Council Submits Questions to Elrich on Police Chief Search

Council Submits Questions to Elrich on Police Chief Search

Public interview with Chapman has not been scheduled

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Tonya Chapman

Tonya Chapman

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The Montgomery County Council has sent County Executive Marc Elrich more than 40 questions for him and his police chief nominee, Tonya Chapman, to answer.

The questions cover topics such as the process Elrich used, controversial aspects of Chapman’s background and her policing philosophy.

Other topics include domestic violence, Chapman’s time as police chief in Portsmouth, Va., and her views about police-community relations in Montgomery County.

The council submitted the questions on Aug. 15 as it gets ready to interview Chapman in the coming weeks. Council members hope to get responses from Elrich and Chapman before the council returns in September from its monthlong recess.

“Council President [Nancy] Navarro has indicated her intent to schedule an interview with your selected candidate as soon as possible. Your responses to these questions will assist the Council in its comprehensive evaluation of this critical appointment,” council analyst Susan Farag wrote in an Aug. 15 email sent to Elrich, Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine and others in the executive branch.

Chapman became the de facto nominee on July 17 after Takoma Park Police Chief Antonio DeVaul withdrew his name from consideration as one of two finalists for the job.

Elrich interviewed more than 20 candidates over the summer. The final four, in addition to Chapman and DeVaul, also included Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones.

The next chief will succeed Tom Manger, who resigned in April after 15 years on the job.

Although some council members have met informally with Chapman, an official transmittal has not yet been sent to the council – a formality in which the county executive sends the candidate’s name and background information to the council for confirmation.

Once that step occurs, the council can schedule an interview. The council’s questionnaire refers to Chapman as the “presumed candidate.”

A five-vote majority among the nine council members is required to confirm Chapman.

The “background” questions posed to Elrich deal with how the candidates were vetted and who was responsible.

These questions also refer to controversies associated with Chapman from her time as police chief in Portsmouth, Va. One was her decision to award a medal of valor to an officer indicted on two felony counts after allegedly shooting a burglary suspect in the back in October 2017, which was first reported by several media outlets in the Portsmouth area. A jury trial in the case is scheduled for Nov. 18.

“Was the County Executive aware that Chief Chapman awarded a Medal of Valor to an officer for actions he was later criminally charged for, before choosing this nominee? Is he comfortable with the judgment Chief Chapman demonstrated in this incident?” one question asks.

Many of the council’s background questions also deal with Chapman’s departure from Portsmouth, which she says was due to “systemic racism,” but that the city manager said was simply an “employment issue” within the department.

Two questions ask Chapman about an anonymous complaint about an “alleged domestic violence incident and cover-up,” as well as whether Chapman herself was ever been involved in a domestic violence situation.

Council member Gabe Albornoz said Friday afternoon that the domestic violence incident was detailed in an anonymous letter sent to the council in an envelope that contained no return address. Albornoz declined to comment further on the details of the alleged incident.

“I questioned the validity of it [the letter], but as part of our due diligence, it’s something we have to ask,” he said.

Albornoz said he met with Chapman a few weeks ago privately and thought she was a “very impressive candidate.” But he said he still has questions about Chapman’s time in Portsmouth and hopes the council’s collective questionnaire will “seek clarity on what happened leaving her position.”

Albornoz said some of his other outstanding questions are on the council’s list.

“I had some questions about the makeup of the interview panel and the process that they used,” he said.

Council member Tom Hucker, speaking Friday while on vacation in Washington state, said Navarro asked all council members to submit questions for Chapman. Hucker said he was not aware of the questions that referred to the alleged domestic violence incident.

Neither Navarro nor Council Vice President Sidney Katz could be reached for comment Friday afternoon. The county executive’s office had not responded to a message as of Friday afternoon.

Chapman did not respond to a request for comment on LinkedIn.

Elrich has said Chapman’s name was leaked to the media. Among the “process questions” the council has posed is whether Elrich intended to first share his nominee confidentially with the council and get feedback, as had been the past practice.

Other process questions are related to who sat on the various panels Elrich’s office organized to conduct interviews with candidates over the summer. Three questions deal with the hiring of the Bethesda firm Krauthamer and Associates to assist in the search.

The third section of questions is directed at Chapman and asks her about policing policies. These questions ask her to clarify her definition of community policing, how she would incorporate diversity into recruiting, and her philosophy on building relationships with labor organizations.

The questions posed to Chapman also ask whether she would have handled two police confrontations that occurred this year at McDonald’s restaurants in White Oak and Aspen Hill differently. In one incident, an officer used the N-word toward four black men. In the other, an officer kneed a suspect in the back of the head. The officer in the excessive-force case is set to go on trial in December for second-degree assault and misconduct. In the case racial slur case, the officer was assigned to “desk duty.”

“Incidents in Aspen Hill and White Oak have made it clear that a different approach is needed to how the police interact with members of the public in a variety of circumstances. What new trainings would you recommend be implemented to better train officers on how to handle a wider variety of scenarios with effective de-escalation techniques?” one question reads.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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