D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier on Disorderly Conduct, Pepin Tuma, and “Verbal Judo”
On Friday, Pepin Tuma filed suit against the District of Columbia—and MPD officer James Culp—for violating his constitutional rights. Tuma's suit concerns a year-old U Street incident, in which Tuma announced in a sing-song voice, "I hate the police"—and Culp responded by arresting Tuma for disorderly conduct and calling him a "faggot."
Yesterday, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier released a statement on the incident. "I take concerns about the appropriate use of police powers very seriously," Lanier said. "Members who are found to have abused their authority are subject to both criminal and disciplinary penalties up to and including termination." So, was Culp canned over the slur-happy arrest?
Lanier refused to comment on the disciplinary penalties applied to Culp. But according to Lanier, Culp was not, at least, subject to criminal penalties over the arrest. The D.C. police's Internal Affairs Bureau "immediately launched a criminal investigation into the matter and subsequently referred the arrest to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for further criminal investigation and prosecution, if appropriate," Lanier says—but the Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Culp.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Tuma, is looking for more than just discipline—it wants to revise D.C.'s "disorderly conduct" statute to reduce the possibility for police abuse. The ACLU told Fox 5 that "disorderly conduct" is "a false charge used every time an officer thinks someone has spoken disrespectfully or harshly to them, so we want that changed." Lanier disagrees with the ACLU's characterization of the law—she says that "disorderly conduct" is a necessary charge to prevent people from "urinating in public" or "blocking the sidewalk or road and refusing to let others pass." But she adds that D.C. police are committed to working alongside the ACLU to review the statute.
Lanier will say that Culp's tactic isn't exactly the D.C. police's preferred method for dealing with citizens who mouth off to cops. That would be something called "Verbal Judo."
"[B]elieve me, police do not make an arrest every time an officer thinks someone 'has spoken disrespectfully or harshly to them,'" Lanier's statement continued. "That happens everyday, and we train officers in a widely used tactical communication strategy (Verbal Judo) to defuse these situations." Lanier added that "Verbal Judo" is "by no means a magic wand," but that "it would be a mistake to let this case in which an officer is alleged to have acted outside both the law and Department policy drive the current discussion about revisions to the law."