Fired DC officers reinstated, awarded $14M in back pay

Three dozen D.C. officers were reinstated and awarded back pay years after being fired, including some deemed a “threat to safety,” according to a review by the District’s auditor.

The report, published Thursday by the Office of the D.C. Auditor, found that the Metropolitan Police Department had reinstated 37 fired officers and paid 36 of them a cumulative $14 million in back pay.

According to the audit, the officers had been fired for a variety of offenses and instances of misconduct — only for an independent arbitrator to later argue for their reinstatement, claiming the firings had been excessive punishment, based on insufficient evidence, or an overstep in authority.

“What we found is consistent with concerns raised by the Police Reform Commission,” D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson said in a news release. “We’re recommending legislation to put elected officials in the driver’s seat on what is and is not behavior that merits termination from MPD.”

The auditor reviewed 37 reinstatement cases, ranging from administrative issues to safety threats and failure to make arrests under city statutes.

In one case, an officer was brought back to the force after three earlier terminations and an arrest for assault with a dangerous weapon. In another, an officer had demanded free passage on a New York-bound Amtrak train.

“The most common reason an MPD termination was overturned was because a third-party reviewer (an arbitrator) thought termination was an excessive punishment for the officer’s misconduct especially in comparison with past decisions,” ODCA said. “MPD’s failure to meet deadlines, follow procedures, and provide adequate evidence were also factors.”

As of this September, D.C.’s auditor found that 15 of the 37 reinstated officers — including several who were terminated for misconduct — were still employed by the police department. Most of the 37 firings had been overturned following a lengthy arbitration process that took an average of nearly six years to complete.

The review was prompted by an earlier audit that had revealed the District had granted millions in back pay over an 18-month period to 10 MPD officers reinstated after an appeal.

ODCA recommended the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser take a number of steps to minimize subjectivity over what constitutes a fireable offense, including codifying MPD’s table of penalties, removing discipline from union agreements, and addressing inconsistencies between MPD general orders and D.C. code that have resulted in firings being overturned.

In a statement, the D.C. Police Union rebuked the report as “another swipe at police officers and their rights,” but said cases in which MPD was unable to provide evidence or meet deadlines are a sign of “wrongdoing, incompetence and outright failure” in the force’s management.

“The standard of proof required in these administrative hearings is incredibly low, and in this small sample of cases, MPD was unable to produce any evidence that the alleged misconduct occurred,” union chairman Gregg Pemberton said. “This report by the auditor confirms that.”

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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