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CBC Hopes to Broker Resolution in Capitol Police Lawsuit

The Congressional Black Caucus plans to meet with Capitol Police Board officials in an attempt to broker a resolution to a class-action lawsuit, in which the plaintiffs assert settlement negotiations have reached an impasse.

The lawsuit, filed in 2001 by members of the U.S. Capitol Black Police Association against the law-enforcement agency, includes 368 current and retired employees and alleges that the department denied promotions to, retaliated against, unfairly disciplined or fired black officers.

The CBC decision follows a briefing last Wednesday on the lawsuit by Joe Gebhardt, an attorney representing the officers, and Capitol Police officer Sharon Blackmon-Malloy, a class agent in the case.

“They feel that this is an embarrassment to the Congress to have their own police force in this sort of internal conflict,” said an aide to one CBC member. “The African-American police officers are suing the Capitol Police over alleged discrimination. They want to see that this gets resolved. It’s sending the wrong message to the American people.”

The aide said the caucus will try to schedule the meeting before the House goes into recess, but added: “It is so important that if necessary we’ll stay past adjournment to have these meetings.”

It has not been determined if the meeting would include only CBC leadership or the entire caucus.

A Capitol Police spokeswoman said Chief Terrance Gainer had not been contacted by CBC representatives by Friday afternoon.

In response to the caucus’ plans to meet with Police Board officials, Gebhardt said, “My job is to get the case moving.”

“Congress has a different job,” he added. “Congress has to make a decision as to whether they’re going to support the Capitol Police on the issue of race discrimination or if they’re going to instruct the Capitol Police to make changes and to try and settle the case with us.”

Attorneys in the case have been working to reach a settlement since February. The negotiations stalled in July, but both parties agreed in mid-September to continue talks for an additional two months.

The parties are scheduled to meet Nov. 20 with U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola to discuss the settlement, but Gebhardt said a settlement is “unlikely” in the near future.

“At this moment the settlement conference with Judge Facciola has not been canceled, but it’s highly unlikely that it will be useful,” he said.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment, noting that the litigation is ongoing.

Attorneys for both sides submitted a request mid-October seeking a status conference with U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to determine whether the case should return to the court’s active litigation calendar. In response, Sullivan scheduled conference for Dec. 4.

In a related matter, attorney Charles Day, who works with Gebhardt, took steps in July toward a second class-action suit against the Police Board, based on complaints of retaliation against officers who are involved in the initial class-action case. Officers have asserted they have been the target of unfair disciplinary action and vandalism of their automobiles.

Gebhardt has previously stated that if an agreement on “retaliation protection” were reached in the settlement negotiations, that lawsuit could likely be avoided.

On Friday, however, he said the suit would be filed in early December.

“It is significant that since the class action was filed two years ago, black officers have had to file four retaliation complaints in U.S. District Court and now the plaintiffs have to file a new class action charging retaliation against black officers that occurred during the settlement negotiations,” he said.

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