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Government and People
Testimony of Carl Rowan, Jr.
Before the Committee on the Judiciary
October 10, 1997
As one who has spent the last decade fighting for significant reforms in the Metropolitan Police Department, it truly pains me to give the testimony that I will present today. I have no doubt whatsoever about the sincere desire of the MOU partners to rebuild and reform the MPD, and many of the moves that they have made deserve our support and applause. Unfortunately, the MOU partners have committed two grievous errors that may have the effect of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They have arrogantly conducted their business under a cloak of secrecy that has managed to offend and antagonize the very citizens who support reform, and they have placed the credibility of their reform program in the hands of a police chief who lacks integrity, ability, character, and leadership. In both cases, the MOU partners have stubbornly refused to back away from horribly flawed policies, and in the process, have done severe damage to their own credibility in the eyes of MPD officers and citizens. My testimony today will focus on the issue of Chief Soulsby's performance.
Let me be blunt: Chief Soulsby is the least impressive, most inept Chief that this city has endured in my memory. He is the living embodiment of the very culture of cronyism, incompetence, and poor performance that the MOU partners want to eliminate. By now, everyone knows that I believe that Chief Soulsby should be fired. What you may not know is that in March of this year, after much lobbying from people close to the Chief, I decided to give the Chief the benefit of the doubt. I was told that, whatever his shortcomings had been in the past, he was a new man and was committed to reforming the department. Not only did I cease my criticism of the Chief Soulsby, I also sat down with him, face to face, on March 26, 1997, to provide him with information that I believed needed immediate action. Much of what we discussed concerned the Homicide Squad. I told him that the closure rate was plummeting, that the commander was a disaster, that the unit morale was extremely low and that little work was being done. I told him that he needed to get on top of that situation immediately or else it would come back to haunt him.
The Chief responded by assuring me that he was way ahead of me, was already aware of the problems in the Homicide Squad, had already concluded that Captain Dreher had to go, and had already identified his successor. Major changes were coming soon. But months went by with no action at Homicide. Finally, six months later, media reports surfaced detailing many of the same problems, and there was Chief Soulsby, like the ethically bankrupt police chief in the movie "Casablanca", expressing shock and dismay that such problems existed in his department. In went Booz-Allen to provide him with political cover, and soon the "old" Soulsby was in full swing, scapegoating everyone in sight except himself and his cronies, Asst. Chief Fitzgerald and CID Commander Hoppert. Suddenly, the same Homicide Squad that Janet Reno hailed as a model for the nation just two years ago was now, to hear the Chief explain it, just a bunch of incompetents running an overtime scam. Soulsby was everywhere in the media, exposing the fact that detectives were drawing overtime working on cases that were already closed. This may come as a surprise to the Chief, but in our system of justice, after a case is closed with an arrest, we have this thing called a "trial" that requires a great deal of preparation by police and prosecutors. That is not to say that, in a squad of 120 investigators, there aren't some bad apples trying to generate some undeserved overtime. However, Chief Soulsby failed to mention that their task was made infinitely easier in 1996 when the Chief eliminated the plan that had been implemented, prior to his becoming Chief, to protect against such abuse. If this Committee takes a close look at what has actually occurred in the Homicide Squad over the past two years, you will see that Chief Soulsby and his hand-picked team have dismantled a very effective system, destroyed the morale of the investigators, ignored warnings of many serious problems, and now have mounted a strategy which amounts to little more than: Admit to nothing, deny everything, and make counter-allegations. But there are other witnesses here today who can give you first hand information about that. Let me tell you about one important issue that I discussed, face to face with the Chief.
On March 12, 1997, I gave testimony to this Committee about the failure of the Homicide Squad to follow through on an investigation that linked an aide to the Mayor to a 1995 kidnapping and homicide of a local mobster, Zack Bryant. In 1996, a source in the Homicide Squad gave me access to the file which confirmed that the Mayor's aide had quickly become the focus of the investigation. Their theory was bolstered when the squad's top informant provided then-Commander Hennessey with information that not only stated the involvement of the Mayor's aide, but also provided the possible motive for the crime. Hennessey's informant was a man who had provided extremely accurate information to both the MPD and the FBI which had closed nearly two dozen serious felony cases, including five or six homicides. Incredibly, the case was not pursued, Hennessey was suddenly yanked from the squad, and his informant was never contacted again. After my testimony, the Chief dismissed it, saying that I had simply gotten the wrong name of the suspect. He said that it was actually a man who had a similar name to that of the Mayor's aide. Well, I tracked that man down and found that at the time of the crime, he was lying on his death bed in a federal prison in Missouri, suffering from cancer. He actually died a few days after the date of the 1995 kidnapping and murder. Sounds like a pretty good alibi to me.
On May 26, 1997, I told Chief what I knew about the Zack Bryant case, and told him that, in the event that he was being deceived by his subordinates on the matter, he should personally review the file and have someone interview Captain Hennessey and the informant. . His official response to the City Council, dated March 25, 1996, repeats the same erroneous "mistaken identity" nonsense that could easily have been disproved had he followed my simple advise. He said that he would, but ultimately did none of those things and the result is that the City Council has been given bad information, again. Let me add that I spent months tracking down the informant and spoke to him face to face. Based on my professional experience, I have concluded that there is no way that an investigator could fail to take this person seriously. The case remains open, the trail is cold, the informant no longer trusts the police department, and everything about this case stinks.
Let me conclude by saying that what has saddened me most about this sorry spectacle is the fact that the Control Board and the MOU partners have conducted themselves in a manner pitifully reminiscent of the style of blame avoidance made famous by the Mayor. Rather than just admit that they made a serious blunder in retaining Chief Soulsby, they have chosen to attack the messengers who bring them ample evidence of the Chief s incompetence, and impugn the motives of anyone who dares to question the Chief's performance. They are so invested in the Chief that their egos won't let them back down, so they are trying to trivialize what is a very serious situation. In the process, they are damaging their reform effort as well as their personal credibility. This is not about mayoral politics or personalities or city council attendance records. It's literally about life and death. It's about giving the public a police department that it can trust and be proud of. It's about having a Chief who possesses a passion for excellence, not a penchant for excuses. The citizens of this city are pretty smart. We will know when that happens. We won't need the MOU partners to tell us. We also know that we will never have a quality police department without quality leadership at the top. Let's say good-by to Chief Soulsby and get on with real reform.
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