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.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL BLAISE SUGG-ED­WARDS

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.

MARVIN JOSEPH/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The for­mer site of Love, a night­club in North­east Wash­ing­ton that fig­ured in an al­leged 2007 as­sault.

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