Exclusive: Capitol Police disciplinary reports show pattern of misconduct

Soliciting sex, unsecured guns, derogatory comments outlined in court filings

 (Photo by Bill Clark, composite by Chris Hale/CQ Roll Call)
(Photo by Bill Clark, composite by Chris Hale/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 24, 2020 at 5:00am

A male Capitol Police officer allegedly used the department’s computer to solicit sex on Craigslist, send sexually explicit emails and attempt to buy an illicit drug from Qatar, according to filings in one officer’s gender discrimination lawsuit that summarizes internal department documents.

Another male officer allegedly stored sex toys in his Capitol Police vehicle, photographed himself masturbating, and took photos of a handcuffed, partially nude woman in the back of the car, the lawsuit states. A male commander allegedly asked a female subordinate to have sex with him in his hotel room.

The officers all received some form of punishment, described by an expert on police conduct as light. None of them were demoted or fired.

These are among numerous examples provided by the department of male officer misconduct outlined in publicly available court filings from an ongoing gender discrimination lawsuit filed in 2016 by officer Jodi Breiterman, who has argued she has been unfairly punished for her own misconduct.

The allegations have sparked little action so far from Congress, which oversees the Capitol Police and allocates taxpayer funds for its operations. The force is charged with protecting Congress, including lawmakers, employees, visitors and facilities. A review by the department’s inspector general of disciplinary procedures, requested by a House committee, is ongoing.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided Breiterman’s case in favor of the Capitol Police on Sept. 4, saying she violated the force’s rules and undermined her ability to supervise others. Breiterman plans to appeal the decision.

Breiterman was placed on paid administrative leave in 2015 for over 10 months and subsequently demoted from sergeant for making inappropriate comments, exchanging allegedly inappropriate text messages with her supervisors and sharing with a CQ Roll Call reporter a photo of a gun that was left in a bathroom by another officer.

Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund, who assumed the top job on the force in 2019, said the cases of male offenses provided to the court, which span from 2011 to 2017, as well as other misconduct allegations, were thoroughly investigated and personnel disciplined when allegations were substantiated.

Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund, right. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

“In some cases they were demoted or terminated,” Sund said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “However, as law enforcement agencies throughout the country are experiencing, administering disciplinary penalties is often stymied, as was the case in two recent instances where third-party arbitrators forced the Department to reinstate officers terminated for misconduct.”

Breiterman’s attorney used the examples of the male officers cited in the lawsuit to try to establish a discrepancy between the way male and female members of the force are treated. The court filings also contain details of a pattern of behavior within the Capitol Police force that until now have not been publicly reported.

The court filings describe department disciplinary records — including from its Office of Professional Responsibility — that show sexual misconduct, officers who left their guns unsecured and made derogatory statements about minorities, and incidents when information about active investigations were posted on Facebook.

“That’s a horrifying list and it indicates a real pattern. I can’t think of a big city police department, which is what I study, where there would be an equivalent list over several years,” said Samuel Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha, who is an expert on police accountability. “It’s just like it’s really out of control, and it says something about the top command of the agency. I mean, yes, they’re handing out these suspensions like they’re candy, but they continue.”

Walker said there should be a congressional hearing and more public disclosure to address these issues in the police force with approximately 2,000 sworn officers.

Capitol Police have more than 2,000 sworn officers and are responsible for a complicated jurisdiction. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sund stressed that misconduct is the exception and not the norm on his force, which he says shows integrity and professionalism.

“To disparage the reputation of the entire Department based on alleged misconduct in a few isolated incidents is unconscionable,” he said in his statement. “I have the utmost appreciation and respect for their dedication to protecting the Congress, their staffs, and the visiting public 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.”

The department, Sund added, “routinely reviews employee disciplinary cases to identify any potential patterns or behaviors, and regularly addresses employee conduct and accountability through training."

Walker, however, pointed to a more systemic problem.

“This absolutely should not continue,” Walker said. “There’s a breakdown somewhere in supervision and discipline. It seems just obvious that these suspensions just have no effect.”

Lack of transparency

Such officer misconduct information is closely guarded by the department and is difficult to obtain because the Capitol Police is part of the legislative branch and thus exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. That means there is no law compelling public disclosure.

Capitol Police take photos of the Marine helicopter on the East Plaza of the Capitol before the start of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president in 2017. The helicopter was used to transport the Obamas away from the Capitol. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

“It really seems to abut what’s considered illegal, criminal behavior in some instances, and the fact that it’s been shielded doesn’t surprise me,” said Alexis Hoag, a lecturer at Columbia Law School and civil rights lawyer.

Pete Kraska, a professor of police studies who specializes in accountability at Eastern Kentucky University, said the Capitol Police should make its misconduct records available.

“I’d like to hear any high-ranking police official or representative of the police give one good reason why these kinds of records and these kinds of instances would not be made public — they can’t,” Kraska said. “There’s no justification whatsoever.”

Hoag agreed.

“Officers are public servants. They serve the public. They are paid through public funds. Records of misconduct are in the public interest, and we give them an awesome responsibility to have arrest power and the use of lethal force,” she said. “I don’t think it should be a question that the public have access to their records of misconduct.”

In addition to possibly breaking the law, the officer who solicited sex using an official Capitol Police computer also used a work computer to discuss his sexual preferences, according to the court filings.

The disciplinary review officer who investigated this case, Senior Counsel Scharon Ball, said that “by engaging in the illegal solicitation of sex for money,” the officer had “brought disrepute on himself and USCP.” The officer had a prior violation for pointing a gun at a driver during a traffic altercation. He was given a 14-day suspension and was docked pay.

Ball is the same official who in 2015 wrote a memo calling for Breiterman to be demoted. Ball, in her penalty memo, heavily weighed the media attention that came from the photo Breiterman leaked to the press. Ball said Breiterman’s conduct negatively affected the trust Congress has in the Capitol Police, “tarnished the reputation of the Department,” and “exposed the Department to significant ridicule and damaging publicity.”

The officer who photographed himself masturbating was given three suspensions that totaled 25 days. The commander who sent his female subordinate several texts on his Capitol Police BlackBerry asking her to have sex with him was suspended for 20 days. The officer who reviewed the case said the commander’s request was “a direct request for sex by a supervisor to a subordinate.”

One officer suspected his wife — who worked at an elementary school — was cheating on him with a male teacher at another elementary school. The officer sent threatening messages to his wife, which caused the wife to cry and inform the school principal. The principal deemed the threats credible and locked down the school and another elementary school. The officer received a seven-day suspension.

From January 2015 to March 2015, a Capitol Police officer used work computers to exchange inappropriate sexual emails with women on Craigslist during his shift. He was ordered to forfeit 16 hours of pay.

Philip M. Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University who is an expert on police misconduct, said the behavior is not unique to the Capitol Police, but that the discipline handed down is not sufficient.

“I think the disciplines are light,” Stinson said.

Weapons unsecured and unattended

Capitol Police officers have a well-documented history of leaving their guns in precarious situations. That trend is more widespread than previously known, according to the disciplinary reports in the court filings.

On Feb. 8, 2017, a parking lot attendant found an unattended, fully loaded assault rifle that was left by a Capitol Police officer. The attendant picked up the firearm and gave it to a sergeant in the department. The officer received a 30-day suspension.

An officer left his loaded gun near prisoners. On April 20, 2017, the officer put his gun in a lockbox where the Capitol Police process prisoners and failed to secure the lock. He was given a 15-day suspension.

In August 2016, an officer left his loaded handgun unsecured and unattended in a gym bag in the basement of a house that he shared with other people. In one instance, the gun fell out of the bag. Witnesses said they often saw the gun unattended. The Capitol Police officer was given a 28-day suspension.

An officer left a bag with a fully loaded Glock magazine, handcuffs and security pins in the men’s sixth-floor restroom of the Ford House Office Building on March 25, 2015. Capitol Police officers from the House Division called in a suspicious package alert in response to finding the bag. The officer who left the bag got a two-day suspension. In another instance, an officer let his daughter hold his weapon; he received a formal reprimand called a CP-534.

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Mocking the deaf, others

From Jan. 23, 2015, to Feb. 23, 2016, several male officers, including commanders who rank higher than sergeant, sent around 18 photoshopped images, including one that made fun of Gallaudet University and deaf people.

An image, as described in the court filings, showed Deputy Chief Richard Rudd standing in front of Gallaudet University with a microphone saying, “Can you hear me now?”

In past years, Gallaudet University — a nationally known institution of higher learning for the hearing impaired — has hosted the congressional football game between lawmakers and the Capitol Police at Hotchkiss Field.

Another image depicted Rudd with a bullhorn speaking to a group of undocumented immigrant children: “One day, young [redacted], you will enter the U.S. illegally and become Lieutenant on a Police Department! Comprende?”

Another image included an officer next to a former Capitol Police officer who changed gender after leaving the department.

The officers involved were suspended, and the Capitol Police, in disciplinary documents, said the photos would have been highly embarrassing to the department if they were made public.

In a separate incident, an officer posted a Fox News video on Facebook and commented the following:

“Hera [sic] we go again. Violent protests, looting, hurting innocent people and business owners, targeting cops … and for what?? The mutt pos [“piece of shit”] who was killed HAD a gun, didn’t respond to verbal commands of the police officers and was shll [shot] because of 11 [sic]. If these mutts want to protest … why not send the message out to listen to the police. Sighhhhhhhhh … 7 yrs to go until retirement.”

The Capitol Police noted that “mutt” is a derogatory term and officers should not use the term to refer to anybody, including protesters. The officer was docked 16 hours of pay, according to the documents.

Other officers improperly disseminated department information, according to the court documents. On March 7, 2014, a fatal car crash took place at South Capitol and D Streets Southwest and the Capitol Police investigated the scene. An officer posted a photo of the crash on Facebook with this caption: “Drive 100 mph — drugs and alcohol — you can cancel Christmas.” Other officers posted additional photos and a video of the crime scene. The officers involved received CP-534 violations.

What happened to Fred Rogers?

In her deposition — which was conducted under oath — Breiterman said former Deputy Chief Fredinal “Fred” Rogers slept with subordinates, assaulted prisoners and sexually harassed women.

“Fred Rogers has been in a lot of trouble, and nothing has ever happened to him. And if I would have brought up the things that he said to me, nothing would have happened to him,” Breiterman said in her deposition. “I mean, he’s beat up prisoners while they were handcuffed, and he steadily moved up the chain.”

Breiterman also noted that Rogers, who retired from the department in 2018, made sexually suggestive comments to her.

“When Inspector Fred Rogers was my inspector on House side, I went to him one day about a problem, and he straight up looked me up and down and told me I know what I need to do if I wanted his help,” she said. “And you can’t report things like that because then people come after you.”

Breiterman recounted a conversation she had with a Sgt. Mendoza, whose first name was not in the deposition included in the court filings, about her relationship with Rogers:

“Sergeant Mendoza, she said to my face, firsthand knowledge, ‘You know’ — well, her exact words were, ‘You know I’m fucking Deputy Chief Rogers,’ and here she is, she’s now a lieutenant working in watch commander’s officer. The [Redacted] met on the department. They’ve steadily moved up the chain.”

Rogers is now the campus security director at Georgetown University Law Center and teaches at George Washington University. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Congressional response

The top lawmakers on committees that oversee the Capitol Police said changes are needed.

“I find such allegations very troubling,” House Administration Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren said in an emailed statement.

“The Committee held an oversight hearing on the U.S. Capitol Police last July and, in response to concerns that the disciplinary process within the Department has been handled on an inconsistent and disparate basis, I asked the Inspector General to review the Department’s discipline process late last year,” the California Democrat said. “That review is ongoing. The Committee will examine its findings closely, which will inform further Committee action.”

Lofgren added that she supports more transparency around Capitol Police inspector general reports. These reports are not available to the public.

“The Legislative Branch appropriations bill, passed out of committee earlier this year, would direct the Inspector General to review which reports can be publicly released without jeopardizing sensitive security information, and I support that proposal,” Lofgren said.

“As with any large organization there are going to be issues that arise and need to be addressed, but the overwhelming majority of Capitol Police Officers are good and we have to remember that,” House Administration ranking member Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said in an email.

Davis said his bill, the Capitol Police Advancement Act, would improve accountability among the force. Among other provisions, the measure would make Capitol Police inspector general reports available to the public.

“I also think it would be helpful for House Administration to consider the Capitol Police Advancement Act, which I introduced to improve accountability, increase transparency, and make additional reforms to protect the integrity of the entire force,” Davis said.

The leaders of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Capitol Police — Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Washington Republican — did not comment.

CQ Roll Call separately asked Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo. and ranking member Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., for statements. In response, the senators, through their senior staff, sent a joint statement.

“The Rules Committee has made clear their expectation that USCP will maintain the highest standards of professional conduct, and move quickly to address any misconduct that violates those standards,” they said in an emailed statement.

Representatives for leaders of the other Senate committee that funds the Capitol Police — Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Chairwoman Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., and ranking member Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn. — did not comment.

Representatives for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, did not respond to requests for comment.