Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

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When first asked about the circumstances surrounding his Dec. 10, 2021, arrest for strangulation and abduction, D.C. police officer Manuel Reyes wasn’t completely honest.

Reyes, who graduated from the police academy in December 2020, told a Metropolitan Police Department internal affairs agent that he was not driving drunk on the night of his arrest in Arlington. Only after he took a break from the interview to speak with his union rep did Reyes return and tell IAD Agent Diane Brooks that he “wanted to start fresh and start telling the truth,” Brooks said Thursday during a disciplinary hearing. Reyes told her he had more to drink that night than he typically does and only remembered “flashes” of the evening.

But drunk driving was only half of it. Arlington County Police Department officers found probable cause to arrest Reyes for felony strangulation and abduction for a domestic violence-related incident inside the vehicle with his then-girlfriend. The woman told officers that Reyes choked her and slammed a car door on her ankle during an argument. Reyes has maintained that he did not put his hands on the woman. The charge was later reduced to misdemeanor trespassing. Reyes agreed to do community service, and in exchange, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the charge.

Reyes was also charged with simple assault in D.C. because he drove from D.C. to Virginia with the woman in the car. The case was dismissed in May.

These details came to light Thursday during Reyes’ adverse action hearing. The hearings are just one step in the long and complicated disciplinary process for MPD officers. During the hearing, a panel of police supervisors sit in judgment of officers’ misconduct and have the power to overrule punishment initially imposed by the department. A 2021 investigation by DCist and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting found that from 2009 to 2019, MPD recommended termination for at least 24 officers who were on the force; the adverse action panel blocked all but three of them.

A recent D.C. Auditor report identified other issues with the police disciplinary process in D.C. that cost taxpayers $14.3 million and forced the city to rehire 37 officers MPD wanted to fire.

The department is seeking to terminate Reyes in this case following an internal investigation. He appealed the decision to a panel that includes Commander Darnel Robinson, Captain Franklin Porter, and Captain Paul Hrebenak. Captain Francis Jenkins, Reyes’ supervisor, and Officer Alexander Martinez testified as character witnesses on Reyes’ behalf. The panel has until Nov. 28 to make a decision on his future with the department.

Here is what happened on the night in question, as described at the hearing:

Reyes and his then-girlfriend met at Bar Bao in Arlington on Dec. 9, 2021. They had known each other for three months prior after he got her number while working overtime one night on 14th Street NW, he told the panel of high-ranking officers.

The couple got into an argument at Bar Bao and parted ways. Later, they met at Rosebar Lounge in D.C., where the argument continued. In Reyes’ telling, he offered to drive her to her car, which was still in Arlington, and she agreed.

In the woman’s version of the story, according to her interview with IAD Agent Brooks, the woman initially agreed to let Reyes drive her, and the two left Rosebar together. They were talking in Reyes’ car when she changed her mind and tried to leave, but Reyes stopped her and slammed the car door on her ankle, the woman told Brooks. (Reyes says the door slam happened later, after they had arrived in Arlington. He said the woman tried to open the door and get out while the car was still moving, and he pulled the door shut.)

Either way, en route to Arlington, the woman told Brooks that Reyes was driving recklessly and that she was scared. She started repeatedly calling and texting an ex-boyfriend, telling him that Reyes had assaulted her. When the couple arrived back at Bar Bao, they both got into the woman’s car. By then, the ex-boyfriend had called police, and soon an Arlington County officer approached the vehicle where their argument was continuing.

The woman told Brooks that as the officer approached, Reyes instructed her not to say anything and implied that if he lost his job as a cop in D.C. that he “wouldn’t leave her alone,” Brooks said. The woman said she tried to mouth the word “help” to the Arlington officer, but he eventually let them go. They drove away, but a short time later, Arlington County police pulled them over. ACPD officers ran the woman’s plates and matched her car to the ex-boyfriend’s 911 call.

The woman told Arlington officers that Reyes choked her and slammed her ankle in the car door. (Reyes’ attorney Dan McCartin pointed out an inconsistency in the woman’s account: In texts to her ex-boyfriend, the woman said Reyes “punched” and “hit” her. She told Arlington police that he “choked” her.)

Ultimately, Arlington County officers arrested Reyes for felony strangulation and abduction based on the woman’s account of what happened. Reyes denied that he choked or assaulted the woman.

“She was genuinely upset in my impression, and thankful we were there,” ACPD Sgt. Kyle O’Keefe told the MPD panel on Thursday. “She was concerned Reyes was a police officer, and I took that to mean she was ruining his life in such way that he could retaliate further.”

O’Keefe said Reyes was “less than cooperative” and was surprised when they confirmed Reyes was actually a cop in D.C. because of the way Reyes was behaving. “I thought he was making it up,” O’Keefe said.

Reyes was arrested and charged in Virginia and in D.C. Prosecutors in Virginia reduced the charge to misdemeanor trespassing for getting in the woman’s car without her permission. Reyes pleaded not guilty, but agreed with the facts supporting the charge. He completed community service hours, and then the case was dismissed. He later filed to have it expunged from his record.

But while the case was pending, Brooks said Reyes violated the no-contact order. She said he acknowledged receiving a call from the woman, and talking to her on the phone. He also admitted during the hearing, for the first time, that the woman came over to his house one evening and spent the night while the order was still in place. Reyes told the panel that he told the woman not to come over, but she insisted and he gave in.

In D.C., prosecutors charged Reyes with misdemeanor assault. He rejected a plea deal, according to the court docket, and the charge was dismissed.

McCartin, Reyes’ attorney, described Reyes as a polite, hardworking officer. Reyes said he grew up in D.C. and while attending Bell Multicultural High School he became a caretaker for his younger sister and mother, who had had a stroke. He entered MPD’s cadet program, and was assigned to the Third District after graduating from the academy.

McCartin acknowledged to the panel of high-ranking officers that Reyes made some mistakes, but insisted, as Reyes has, that the officer never assaulted the woman. McCartin cited testimony from current MPD officers Jenkins and Martinez, and precedent set by other disciplinary cases where D.C. officers have been intoxicated and accused of crimes but let off with suspensions rather than terminations.

McCartin cited vague details of the precedent-setting cases where officers kept their jobs: an MPD officer involved in second degree assault, an officer found guilty of domestic assault and sentenced to 60 days in jail, an officer charged with public drunkenness in Pennsylvania and bringing their service weapon into a bar, and an officer who got so drunk at an LSU football game that they had to be taken out by police, and Captain Tatjana Savoy, who as an officer “went to her boyfriend’s house and kicked in the bedroom door.”

“Officers getting intoxicated while off duty and getting into some kind of trouble is not a rarity and those circumstances do not result in terminations,” McCartin said.

Assistant Attorney General Jeremy Greenberg pointed to evidence of assault and argued that Reyes was untruthful with investigators and uncooperative with ACPD.

“The evidence raises questions about Officer Reyes’ judgment and responsibilities as a police officer,” Greenberg said.

Robinson, the Sixth District commander who chaired the hearing, said he has no doubt that Reyes is an outstanding officer, judging by the character witnesses who spoke on his behalf. But, Robinson said, Reyes’ personal decisions “[taint] your reputation and also the image of the department.”