Black Cops File Appeal in Case Against Capitol Police

Posted September 14, 2007 at 6:22pm

More than 300 black Capitol Police officers filed an appeal last week in federal court to have their discrimination lawsuit against the department reinstated, six months after a judge dismissed all but a handful of the claims.

Magistrate Judge John Facciola recommended in March that 348 officers involved in the lawsuit had not exhausted the proper administrative remedies under the Congressional Accountability Act and thus were ineligible to move ahead. Those cases were officially dismissed on Aug. 15 by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who was the presiding judge.

But in their notice of appeal, filed Sept. 12 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the officers argue they did indeed meet the requirements of the CAA, which include attending counseling and mediation meetings.

Attorney Joseph Gebhardt, who is representing the police officers in the lawsuit, said Friday that the officers are confident they will win on appeal.

“Theirs is a case of blatant, institutional racial discrimination and the U.S. District Court has dismissed most of the case based on technicalities,” Gebhardt said.

“The black officers leading the case are upset with the Capitol Police hierarchy for opposing their discrimination complaints and never resolving their concerns,” Gebhardt added. “They are even more upset with the United States Congress for not exercising oversight for the past six years but instead simply writing checks to the Capitol Police lawyers and the U.S. attorney’s office to fight against their just cause.”

The department declined to comment on the appeal because the matter is part of an ongoing lawsuit, police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said Friday.

But Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, who served as Capitol Police chief from 2002 to 2006 and now heads the Capitol Police Board, said the department is light years ahead of where it was in 2001.

“The big specific thing that I think I began in my administration is to open the door and listen to people, and treat everybody like you’d like to be treated, and be far less petty,” Gainer said.

Capitol Police officials have worked to institute better practices and procedures in hiring, post assignments and promotions at the department, Gainer said.

The procedures “haven’t been flawless, but made it objective and made it transparent,” Gainer added. “We’re just much better today.”

Gebhardt said that while “in-your-face racial hostility” has declined in the department, discrimination issues remain.

“The biggest lingering concern is that the black officer complaints were never addressed, and so there is a bitter feeling among many black officers that the racism hasn’t been put down sufficiently,” he said.

It has been a lengthy effort for the police officers involved in the lawsuit. The lead officer in the dispute, Sharon Blackmon-Malloy, originally filed the lawsuit in 2001. Because she was among the eight officers whose case was permitted to proceed, Regina Bolden-Whitaker and Ave Maria Harris will serve as the lead appellants, according to court documents.

Since the lawsuit originally was filed, nine of the officers in the case have died, Gebhardt said, a “cruel irony” because only eight plaintiffs were left after the Capitol Police’s motion to dismiss.

Gebhardt said he would continue to represent those officers who died on behalf of their families.