Chanel Dickerson (Courtesy photo)
Chanel Dickerson (Courtesy photo)

Ten Black women who used to work or have left the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department [MPD] have filed a class-action lawsuit against the District of Columbia government alleging rampant and unchecked racism and sexism at the law enforcement agency and have retained a noted civil rights firm to handle the case.

Pam Keith, an attorney with The Temple Law Offices in Northwest, held a news conference on Sept. 22 with the plaintiffs and owner of the firm, Donald Temple. Keith said the time is right for Black women to take a stand against the discrimination taking place at MPD.

“We have received calls and referrals dealing with the unfair culture that exists at MPD over the years,” she said. “We are experienced at suing the city because we do it all the time. However, this lawsuit reveals symptoms of a deeper disease in that department and we decided to address it on a class basis.”

The 208-page amended complaint filed in the District’s federal court rests with senior U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton. The complaint lists the ten plaintiffs suing the District naming D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine as defendants.

The document details the plaintiff’s racial and sexual accusations along with either lethargic, dismissive or retaliatory actions of the department’s EEO division, immediate supervisors and upper management.

The lawsuit includes 700 present and former police officers who served from Jan. 1, 2011, to those currently employed. The complaint calls for creation of a $100 million fund for officers who have been adversely affected by the department and seeks $250,000 in damages for each plaintiff along with a court-appointed official to oversee the agency’s personnel division.

Racist, Sexist Incidents Alleged at MPD

The lawsuit details numerous incidents of racial and sexual abuse at MPD during the police chief tenures of  Cathy Lanier and Peter Newsham, Contee’s predecessors. The plaintiffs said Lanier and Newsham either ignored discrimination complaints or supported retaliatory behavior against them or any complaining Black female. Black female officers had a tendency to stay under abusive supervisors more than others even if they requested a change of workplace, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said, in contrast, white male officers “are highly favored and forgiven for very serious transgressions.”

“For example, on one occasion, a white male sergeant took out his penis and urinated into a bottle while riding in a police vehicle with a female officer, instead of asking to pull over and urinate in a bathroom or in the woods,” the lawsuit said.

Chanel Dickerson, an assistant chief, talked about years of being propositioned for sex, enduring comments about her figure, being denied promotions and under Newsham, blocked from participating in staff meetings that pertained to her position. Keith said Dickerson’s situation has become troubling.

“Chanel has all of the qualifications to be the chief of police or lead a major police agency someday,” Keith said. “The culture at the police department didn’t help her reach that goal and that is why we are taking this to court.”

Responses to the Lawsuit

A spokesperson for MPD declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit but told DCist/WAMU in an email “the Metropolitan Police Department is committed to treating all members fairly and equitably throughout our organization.”

“We take these allegations seriously and we will be reviewing them thoroughly and responding accordingly,” the spokesperson wrote.

When asked about the lawsuit, Bowser didn’t address the matter directly at a Sept. 22 news conference but expressed pride in the professionalization of the department and said workers of any D.C. agency should move up due to their abilities “and nothing else.”

Former Ward 5 advisory neighborhood commissioner Kathy Henderson describes herself as a pro-police citizen who supports more resources for MPD and denounces the “defund police” movement. Nevertheless, Henderson said if the allegations are found to be true, MPD leaders must take the appropriate disciplinary actions to correct the situation.

“I support law enforcement,” Henderson said. “I support professional policing. You have rogue individuals in every organization. People should be held accountable for their actions.”

A leading Black law enforcement organization has also weighed in on the lawsuit filing.

“The National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Inc. wishes to offer its support to the 10 current and former Black female members of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. who have recently filed a class-action lawsuit against their agency claiming racial and sexual discrimination, hostile working environment and a culture of intimidation,” the association said in a statement.

“Their plight is just another glaring example of how female officers are treated in their constant and continuous battle to gain respect and dignity in a White male-dominated atmosphere. The general causes and complaints of these plaintiffs’ lawsuit are, in fact, nothing new to Black law enforcement officers who daily face issues of systemic racism, bigotry, retaliation, and undue disciplinary action within agencies whose white-male dominated culture condones and perpetuates demeaning, degrading and disrespectful discourse and actions by and between officers.”

“The mere fact of its filing would seem to provide evidence of an ongoing pattern, practice and custom of supervisory approval of abuse, intimidation and denigration of Black female police officers, actions that have apparently been ignored or encouraged by agency administrators.”

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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