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A new lawsuit alleges that a local police department has a pattern of discriminating against Black women employees, thanks in part to a Donald Trump-loving deputy chief with a history of making racist remarks. And before you ask: No, it’s not MPD.
Instead, it seems similar problems plague the Metro Transit Police Department, according to a complaint filed by Capt. Rebecca Britt in federal court on March 28. Britt claims that one of her MAGA-friendly supervisors, Deputy Chief Stephen Boehm, routinely belittled her and denied her needed resources because of her race and gender, ultimately prompting her to file an internal discrimination complaint against him. Even though investigators substantiated the allegations, Boehm remained on the force and proceeded to retaliate against Britt by denying her promotions and other benefits, the lawsuit alleges.
Britt claims that MTPD has created “a hostile and combative work environment” for Black female officers. In fact, she notes in the suit that another Black woman, Lt. Monica Hockaday, filed her own case against the department in December 2021 outlining many of these same problems with Boehm and other top brass within MTPD, yet nothing has changed. “There is no hope whatsoever that MTP will curb the racism in its leadership without intercession of the courts,” Britt writes in the lawsuit, which demands $300,000 in damages from Metro in addition to reform within MTPD.
“As a Black woman, I’m so offended by [MTPD Chief Michael] Anzallo, because he knows he has a racist in his camp and he has given that racist more power,” says Britt’s attorney, Pam Keith, who represents a variety of employees pressing discrimination claims against the city’s public safety agencies. “I am just shocked and befuddled by their response here.”
A Metro spokesperson declined to comment on the matter, citing the pending litigation, and the agency has yet to file a response to the suit in court. Yet Loose Lips will note that claims about racial animus within the department aren’t exactly a recent revelation.
MTPD has faced repeated accusations about discriminatory stops and searches leading to a variety of lawsuits from people harassed by its officers (the Metro board even agreed to assemble an internal review panel to provide more oversight back in 2020). A 2018 study by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs suggested that MTPD overwhelmingly targeted Black people at stations east of the Anacostia River for stops related to fare evasion, in particular. At-Large Councilmember Robert White even noted in a 2020 hearing that he’d heard reports from current and former officers about a “concerning culture” in the department, “including racist and sexist attitudes.”
“When you look at how police leadership handles all this, you should not be shocked about how their officers treat civilians,” Keith says.
Britt claims in the suit that she observed many of these problems firsthand basically ever since she joined the department in 1998. She observes that “Black women are at the bottom of the totem pole at MTP, are subjected to the harshest disciplinary actions, and are the least likely to be promoted into management,” with just four Black women ever reaching the rank of captain in the department’s history. And Britt noted that Black officers were routinely assigned to work downtown and in Southeast neighborhoods, since those were “considered more challenging areas,” while White officers drew suburban posts.
“Essentially, there was racial segregation at Metro Transit Police,” she claims in the suit.
More specifically, Britt says her real problems started when she was promoted to acting captain and assigned to work under Boehm in August 2020. Right away, she began feeling like she was being treated differently. Boehm declined to assign her support staff that any other captains would ordinarily receive, she says, and forced her to fill out paperwork that should’ve been another captain’s responsibility.
“Other department employees became so aware that [Britt] had to re-write or substantially edit the work of others, they called [Britt] DC Boehm’s ‘admin ‘ho,’” the suit alleges.
Britt couldn’t help but attribute racial motives to Boehm’s decisions based on his conduct. Not only did he “repeatedly yell, and engage in totally inappropriate comportment towards [Britt], humiliating her in front of co-workers,” but he developed a reputation within the department for making racist remarks, the suit alleges.
Boehm’s ex-wife, a Black lieutenant in the department, even agreed to testify about this aspect of his personality. Lt. Sherry Willis notes in an affidavit that Boehm’s “constant racist and denigrating comments and Trump fanaticism exacerbated and accelerated the breakdown of our marriage.” She felt that another deputy chief in the department, Kevin Gaddis, encouraged this behavior. Additionally, Willis claims that Boehm said “disparaging and critical things” about her sons from previous relationships, who are both Black.
Another ex-deputy chief, Warren Donald, also filed an affidavit saying he observed Boehm’s bias against many other Black employees, frequently demanding that “they be subjected to harsher punishment for transgressions than their non-Black colleagues.” Donald claims he raised these issues with Boehm directly on multiple occasions, but was ignored.
Britt claims these problems came to a head when Boehm demanded that she discipline Hockaday, a Black lieutenant, even though she was performing her duties normally. Britt refused to discipline Hockaday. She says in the lawsuit that Boehm’s demand was part of a pattern as he tried to “hide his own racist intentions behind the Blackness of the officials he co-opted and coerced into carry them out.”
Hockaday’s own case against the department has similar themes. She claims Boehm and other supervisors manufactured disciplinary actions against her in order to deny her promotions and bonuses. In motions responding to those allegations, Metro’s attorneys wrote that Hockaday’s “tenure at MTPD was a mixed bag,” and the problems she described were “nothing more than a series of discrete acts that reflect the ordinary tribulations of the workplace.” An attorney for Hockaday did not respond to a request for comment, and the case is still pending in federal court.
Britt claims that Boehm began a campaign of retaliation against her when she pushed back against his directions to discipline Hockaday. He “regularly disregarded the chain of command,” “humiliated [Britt] to her subordinates,” and even excluded her from a department award for officers involved in the response to the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to the lawsuit. Boehm said he simply didn’t know Britt assisted U.S. Capitol Police on that day, the lawsuit notes, but Britt said he repeatedly approved her reports detailing her actions during the Capitol riots.
After all this, Britt applied for a transfer to another supervisor and received one in July 2021. She then promptly filed an internal discrimination complaint against Boehm with the department, and investigators soon substantiated it—an outcome that is “extremely rare,” Keith says. Yet Boehm did not seem to face any negative consequences, and instead launched “repeated baseless and disruptive administrative investigations” into Britt’s performance, the lawsuit alleges, all of which were later dismissed.
Britt ultimately applied for a promotion to deputy chief in March 2023, only to be passed over. Keith says the department selected another officer with considerably less experience than Britt, which helped convince her that Boehm’s influence played into the decision.
“You wonder why we have such difficulty recruiting and retaining people in our police departments,” Keith says. “We throw money at the problem with hiring bonuses, retention bonuses, all that…but we’re still not getting to the root of the problem, which is a culture that retaliates against anyone who displeases management.”
That’s why Britt’s lawsuit specifically asks a federal judge to order Metro to hire an outside consultant to study and recommend changes to the internal culture. The complaint also asks for an order directing MTPD to remove Boehm from “any position in which he can use his authority to target and harm African American and/or female officers.” The proceedings are likely to play out for several months, Keith says.
This all has LL feeling pretty pessimistic about the possibility of any changes on the horizon for the department. It’s hard enough for lawmakers to force reforms at MPD, considering the strength of the institution, and that’s an agency that the Council directly controls. MTPD is a creature of Metro, and so it operates much more opaquely and with much less direct oversight, largely due to the diffuse, multi-jurisdictional control of Metro itself.
Consider that White’s efforts to take even the simple step of creating a civilian board to adjudicate complaints against the department has gone pretty much nowhere because Virginia and Maryland have to pass laws matching the District’s legislation in order to establish one. (A spokesperson for White confirmed this still hasn’t happened, despite the Council’s action back in 2020.) Meanwhile, the internal panel Metro assembled to oversee the department has faced persistent complaints about a lack of transparency.
It may take a federal judge to force changes at the department, unless Metro’s top brass ever decides to act.