The Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia has been tainted with allegations of police misconduct following two highly-publicized cases in which officers were accused of sexual abuse charges involving minors.

In the wake of that scandal, department Chief Cathy Lanier faced tough questions during a D.C. City Council hearing on Jan. 24. Three days later, three lawsuits totaling $11 million were filed against the District government and individual officers alleging wrongful death, police abuse and racial profiling in other incidents.

A police spokeswoman said the department could not comment on ongoing litigation, but Lanier did respond by e-mail to some of the concerns raised in the hearing and by the complaints.

Despite what recent headlines might suggest, incidents of police corruption in the agency are not on the rise, she said.

“There is no surge,” Lanier said. “Arrests of sworn members were down 17 percent in 2013 compared to 2012. Again the vast majority being off duty and traffic related offenses.”

Compared to other police departments of its size, the D.C. law enforcement agency requires its officers to report off-duty arrests.

“As such, we know that the majority of arrests involving MPD members are for offenses not related to their official position, such as DUI (driving under the influence) and domestic violence,” Lanier said. “Conversely, each year dozens of officers across the country are indicted for criminal acts that were committed while on duty and using their position. Some of these crimes have included murder while on duty; civil rights violations such as abusing prisoners; offering protection for drug dealers; bribes and kickbacks. We have not seen that sort of corruption here in MPD.”

But the three lawsuits, filed by attorneys Malik Shabazz and Greg Lattimer from Black Lawyers for Justice, claim otherwise. Two of the plaintiffs, both young Black men from Southeast Washington, said they were unjustifiably stopped and frisked by police officers, and one said an officer broke his hand while forcing it into handcuffs.

The other complainant is Carolyn Bell, who claims that her son, 34-year-old Cleman Sweptson Jr., was wrongfully shot multiple times and killed by an unidentified officer from the department’s Seventh District in the early morning hours of April 9. Those three incidents are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the trampling of residents’ constitutional rights by police officers, particularly those from the Seventh District, the attorneys alleged. That precinct was home to the officers accused of prostituting and taking photos of naked underage girls in the two earlier cases.

“Unfortunately two highly publicized incidents involved members from the Seventh District,” Lanier said. “That does not mean that Seventh District officers are more prone to misconduct. As it relates to racial profiling, we investigate any allegations of racial profiling and we have orders in place that prohibit it. Members of the public are encouraged to report any misconduct to MPD’s Internal Affairs or the Office of Police Complaints.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO