On July 26, 2005, D.C. police Lt. Sherman Lankford made a boo-boo. According to a department investigation, he arrived at the scene of a crime, took a pair of binoculars from a car being searched, and handed them to another officer.

It’s not clear whether he stole the binoculars or just mishandled evidence, but it was enough to launch an internal investigation of the 20-year police-force veteran. About seven months later, the department notified Lankford that disciplinary action was being considered—a process that, under the law, must result in a decision within 45 days from the time notice is given. But it wasn’t until May 4, 2006, that a panel chaired by then commander and now Chief Cathy Lanier recommended firing the lieutenant.

Lankford got his final notice on July 20—140 days after he’d been warned his job was on the line. He fought the decision, and the D.C. Office of Employee Appeals reversed his termination this March, meaning the city will have to fork over a few hundred thousand dollars in back wages because it took so long to get the disciplinary ball rolling. Lanier’s office has not responded to requests for comment.