D.C. Sex Offender Law Struck Down 09/23/01
GLAA submits testimony on Metropolitan Police Department
PO Box 75265
Washington, DC 20009
February 26, 2002
The Honorable Kathy Patterson
Committee on the Judiciary
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004
Dear Ms. Patterson:
I am sorry that the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA) was not able to testify in person at your February 25 oversight and performance hearing for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). But in view of the extensive dealings GLAA has had with the MPD over the last year, I thought we should share our perspectives and evaluations for the record of your hearing.
The value of community-oriented policing was amply demonstrated in the past year by MPD's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU), which has increased both its visibility and its rank with the assignment of Sergeant Brett Parson to work with Officer Kelly McMurry on the unit. The GLLU's leadership in the response to the assault and fatal shooting last summer of Alexander Gray showed the importance of community relations to police work. This was an extremely sensitive case and was sensitively handled. Sergeant Parson's subsequent investigation and classification of the assault against Gray as a hate crime, despite pressure from the U.S. Attorney's Office to classify it as a mere assault, showed both a respect for the Bias-Related Crimes Act and an understanding by the police that they are working for the people of the District.
The GLLU's dogged efforts to combat aggressive panhandling in the club zone off South Capitol Street in Southeast helped keep a promise made by Chief Ramsey to protect club patrons after the police moonlighting restrictions he championed forced an end to the hiring of off-duty officers for security at the clubs. One repeat offender, Leroy "Pops" Thomas, is finally in jail after being arrested repeatedly for aggressive panhandlng, assault, and violating a judge's stay-away orders. The reason repeated arrests were necessary was the refusal by the U.S. Attorney's Office to take Mr. Thomas' crimes seriously. Without consulting the police or the community, the U.S. Attorney reached a plea agreement with Mr. Thomas on January 11 in which all but two contempt charges were dropped, and he was given probation. Finally, after Mr. Thomas was arrested yet again in the same area, Superior Court Judge Ross sentenced him to jail on February 5. The U.S. Attorney was only going to seek a one-month sentence, but the judge made it 180 days less time served after Thomas lied and claimed that the police had kidnapped him, forcibly taken him to the Unit Block of O Street SE, and then videotaped him to show him in violation of the stay-away order. While it's good that Mr. Thomas is getting some jail time, this case reflects poorly on the U.S. Attorney's Office. Their behavior has consistently reflected the basic political reality that they don't work for us. Many thanks to Sergeant Parson and Officer McMurry for their faithful efforts on this.
In addition to their crime-fighting efforts, our friends in the GLLU have remained highly visible in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, visiting and speaking with a wide variety of community organizations and making it clear that their door is always open. Considering how things stood when GLAA started three decades ago, we could hardly have anticipated such cooperation and respect from our police department. The example for this accessibility is set by Chief Charles Ramsey, who meets regularly with members of our community as well as with the NAACP-DC Police Task Force, on which GLAA is represented. Recently, Chief Ramsey and Executive Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer gave a tour of the new video surveillance center to representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, GLAA, and others, and Chief Gainer pledged to show us a draft of regulations for the use of this technology within thirty days. While of course we will have our disagreements, we appreciate this level of openness and responsiveness to our community.
The training of MPD cadets in how to respond professionally when dealing with members of various minorities, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, is ready to start up next week after a five month hiatus. The training had been cut while MPD renegotiated the contract with the University of the District of Columbia. The contract provides for a range of people from different minorities to address the cadets. During those five months there have been several recruit and lateral transfer classes that have gone through the police academy that have not received the training. These classes need to return for this training program. Additionally, MPD needs to find a way to continue the training each year while the UDC contract is renegotiated.
Despite our protests to Chief Ramsey, the veteran officers are still not receiving training by a gay person. This training stopped about two years ago. Yet Chief Ramsey has repeatedly pointed out that the problems with inappropriate police behavior comes from the veteran officers and not from the new recruits. The critical element to the training is that a gay person actually talks to the cadets and officers. This is an element that cannot be replicated by non-gay people talking about us.
The current trainer on gay issues is Karen Pettapeice. In addition to her many years of training experience, she has a background in law enforcement that has helped her deal effectively in the classroom with the officers. We strongly recommend that Chief Ramsey use her for more trainings, and prevent problems which can only reflect poorly on the department, officers and the District.
We would like to briefly address one issue that has surfaced in the last month in connection with the death of Douglas Pettus, a gay man murdered in his apartment in Northwest Washington. Questions have been raised over the homicide detective's decision not to confirm the victim's homosexuality and over the detective's decision not to release a picture of the victim for 3 weeks after the discovery of the body.
We are resisting the temptation for a rush to judgment against the MPD in this case, partly because the facts have not yet been firmly fixed and partly because we are not yet aware of what legal issues may be at stake here. As a matter of general principle, we believe that the MPD should not withhold information on a victim's sexuality solely to placate his or her family. By the same token, we want the Department to release pictures of gay murder victims as rapidly as possible so that the community can be properly alerted and so that friends and possible witnesses can come forward with potentially valuable information. But we are not aware of a pattern of previous cases where the Department has violated these principles, so we are content to let the situation with the Pettus case mature further before passing judgment.
Before concluding, we feel it is appropriate to remind the Council of the decision handed down this past September by a federal judge striking down key portions of the District's so-called Megan's Law. The court's decision vindicated many of the objections that we, the ACLU, the Public Defender Service, and other civil libertarians raised against this legislation while it was being considered by the Council in 1999.
GLAA and others were especially incensed by the bill's refusal to allow sex offenders any judicial recourse to keep themselves off a public registry of sex offenders by demonstrating that they no longer constitute a danger to society. Our concerns were dismissed with contempt by the U.S. Attorney's office and by the then-Chairperson of the Judiciary Committee, Harold Brazil. The Council foolishly followed their lead.
But U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle ruled emphatically that the U.S. Constitution cannot be so casually ignored. "While the government unquestionably has a valid and laudable interest in protecting the public, and in particular our youth, from being victimized," Judge Huvelle wrote, "the beneficence of its aims [does] not excuse it from according to the offenders subject to the statute the due process protections to which they are entitled under the constitution."
In praising the decision, Robert L. Wilkins, formerly with the Public Defender Service, observed: "The judge ruled that the District cannot cut corners and deem all offenders dangerous without individual assessment and giving people hearings. We had offenders who had been deemed rehabilitated by the system, yet they were still being labeled dangerous by the statute."
The judge's decision is consistent with a number of other rulings striking down those versions of Megan's Law that suffer from the same defect as the District's. We urge the Council to admit its mistake and to rewrite the law, rather than let the U.S. Attorney's office waste taxpayer dollars through a prolonged and futile appeals process.
Thank you for your attention. We will continue to work with Chief Ramsey and your committee on behalf of improved public safety for all the citizens of the District."
cc: All DC Councilmembers
Chief Charles Ramsey
Wanda Alston, Special Assistant to the Mayor