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Police, Black Officers Extend Talks

Settlement negotiations in the class-action lawsuit against the Capitol Police Board will be extended for an additional two months, based on an agreement brokered Tuesday by Magistrate Judge John Facciola.

Attorneys have been working since February to reach a settlement in the case, filed in 2001 by members of the U.S. Capitol Black Police Association. Settlement discussions had stalled in early July.

The suit, which includes 368 current and retired employees, alleges that the law enforcement agency denied promotions, retaliated against and unfairly disciplined or fired black officers. “The government attorneys indicated a strong desire to keep working on settlement discussions. The plaintiffs’ position … was that the parties were essentially at an impasse, and doubted further settlement discussion would bear fruit,” said Joe Gebhardt, an attorney representing the officers.

“Because of Judge Facciola’s strong encouragement, we decided to give the Capitol Police one more chance to come up with a comprehensive settlement, which so far they have been unwilling to do,” he added.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment on the meeting, citing Justice Department policies.

“We are forbidden to comment on the status or state of any sort of settlement negotiations or pending matters,” Phillips said.

Both sides will meet again with Facciola on Nov. 20, Gebhardt said. “The hope is that we will have a comprehensive settlement of all the issues by the time of that settlement conference,” he added.

If a deal is not reached by then, the case would proceed to active litigation in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

A host of disagreements remain to be resolved, Gebhardt said, including monetary compensation for the officers. There is “a large difference between what we’re asking for and what the government attorneys have suggested in response,” he said.

Other points of contention include a proposal by the plaintiffs that would create a temporary oversight board. The board would operate for three years and monitor the settlement agreement and issues of discrimination on the force.

The group is also seeking some personnel actions, including three promotions, one reinstatement and the correction of several disciplinary records.

Gebhardt said the plaintiffs are also seeking “meaningful retaliation protection,” noting that four complaints regarding retaliation against officers involved in the lawsuit have been filed with the court.

“They are going after our class leaders with false charges and discipline,” Gebhardt said.

Attorney Charles Day, who works with Gebhardt, took steps toward a second class-action suit against the Police Board in July, based on complaints of retaliation against the officers. If an agreement on “retaliation protection” is reached, Gebhardt said, the second class-action suit could be avoided.

Lastly, Gebhardt noted, there has been disagreement over a provision that would require the Police Board to ensure the settlement agreement will be followed by all of the law enforcement agency’s officers or they will be subject to immediate termination.

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