WASHINGTON -- The District owes $900,000 to be split among five black city police officers after a federal jury concluded they were retaliated against after filing racial discrimination complaints.
The officers were part of an elite unit before their commanding officer, Lt. Ronald Wilkins, and other department officials retaliated against them for complaining about racial discrimination in June 2006.
Court documents say the department cited Wilkins, who is white, for dereliction of duty and providing false statements to internal investigators. Wilkins remains on the force, and the officers' attorneys allege in court documents that after being reprimanded, Wilkins was given a more prestigious position.
"The department is aware of the 2006 allegation and subsequent court decision," police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said. "At this time, the department intends to appeal this decision." Wilkins did not return calls for comment.
According to documents, the officers first filed a racial discrimination complaint with the department in the form of an anonymous letter on June 16, 2006. The five were working in the 1st District's Focus Mission Unit, a group that mostly targets vice crimes, when the unit's leadership seemed to have determined who the anonymous signers were.
In the weeks following, the five officers were "denied information that they needed to carry out their duties effectively and safely," their attorneys wrote in documents to the court. "Specifically, they were not given the time and location of observation posts, and were not informed of armed robbery suspects in their vicinity. In one case, they were left out of the unit's execution of a search warrant."
On Aug. 24, 2006, the five officers filed official complaints with the District's Office of Human Rights and the federal government, charging the police department and Commanding Officer Wilkins with civil rights violations. Court documents state that within a month, all five officers were taken out of the unit and transferred to lesser positions.
Wilkins, documents said, passed word around the department that the five were troublemakers and they've been pushed around ever since. "This is just the beginning of such lawsuits," says District police union chief Kris Baumann. "Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg."