Former Capitol Police chief acknowledges ‘systemic failure’ in supervising new officers
Matthew Verderosa testifies in sex discrimination lawsuit against department
Former Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa acknowledged Tuesday there was a “systemic failure” at the department to properly supervise officers on probationary status before he took the top job in 2016.
Speaking at the sex discrimination trial brought by former Capitol Police officer Chrisavgi Sourgoutsis, who alleges she was wrongfully terminated in 2015 because of her gender, Verderosa said he was concerned she “wasn’t properly evaluated from a performance standard.”
The department routinely failed to complete evaluation reports for new officers, according to Verderosa, who was the assistant chief of police at the time. In three instances, reports on Sourgoutsis’ progress were not completed. Verderosa said he remedied the problem when he became head of the Capitol Police.
Sourgoutsis says she was retaliated against for cooperating in the investigation and reporting of alleged sexual harassment by a supervisor, Sgt. Tyrone Vias, who has since been promoted to lieutenant.
Her lawyer, R. Scott Oswald, painted the police force charged with protecting Congress as a boys club that makes exceptions for male transgressions.
“If you’re one of the boys, you get a slap on the wrist,” he said. “If you’re a woman, you get dismissed.”
Sourgoutsis has alleged that right from the start of her training to become a Capitol Police officer, she was held to different standards than male trainees. According to her complaint, she was constantly berated, belittled and disciplined for minor violations that her male colleagues committed without consequence. During training, she was disciplined for infractions such as chewing gum, wearing the wrong color socks, using profane language and missing a class picture for graduation.
On Tuesday, Capitol Police counsel Rafique Anderson said that Sourgoutsis had a difficult time making it past training and that the force invested considerable time and effort to ensure she had all the help she needed to become an officer.
The Capitol Police, Anderson said, allowed Sourgoutsis to graduate from the training academy because “they believed in her.”
After graduation in November 2014, Sourgoutsis entered a one-year probationary period as an officer. On May 10, 2015, she received a disciplinary action for not wearing her proper uniform shirt. The next day, according to the Capitol Police, she earned a reprimand for being distracted while guarding a door at the Capitol Visitor Center.
“She reverted to form,” Anderson said. Verderosa also said Tuesday he recommended Sourgoutsis’ firing from the police force.
But James Konczos, a former Capitol Police officer and labor committee chairman, said Sourgoutsis was “very dependable” and would be willing to step in to cover shifts at the last minute.
According to Sourgoutsis’ complaint, in August 2015, the Capitol Police investigations department interviewed her as a witness regarding allegations of sexual harassment made by female officers against Vias, her supervisor at the time. Sourgoutsis said in the interview that Vias called her and other women “chica” and “senorita,” and made obscene pelvic gestures more than once in front of her and other officers. She also noted that he “checked out” women’s bodies, made “weird and inappropriate” comments to and about women, complimented her Facebook profile picture and said she should wear makeup more often.
Shortly before she was set to complete her probationary period, the Capitol Police informed Sourgoutsis it was recommending her termination on Oct. 29, 2015.
The case continues Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is presiding.