The Sexist

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."

  • Molly Ren

    I would really like to know more about this "Verbal Judo" thing.

  • Sauce for the gander

    While the disorderly conduct statute should be revised because it has been abused by the police, the Mr Culp is protected by the same first amendment when he calls Mr Tuma a faggot that protects Mr Tuma when he says he hates the police. Nothing criminal there.

    Of course, that First Amendment does not give Mr Tuma the right to interfere with the police doing their work.....IF that's what he was doing.

    And you can bet your sweet ass that if Mr Tuma was bashed by some gay-basher, the first thing he would do would be to go running to those very same police for protection and to demand they arrest the gay basher.

  • Rick Mangus

    'Sauce for the gander', I am a gay man and I agree with you, freedom of speech is a sword that cuts both ways!

  • Cass

    Rick and 'Sauce', I'd mostly agree, from a criminal standpoint at least. If he were a regular citizen or even off-duty, I would be concerned only insofar as I'd be concerned about any other type of depressingly common hate speech--which is sadly at this point only somewhat.

    But as an on-duty police officer he's an agent of the state. What he said was in all probability not criminal, but it's certainly incredibly concerning behavior from a person who is supposed to apply the law and protect citizens without prejudice. Calling people homophobic slurs in the course of his work calls into question his ability to do his job without bias, and I do think it's grounds for internal discipline--especially because his job includes guns and the ability to ruin people's lives and reputations. If he can't do that without prejudice, then there is a serious problem, and it needs to be addressed.

  • Jacob

    If all Officer Culp had done was make the offensive remark I would agree that his actions, while distasteful, were protected by the First Amendment but arresting a man who had broken no law as a means of petty vengeance is an abuse of police power and a clear indication that Culp should not have that authority. I don't know if criminal charges are justified but I have no doubt that he should be fired and that he should be held personally liable for any costs to District taxpayers (such as legal fees, settlements or judgments, etc) resulting from his inappropriate actions.