Chief Wins Whistleblower Lawsuit
“This is a clear violation of the District of Columbia Whistleblower Protection Act,” said Metropolitan Police Department officer Hilton Burton, as he initiated a lawsuit against MPD Chief Cathy Lanier and the District in August 2012.
But two weeks ago, on Feb. 11, after less than a day of deliberations, a D.C. Superior Court jury rejected Burton’s whistleblower lawsuit.
Burton was demoted two ranks and transferred from his position in the Special Operations Division after he provided a police escort to actor Charlie Sheen nearly four years ago. Lanier and the department received numerous complaints about the escort, and Lanier testified in June 2011 before the D.C. Council that the officers involved in the escort acted outside of department regulations.
On April 19, 2011, Sheen traveled from Dulles International Airport to D.C. He received a police escort in order to make an appearance at an event at Constitution Hall. Sheen was so impressed by his escort that he tweeted with a photo attached: “In a car with Police escort in front and rear! Driving like someone’s about to deliver a baby!”
After the details of the Sheen escort were revealed, MPD released a statement informing the public that the incident was under investigation. The statement also said that it wasn’t departmental practice to utilize emergency equipment for non-emergency situations.
In the lawsuit, Burton claimed that MPD did not have a “clear policy in place to safeguard the health and safety to the public as it relates to non-dignitary escorts.” At the time of the Sheen incident, Lanier told the Washington Post that the department did not give escorts to celebrities.
"There are limited circumstances where we do police escorts,” Lanier said in April 2011. She explained that those circumstances are based on the need for security and that protocols are followed.
The two-week civil trial drew dozens of spectators. Lanier and other officers took the witness stand and testified about whether prior to the Sheen escort D.C. police had a long-standing policy of escorting celebrities. Lanier said that Burton’s demotion was performance-related and had nothing to do with Burton’s statement to the Council, but he believes it was retaliation for questioning the veracity of the chief.
“The police and the citizens of the District are hurt by this decision,” Burton said. “They are basically telling everyone that Lanier can do and say whatever she wants and get away with it.”
Lanier said in a statement released after the verdict that she appreciated ”the jury’s commitment to finding the truth.” “Although it was difficult to listen to attacks on my credibility, the truth came out in the end,” she said.