The nine-year effort to fire D.C. police officer Daxzaneous Banks began in March 2008 when a court employee asked why the undercover officer had signed in as having attended a criminal trial that had been rescheduled. Banks had been paid for being available to testify, although the trial had not occurred.
Internal affairs began to investigate and found that on at least 10 occasions, he had allegedly forged the signatures of several prosecutors on his time sheets, records show.
“You affixed these signatures knowing them to be improper and fraudulent,” according to an account of the case filed in court by the D.C. Attorney General’s Office.
Banks’s conduct forced prosecutors to abandon charges against a suspected cocaine dealer because the officer was the sole witness to the alleged drug transaction, according to the records. The accusations of forgery, prosecutors told internal affairs, raised “serious veracity issues” about his potential testimony in criminal cases, according to their account.
Police investigators concluded that Banks had violated four policies: being involved in the commission of an act that would constitute a crime; conduct unbecoming an officer; inefficiency; and fraud.
On Sept. 9, 2008, then-Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier recommended to the trial board, a three-member panel that oversees officer discipline, that Banks be fired. After a two-day hearing in March 2009, the board found Banks guilty of violating three of the four policies, and in June 2009, he was fired.
Shortly thereafter, the union appealed Banks’s firing, arguing that the department had missed its deadline to discipline the officer.
Marc L. Wilhite, the union attorney who represents Banks, said the officer denies forging the signatures. Banks “expressed repeatedly he believed he had a case scheduled that day,” according to the District’s summary of the case.
In the appeal, the union argued that the city began its investigation in April 2008 and was required by law to discipline Banks within 90 business days of starting the investigation. Wilhite said Lanier’s September 2008 recommendation to fire Banks was made at the end of 96 days — six days past the 90-day deadline set by District code.
The department argued that its investigation did not truly begin until May 2008 and that it had met the 90-day deadline.
Because of a backlog of union arbitration cases, Banks’s appeal languished until 2016, according to Wilhite. He said Banks, meanwhile, worked as a lifeguard and at other jobs.
Finally, in September of last year, arbitrator Homer C. La Rue sided with Banks.
“It is clear that the department failed to meet its obligation to bring charges against Ofc. Banks within 90 days of the incident,” wrote La Rue, a local labor attorney.
La Rue ordered that Banks — after seven years off the force — be reinstated with full back pay and lost benefits, and that his personnel record be expunged of the termination. At the time of his firing, Banks was earning $68,023 annually.
The District appealed the decision to the Public Employee Relations Board, which reviews disputes between the District and unions, but the reinstatement was upheld.
In January, the D.C. Attorney General’s Office appealed the case in D.C. Superior Court, arguing that any harm caused to Banks by missing the deadline is outweighed by the police department’s interest. The appeal is pending. To date, the Metropolitan Police Department has not returned Banks to active status.
Wilhite said that Banks, the son of a District police officer, wants his job back and has been under pressure from his family to return to policing.
Banks is one of 26 officers nationwide ordered reinstated since 2006 because arbitrators ruled that police officials had missed deadlines as outlined in local laws or union contracts. Of those, 23 were from The District. Six of those officers were ordered reinstated in the past two years, records show.
The deadline issue has troubled the department for decades and has been documented in stories in The Washington Post and in the Washington City Paper.
Many departments have time limits under union contracts or local laws to complete internal investigations to prevent cases from dragging on.
The District’s deadlines are among the shortest: A survey last year of 81 major police departments found that at least 21 departments imposed deadlines, ranging from 30 days to three years, according to Campaign Zero, a police accountability group.
For many years, the District code imposed a 45-day deadline for a city employee accused of wrongdoing to be investigated and discipline recommended, said Mark Viehmeyer, an attorney for the police department and acting director of its labor relations branch.
The City Council repealed the rule in 1998, calling the deadline arbitrary. In 2004, the City Council took the issue up again because the police and fire unions were complaining that officials were taking too long to pursue disciplinary cases, Viehmeyer said. The council then imposed a 90-day deadline for the police and fire departments, he said.
Separately, he said, the police union contract since the early 1980s has imposed a second deadline: Police officials have 55 days to fire an officer once they decide to do so.
District officials said in interviews that they are meeting the deadlines and that cases are overturned because arbitrators misinterpret when the clock begins.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said the department in the past two years has taken steps to eliminate the ambiguity about when the internal affairs investigation begins so that authorities can meet arbitrators’ interpretation of the 90-day deadline.
“That was our main point of contention with the arbitrators,” Newsham said. “They were continually changing when the 90-day clock started ticking.”
Viehmeyer said that in many of the cases in which the department was ordered to rehire officers, the underlying misconduct was never in dispute.
“There are a lot of cases where the arbitrator’s analysis I think is sort of belied by some of the facts in the case,” he said.
Wilhite, who has represented many of the officers who were reinstated, said the rules are clear.
“There are lots of other angles that MPD has been using to try and avoid the reality, which is once the 90 days has been violated, that case must be dismissed,” Wilhite said.