The Volokh Conspiracy

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Pretty Demanding Standards at the D.C. Police Department


Perhaps too demanding, though who knows (and it may well be that the punishment was suitably modest). From 2021 D.C. Office of Police Complaints 21-0072, 2021 WL 6804783 (decided Dec. 10 but just posted on Westlaw) (I'm focusing here on only one of the two complaints, against SUBJECT OFFICER #2):

On the evening of the 2020 presidential election, November 3, 2020, COMPLAINANT #1 and his wife, COMPLAINANT #2, and children attended an event at NW, WASHINGTON, DC, in downtown DC. One of their children was to perform at the event featuring Go-Go music. The Go-Go band was playing on the bed of a truck at the location. There were also protests happening at this time and location….

[At some point in the] evening, COMPLAINANT was arrested by MPD. COMPLAINANT was put in the police vehicle wagon and awaited transportation off the scene. SUBJECT OFFICER #2 approached indicating that he was responsible for transporting COMPLAINANT.

SUBJECT OFFICER #2 approached the wagon and asked WITNESS OFFICER #9 and WITNESS OFFICER #10 if COMPLAINANT was wearing handcuffs or zip ties. They indicated that they did not know. An officer standing there told SUBJECT OFFICER #2 that COMPLAINANT would be aggressive. SUBJECT OFFICER #2 shined his flashlight into the transport vehicle. He said, "You got handcuffs on, dude? Or wire cuffs?" COMPLAINANT did not respond. SUBJECT OFFICER #2 repeated, "You got handcuffs on?" COMPLAINANT did not respond.

SUBJECT OFFICER #2 said, "Are you high? Do you understand English?" COMPLAINANT said, "Is your fucking mother high, bitch?" SUBJECT OFFICER #2 said, "Are you high?" COMPLAINANT said, "I'm high with your mother, bitch." SUBJECT OFFICER #2 said, "I'm glad you asked. Say hi to her for me." COMPLAINANT #1 continued talking and using profanity. SUBJECT OFFICER #2 said, "Whatever you say, handsome." With a sing-song tone, SUBJECT OFFICER #2 said, "Have a nice day." COMPLAINANT stopped talking. With a sing-song tone, SUBJECT OFFICER #2 said, "Have a nice day." COMPLAINANT continued talking using profanity and racial slurs. SUBJECT OFFICER #2 said, "That's fine." COMPLAINANT briefly stopped talking. He then started rambling again. SUBJECT OFFICER #2 said, "Make sure you say hi to everybody for me." COMPLAINANT #1 kept rambling and using profanity.

SUBJECT OFFICER #2 said, "Is that the worst thing you can really come up with? Seriously? Is that the worst thing you can come up with?" COMPLAINANT #1 said, "Shut the fuck up then. Is it bothering you, nigger?" With a laughing tone, SUBJECT OFFICER #2 said, "Nothing's bothering me." COMPLAINANT said, "You fucking nigger. Shut the fuck up, nigger." SUBJECT OFFICER #2 said, "Whatever you say, handsome." COMPLAINANT kept rambling and using racial slurs. SUBJECT OFFICER #2 laughed….


MPD "members shall: [b]e courteous and orderly in their dealings with the public." Specifically, "[m]embers shall perform their duties quietly, remaining calm regardless of provocation to do otherwise." MPD General Order 201.26 (effective April 5, 2011) Duties, Responsibilities and Conduct of Members of the Department, Part V, Section C Conduct Toward the Public, No. 1. Further, "all members shall [r]efrain from harsh, violent, coarse, profane, sarcastic, or insolent language. Members shall not use terms or resort to name-calling, which might be interpreted as derogatory, disrespectful, or offensive to the dignity of any person." Id. at Part V, Section C, 3. These principles are also adopted in the standards used for arrest procedures: "prisoners and suspects shall be treated in a fair and humane manner; they shall not be humiliated, ridiculed, taunted, or embarrassed." Id. at Part V, Section D Conduct in Arrest Procedures, No. 1(a)(1)…..

SUBJECT OFFICER #2 not only responded to COMPLAINANT #1's use of profanity and statements about his mother in an unacceptable manner, but he also escalated the engagement with COMPLAINANT by calling him "handsome" and telling him to "have a nice day" in a taunting manner. SUBJECT OFFICER #2 engaged with COMPLAINANT #1 in a manner inconsistent with expected conduct of an MPD officer. Those expectations demand that despite COMPLAINANT #1's disrespectful language and conduct, SUBJECT OFFICER #2 should have remained professional. Particularly during this era of heightened tension between the public and law enforcement, officers' conduct should rise above the conduct of the public.

As the General Order on the Duties and Responsibilities of members of the MPD states, "the personal conduct and attitude of the police officer is of paramount importance" to strengthen the relationship between police and the community. Here, SUBJECT OFFICER #2 abused his position of authority and demonstrated a profound lack of professionalism expected of the MPD. In conclusion, SUBJECT OFFICER #2 engaged in conduct and used language toward COMPLAINANT #1 that was insulting, demeaning or humiliating in violation of D.C. Code § 5-1107 and MPD General Order 201.26.

{The defenses offered by SUBJECT OFFICER #2 fall flat. This examiner recognizes the exhaustion members of the MPD must have experienced particularly during the weeks and months surrounding COMPLAINANT #1's arrest. However, the circumstances do not create an excuse for lack of professionalism. If an officer is unable to carry out their responsibilities with professionalism and respect under stress, alternatives such as relying on fellow officers and excusing themselves from the situation, counseling, de-escalation training or seeking mental health leave may be appropriate.}

The officer's reaction ("calling him 'handsome' and telling him to 'have a nice day' in a taunting manner") struck me as understandable given the provocation ("fucking mother," "I'm high with your mother," "You fucking nigger. Shut the fuck up, nigger."). But perhaps it's good that the police department is demanding a high level of verbal restraint even under provocation (and again I note that the punishment might well have been correspondingly light).