Congress

Capitol Police officials say former officer deserved to be fired despite procedural mistakes

Sourgoutsis alleges she was discriminated against because of her gender

Former U.S. Capitol Police Chiefs Kim Dine and Matthew Verderosa, shown here in 2016, testified in the Sourgoutsis trial. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Current and former Capitol Police officials testified Wednesday that former officer Chrisavgi Sourgoutsis deserved to be fired, even though the department made procedural mistakes while she was on the force.

Sourgoutsis alleged the Capitol Police discriminated against her based on her gender in a lawsuit filed in 2016. Her civil trial in federal court continues this week. 

The former officer claimed the department fired her because of her gender and that she was retaliated against because she was a witness in the sexual harassment investigation of her male supervisor.

Lawyers for Capitol Police and the police officials who testified Wednesday paint Sourgoutsis as a poor fit for police work. They claimed she began racking up rule violations soon after she started her training. 

Kim Dine, who was chief of police when Sourgoutsis was fired in 2015, was among the witnesses on Wednesday. When Dine was chief, quarterly reports evaluating officers over the course of their first year of duty were routinely not completed.

These reports “must be considered” when making the final decision of whether to fire a probationary employee.

In the case of Sourgoutsis, none of her quarterly reports were completed when it came time to fill out the fourth and final assessment of her job performance. That was described as a “systemic failure” by former Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa, Dine’s successor.

“Regardless of how her performance was monitored, it didn’t negate her actions,”Dine also testified on Wednesday. 

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Sourgoutsis received two command disciplinary infractions during her probationary period as a new sworn Capitol Police officer: one for a uniform infraction and another for sitting on a retaining wall while guarding a door at the Capitol Visitor Center. Her superiors alleged that she was distracted from guarding the door.  

Dine lambasted Sourgoutsis for failing to follow the rules while on duty. He said Sourgoutsis’ conduct was “egregious.”

Dine testified that he didn’t ask whether the termination recommendation he approved originated from a first-line supervisor. Dine also said he didn’t recall whether he was aware that the quarterly reports weren’t completed. 

Deputy Chief Chad Thomas, who approved  firing Sourgoutsis, said that decision was based on “the totality of that record.”

The Whole Record

Over the course of six days of testimony, attorneys for the Capitol Police and Sourgoutsis have debated how long she was on probation and how long her violations should have been considered. 

The Capitol Police contend the probationary period for Sourgoutsis—and all new officers—is 18 months. Her lawyers say training academy violations  should not be considered and an officer should have a clean slate once they graduate from training.

Kelly Scindian, the department’s lawyer, has characterized Sourgoutsis as an employee who repeatedly broke the rules from the outset of her employment. That included seven incidents during training. Sourgoutsis’ training violations ranged from uniform violations — such as wearing the wrong color socks — to chewing gum in class and missing her initial class photos because she was using the bathroom.

Sourgoutsis also said to a superior that she didn’t want to “go turbo bitch” on a group of loud colleagues and used the term “asshole” in a separate instance, Scindian said. Sourgoutsis also got in trouble for using Skype in the cafeteria on the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center grounds, which was forbidden.

“You failed to follow, repeatedly, basic rules,” Scindian told Sourgoutis when the former officer was testifying earlier this week. 

Sourgoutsis was placed on disciplinary probation by Lt. Glenn Brogan during training. The violations — CP-550s — are not disciplinary and could be positive or negative notes, Brogan testified Wednesday.

“First six weeks was rough,” Brogan said of Sourgoutsis’ performance at the outset of the training academy.

She graduated from the training academy in November 2014.

“She did well. She met the standards,” Brogan said of the way she finished training.

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 7: Tyrone Vias of the U.S. Capitol Police leaves the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthousel on Thursday Nov. 7, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Lt. Tyrone Vias was among the witnesses who testified in the sex discrimination case filed by Chrisavgi Sourgoutsis against Capitol Police.(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Post Grad

On May 10, 2015, Sourgoutsis, was working a double shift when a supervisor noticed she wasn’t wearing her proper Capitol Police shirt and instead had on a white T-shirt with a bulletproof vest.

The next day, while employees from the Architect of the Capitol were working on a door with masks to prevent them from inhaling noxious fumes, Sourgoutsis was photographed by another officer sitting with a worker. She was cited for diverting her attention from the point of entry.

These two official command disciplines were entered into Sourgoutsis’ file. When she met with Verderosa to discuss them, she testified that he told her to put the matters behind her.

“You can still have a long and successful career here at the United States Capitol Police,” Sourgoutsis said Verderosa told her at a July 28, 2015 grievance meeting.

On Aug. 18, 2015, Sourgoutsis was interviewed by Sgt. Mark Shutters in an internal investigation looking into allegations of sexual harassment by Tyrone Vias, who at the time was a sergeant. Sourgoutsis said in the interview that Vias called her and other women “chica” and “senorita.”

At trial, Sourgoutsis said she witnessed Vias “making inappropriate sexual pelvic thrusts while on duty.” She added she saw Vias do that in close proximity to her and to other females many times.

“I would notice him on many occasions leering at me,” Sourgoutsis said of Vias.

Vias, Sourgoutsis said, made comments about the way she looked on her Facebook profile picture, including about how she wore her hair down, her makeup, and that she looked pretty.

“I remember feeling violated,” Sourgoutsis said.

Vias remained her direct supervisor while the investigation was ongoing.

They Were Already Messed Up

Inspector Eric Waldow testified last week that he decided to recommend firing Sourgoutsis even after he realized the quarterly reports were not completed by Sgt. Maria Willis — the direct supervisor she worked with most closely — and without input from Sourgoutsis’ other direct supervisors.

Willis completed the final evaluations for all probationary officers under her charge, with the exception of Sourgoutsis. Waldow completed Sourgoutsis’ final report and gave her an “unsatisfactory” rating. He said he did not ask Willis for any earlier quarterlies on Sourgoutsis’ performance.

“The policy for completing the quarterly reports had already been messed up,” Waldow said.

Under Capitol Police rules, “Prior quarterly ratings must be considered when making the final determination regarding the retention of the probationary employee.” And recommendations regarding potential termination during the probationary period “should begin with the employee’s first-line supervisor,” according to the department’s directive.

“I didn’t follow it,” Waldow said of the Capitol Police protocol.

All three of Sourgoutsis’ first-line supervisors — Willis, Vias and Sgt. Joseph Moroziewicki — testified that she met expectations. Willis and Moroziewicki said Sourgoutsis was a “good officer.”

Male officers have been disciplined for violations before their probationary periods ended — like Sourgoutsis — but those men were not fired. Examples include male officers sleeping on duty.

Waldow learned Sourgoutsis was being interviewed by the Office of Professional Responsibility, the division that investigates allegations of misconduct, on Aug. 18, 2015.

Nine days later, Waldow issued Vias a performance note telling him to address subordinates in an “appropriate manner.” Waldow sent a recommendation to fire Sourgoutsis to Thomas on Sept. 4, 2015.

Vias has since been promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Waldow is now a deputy chief and Thomas is an assistant chief.

Brogan, who oversaw Sourgoutsis at training in Georgia, discussed her in a 2016 email exchange with the Capitol Police human resources specialist who told him she’d been fired.

“Nice to hear about Sourgoutsis — we counseled her and tried to coach her along with documentation, etc. while she was here. I agree with you-not the type of environment for her,” Brogan wrote. “Her classmates told us that she told them she really didn’t want to be in law enforcement — she applied with USCP for the health care. Or as we like to say down here ‘it looks like he/she is here only for the benefits package.’”

Closing arguments will start Thursday morning.

Sourgoutsis, who now at age 35 lives with her parents in New York and works at her brother’s restaurant, says different.

“I feel like they didn’t want a strong, educated, hard working, female police officer,” Sourgoutsis said from the stand earlier this week.

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