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On Thursday, a jury found that an MPD officer was unlawfully retaliated against by his superiors. The civil suit was filed in 2005 but wasn’t resolved until yesterday.
As Washington City Paper reported earlier this month, former D.C. police officer Martin Freeman brought a suit against the city claiming he’d been unfairly targeted by his superiors. Freeman says he blew the whistle on the fact that the department had muscled in on some security work he had lined up at Gallery Place Mall during his off hours. Despite Freeman already having negotiated terms, MPD somehow got the mall to agree to hire its expensive private security service (which has raked in at least $1.9 million this year). Freeman went to Fox 5 News about it. Later, he was fired over what he said were trumped up charges. Several other officers who’d planned to work with Freeman at the mall were suspended. Two joined him in the lawsuit. The jury has awarded one of those suspended officers—Sean McLaughlin—$6,799.56 in lost wages and $5,865.38 in non-economic damages.
MPD and the FOP have put out wildly different interpretations of the lawsuit’s results. (City Desk will be reviewing the case’s jury form later.)
In a press release sent out yesterday, the FOP says that Chief Cathy Lanier—who commanded the officer’s unit at the time—has been found personally responsible for unlawful retaliation, and faces penalties that could include being fired:
“Today a jury of nine in D.C. Superior Court returned a unanimous verdict in favor of all three plaintiffs holding that the plaintiffs were whistleblowers under D.C.’s Whistleblower Protection Act; that they disclosed that the MPD was engaged in illegal conduct; and that as a result of the disclosure, officials within the department retaliated against all three of the plaintiffs by imposing discipline against the plaintiffs. The jury identified Chief Cathy Lanier as the sole official within the department as having engaged in the retaliatory conduct.
Based on the jury’s findings, Judge [Franklin] Burgess will now determine the appropriate civil fine to be imposed against Chief Cathy Lanier personally. Judge Burgess will also decide the appropriate discipline to be imposed against Chief Cathy Lanier. Under the Whistleblower statute, the discipline is mandatory and must be imposed against each official found to have engaged in retaliation. The discipline provided for by the whistleblower statute expressly includes the penalty of discharge.”
But in a statement sent to City Desk via email this morning, Chief Lanier fires back that Freeman was a dirty cop and that the outcome of his lawsuit exonerated the department for the most part.
“The bottom line is the jury upheld the Department’s decision to terminate a police officer who engaged in illegal activities. The claim by the FOP is simply an attempt to justify their expenditure of nearly a million dollars in legal fees attempting to get this bad officer his job back.
Despite spending a staggering amount of FOP resources to bring a frivolous lawsuit, the jury repudiated almost all of the union’s claims. Most importantly, the jury affirmed the Department’s decision made five years ago, to terminate an officer who brokered illegal outside employment in exchange for under-the-table cash payments.While the jury did find the District liable on one of the counts, there is no evidence in the record to support this conclusion. The District is confident that finding will be reversed, meaning that no fine or discipline will be imposed. It is astonishing that the union would spend so many resources and so much money to try to get a dirty cop his job back.”
Though Lanier didn’t address the FOP’s contention that she could lose her job under whisteblower-protection laws, DC Attorney General Peter Nickles tells City Desk via email that it’s “not true.” The FOP statement, he says, is “inaccurate.”
But Richard Condit of the Government Accountability Project seems to think it’s at least possible. He cites the following passage from the amended DC Whistleblower protection act:
a) As part of the relief ordered in an administrative, arbitration or judicial proceeding, any person who is found to have violated § 1-615.53 or § 2-223.02 shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action including dismissal.
Asked about the likelihood of the judge stripping Lanier of her post, FOP head Kristopher Baumann says he’s not sure how to gauge it: “This is new territory. I am not sure we have ever had an agency head commit this type of violation in the District before. It is an absolute embarrassment.”
It’s worth noting that Baumann’s union has endorsed the guy who’s trying to unseat Lanier’s boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty. During a visit to City Paper yesterday, Fenty pointed out that Chief Lanier has been one of his most popular appointments. Allegations—real or otherwise—about “absolute embarrassments” could muddy Lanier’s image as the top cop who helped drive down D.C. crime, and in the process deal a blow to Fenty’s re-election bid.
For more clarity on the matter, City Desk suggests waiting until… after election day.
*Photo by Darrow Montgomery