WASHINGTON - All eyes are on the nation's capital. In just a month and a half, a new President of the United States will be sworn in, and hundreds of thousands of people from across the country and the world will gather for the 45th Presidential Inauguration. The spotlight is now on the DC police department, officially without a permanent chief since Cathy Lanier left her post two months ago.
Since then, Peter Newsham-- an assistant chief-- has been serving as the department's interim chief. He'll remain in that position at least through the inauguration, and for now, he's the front runner to hold the permanent position.
The city says there have been more than 100 applicants for the job. A process that has been completely halted as Mayor Bowser filled other top vacancies.
For now, Peter Newsham is at the helm of the DC police department and his desire to be top cop of a police force is no secret. Last year, he was a finalist for a chief job down in Bradenton, Florida, and just this summer he was a finalist for the police chief position in Phoenix, Arizona. Both times a finalist other than Newsham was given the job. Here at home there are plenty who ask: is Peter Newsham fit for the job?
At 25 years old, Peter Newsham started his career with the Metropolitan Police Department as a rookie officer. For the past 14 and a half years, he has stood in the shadows of two police chiefs-- passed up for the position of the city's top cop once before.
Peter Newsham has had a long history of both personal and professional scandals. The 1990s and 2000s were plagued with allegations of alcoholism and domestic violence, a history of love affairs, as well as the mass unconstitutional arrest of 400 people at DC's Pershing Park and a scathing third-party report uncovering the department's mishandling of sexual assault cases while Newsham was at the helm of the MPD's Investigative Services Bureau.
Veronica Best's 11-year-old daughter was raped in 2008. She says Peter Newsham, then an assistant chief, played a role in the mishandling of her daughter's case. She spoke to reporter Marina Marraco.
Marina Marraco: "Did Peter Newsham lie to you?"
Veronica Best: "In my opinion he did."
Marraco: "Is Peter Newsham a liar?"
Best: "In my opinion he is."
Marraco: "Did Peter Newsham ruin your daughter's life?"
Best: "He did more than ruin my daughter's life--my husband, myself, family members, close friends. It's been eight, nine years and we're not over it."
Best's daughter was raped by multiple men at just 11 years old. Her daughter, who is still emotionally recovering from the 2008 aggression, was charged with filing a false report after her account of events were found to be inconsistent-- despite several medical accounts detailing her sexual injuries and the findings of multiple samples of semen on her underwear. Best says it was Newsham who allowed investigators to charge her 11-year-old daughter over locking up the men who raped her.
"He perpetuated the wrong, and I say that because he knows there are officers on the force that should've either been removed or suspended or something-- not sent to another desk," Best said. "I don't know about his past and I don't know how he started out, but somewhere long ago, he lost the ability to be empathetic and it's not there, and I think he would lie--like he would tell the truth if it would benefit him."
Newsham, 52, had a protective order filed and granted against him by his ex-wife in 2002. Records show a litany of alleged domestic violence encounters involving Newsham and his former wife, the mother of two of his children who testified to these allegations in a family court hearing: "He in turn, turned around, busted my teeth, gave me a black eye, busted my lip. I still have the scar. I still have the scar, your honor, where he busted my teeth, where my two teeth almost fell out."
Dental records entered as evidence the 2002 hearing show Newsham's then wife claimed she was "struck in the mouth." She also testified, "We had a physical confrontation. I picked up a little knife as though that was going to protect me against a 6'4" man. I'm 5'1" and I told him if he ever touched me again--I would kill him."
These cases have brought to light past instances where his police powers were revoked. Newsham was also brought on the stand to testify and was asked about these incidents by his now ex-wife's attorney:
Attorney: "Mr. Newsham, you have a violent temper, don't you?"
Newsham: "No, I don't."
Attorney: "You have a serious drinking problem, don't you?"
Newsham: "No, I don't."
Attorney: "You had your gun taken away for…"
Plaintiff attorney: "Objection! Move to strike."
Judge: "Overruled. You can answer."
Attorney: Haven't you had your gun taken away from you because you were found passed out on the sidewalk with your revolver?"
Newsham: "In the early 90s, I had my weapon taken. Yes."
During this family court hearing, allegations from both parties were made--painting a picture before the court of a volatile relationship. Newsham said on the stand he never hit his wife.
Attorney: "Have there been occasions where you and your wife have argued?"
Attorney: "Have those arguments on occasion led to a situation where there was a physical confrontation between the two of you?"
Attorney: "Have you ever initiated or been physical against your wife?"
Newsham: "No, never."
A Montgomery County judge ultimately granted Newsham and his wife joint custody of their children-- with Newsham having final authority.
His actions have also cost the city millions of dollars.Then Assistant Chief Peter Newsham admitted in court he ordered the arrest of almost 400 protestors, journalists, and bystanders during the 2002 World Bank-International Monetary Fund protests at Pershing Park. The Federal District Court and the Appellate Court found the arrests to be "ludicrous."
The arrests reportedly cost the city more than $10 million to settle a lawsuit filed by those wrongfully arrested. The attorney who filed the class-action lawsuit, Carl Messineo, works for the Civil Justice Partnership. He says officers "hogged tied them wrist to opposite ankle and left them in that painful position for 10, 15 hours and left them on the gymnasium floor. Why? Because people were engaged in dissent and they wanted to shut it down."
The arrests that followed the 2002 demonstration protesting meetings between the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also reportedly cost taxpayers nearly $3 million just to defend Newsham and then Police Chief Charles Ramsey. Not only did Newsham order the wrongful mass arrest, but he was virtually allowed to investigate himself because at the time, he was also head of the Office of Professional Responsibility--the ethics branch of the police department.
It was ultimately discovered that the log of events that would have certified and documented the chain of command and orders made that day completely vanished. The evidence somehow disappeared in the immediate aftermath of the arrests. Messineo added, "You have the mass false arrest of 400 persons, followed by a massive coverup. Peter Newsham has never apologized, he's never indicated that what he did was wrong. I believe that what the facts show, he knew it was wrong. if you look at what the court opinion found, the court opinions found that no reasonable police officer could have ordered these mass arrests."
Newsham's final destination within the department lies ultimately with the city's mayor and will need a green light from the city council. Veronica Best has a final plea for Mayor Muriel Bowser.
"Please think about what you are about to do," Best said. "You are about to unleash a monster in this city, that will not have any restraints and in years to come, you will have to hold yourself accountable as well. Not just whatever he does, but hold yourself accountable. This is the wrong decision for the people of this city."
FOX 5 reached out to the Metropolitan Police Department for comment on this story. The department responded with the following statement:
"More than a decade ago, Chief Newsham was involved in a divorce and protracted custody dispute. It was one of the most difficult experiences he has had to go through in his life. Like any loving parent, the thought of possibly losing custody of his children weighed heavily throughout those proceedings.
During the custody dispute, unfounded allegations were lodged against him. Those matters were adjudicated in a public hearing, and he was awarded custody. The allegations that were raised were subsequently reviewed and investigated by internal affairs for misconduct.
The Interim Chief, a Commander at the time, was not charged with any misconduct. The court records are public, and he invites anyone to read them and draw their own conclusions, but out of respect for his children and his ex-wife he chooses not to speak publicly on this matter."
MPD responded to questions on the 2008 rape investigation and the mass arrests at Pershing Park with this statement:
"The incidents you referenced occurred many years ago and the media has reported extensively on both matters over the years. They have long since been adjudicated."
We have also attempted to reach Mayor Bowser and her communications team repeatedly over the course of 36 hours, and we are still waiting to hear back. FOX 5 extends an open invitation to both Mayor Bowser and Interim Chief Newsham to come on to any of our FOX 5 News programs to respond to the story.