Eight case studies
The Washington Post’s findings illustrate the obstacles that local police agencies face in holding their own officers accountable, even in some cases where there is little dispute about the facts underpinning the disciplinary proceedings.
Appeals and arbitration findings sometimes compel departments to put fired officers back on the job.
THE EIGHTYEAR FIRING
In the District, the Metropolitan Police Department fired officer Michael Blaise Sugg Edwards after he was convicted of misdemeanor sex abuse over an incident with a teenager in his police car.
Eight years later, the department is still fighting to keep the 35-year-old off the force after the agency in 2015 was ordered to rehire him.
Sugg-Edwards, who was born and raised in the District, joined the department in 2005. He was nominated to be rookie officer of the year and to receive an achievement medal for stopping an armed rape.
On Nov. 16, 2007, Sugg-Edwards was on patrol when he saw a 19-year-old woman dressed all in white walking alone near Love, a now-closed warehouse nightclub off New York Avenue in Northeast, court records show.
The woman was there to celebrate her 19th birthday with friends but had to go back to a friend’s car because she needed her identification to enter the club.
Sugg-Edwards pulled up in his marked patrol car. He allegedly told the woman that a club supervisor had sent him to escort her safely to her friend’s car and invited her to get into the patrol car, according to court records.
She said that once she was in his vehicle, he drove to a gas station and parked between two tractor trailers. Sugg-Edwards asked her, “What are you trying to do to get into the club?” she told police, adding that he began touching her thigh, genitals and breasts.
She said she pushed him away, got out of the car and reported the sexual assault to two off-duty officers at the nightclub. She was seen on video from outside the club getting out of the squad car, and officers reported that she was crying when she approached them.
Sugg-Edwards was the only uniformed officer in the area who fit the description that she gave to police. A police official called Sugg-Edwards and asked whether he had “picked up a female near the Club ‘Love’?” according to an affidavit for his arrest. “‘Yes, I did,’ ” he said.
Sugg-Edwards said he drove her to a gas station to use the bathroom but denied assaulting her, according to court records.
“The official reminded the defendant that he had been warned in the past about talking to female patrons near the night club,” the affidavit said.
The department put Sugg-Edwards on unpaid leave, and records show that he began working at a toy store in Maryland.
In June 2008, Sugg-Edwards was convicted at a bench trial of misdemeanor sexual abuse. He was sentenced to a 100-day suspended sentence, one year supervised probation and $1,000 in court fees.
Then-D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier recommended to the trial board — a group of three officers — that Sugg-Edwards be fired.
The trial board, however, concluded that firing Sugg-Edwards was too harsh a penalty and recommended a reprimand. Fellow officers testified that Sugg-Edwards had an otherwise clean rec ord, a reputation as a “nice guy” and that the sexual assault was “totally out of Officer Sugg-Edwards’ character,” records show.
On Sept. 14, 2009, the department’s human resources director decided to fire Sugg-Edwards anyway, saying that the trial board “ignored evidence proving the grievant was guilty” of the misconduct.
The police union filed an appeal arguing that the D.C. code and municipal regulations barred the department from imposing discipline harsher than what the trial board recommends.
That appeal was not decided until January 2015, more than five years later. Attorneys for the union and the police department blamed the delay on a backlog of arbitration cases.
Arbitrator Sean J. Rogers ruled that although there was enough evidence to prove Sugg-Edwards’s misconduct, the union’s contention was correct. Rogers ordered Sugg-Edwards reinstated with back pay and benefits.
City officials tried again to keep him off the force: They appealed the arbitrator’s ruling to the Public Employee Relations Board, which resolves disputes between the District and labor organizations. The department argued that it had the authority to fire the officer, even if the trial board disagreed.
The review board upheld the arbitrator’s original ruling in April 2015.
The police department then appealed the review board’s decision in court. The case is pending.
For now, Sugg-Edwards remains off the force, and the city has yet to pay him as ordered by the arbitrator. His annual salary was $58,759 when he left the department eight years ago.
Sugg-Edwards did not respond to calls and emails from The Washington Post seeking comment.
Police union attorney Marc L. Wilhite said that Sugg-Edwards wants to go back to policing and that the department needs to “follow the law” and reinstate him.
Police officials, citing union rules and local privacy laws, declined to discuss the case. Police Chief Peter Newsham said that in general he is frustrated that the department has been compelled to reinstate officers with histories of misconduct. Since 2006, the department has had to rehire at least 39 officers, records show.
“Police officers go into people’s homes . . . and they have the authority to take people’s freedom,” Newsham told The Post. “And you’re going to return somebody into that role, somebody who has that responsibility and authority, who’s been involved in extreme misconduct? I don’t think anybody is comfortable with that.”
Reynaldo Goyos fatally shot an narmed man during a traffic stop. A review board called the shooting unjustified.
Matthew Belver told a man whom he had handcuffed that he could go free if he fought and defeated the officer.
The former site of Love, a nightclub in Northeast Washington that figured in an alleged 2007 assault.