November attack. When Allen was charged with burglary in April, the U.S. Attorney’s office had a strong enough case to convince a grand jury to indict him on a misdemeanor assault charge. “In both cases, he was promptly arrested,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney Pat Woodward Jr., adding that there is no indication in the record that the police had any hesitation about arresting a fellow officer. “The system works—sometimes,” he says.
During the first assault at Chestang’s home in Southeast, according to Woodward, Allen allegedly smacked her in the face and pulled some of her hair out before fleeing the scene. He was arrested later that day. The judge ordered him to stay away from Chestang, and by the time he allegedly attacked her again this April, he was identified in the police report as her “ex-” boyfriend. Police initially charged Allen with burglary because, according to Woodward, he allegedly broke down the door to Chestang’s house, doing $150 in damage. He punched her about the head, leaving knots and also an elbow injury, Woodward says. Allen was arrested on the scene and is scheduled to go to trial in October.
But Chestang tells a different story. “He had a key,” she says, explaining that the burglary charge was dropped because Allen could have gotten in anyway. She admits calling 911, but she says, “Whatever bruises I got, he got. They wanted to lock both of us up.” Chestang says she didn’t go to the hospital either time Allen was arrested.
She doesn’t really want to talk about the fights they’ve had. Chestang explains that she might have said some things the night of the incident, but she wants to put it behind her. She says she doesn’t talk to Allen much anymore, although she confesses that he had driven her sister to the grocery store the day before. When reminded of her criminal prosecution against Allen, Chestang insists she’s still pressing charges.
As she tells this story from the front porch of her home, Allen pulls up in a sleek, black four-wheel drive, and hops out clutching a package of vacuum-cleaner bags. “Speak of the devil,” Chestang says. “Hey,” she yells coyly, running down the front steps to chat briefly before taking the bags and shooing him away.
“Call me later,” he yells with a wave.CP