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Court rules against APD veteran who sued Alexandria to become assistant police chief

The Franklin P. Backus Courthouse at 520 King Street in Alexandria (staff photo by James Cullum)

After weeks of waiting, Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Katie Uston denied a petition to promote Alexandria Police Department Captain Monica Lisle to the rank of assistant police chief.

Lisle, a 29-year APD veteran, is a white, gay woman who has fought for more than a year to become the assistant chief of police. She sued the city after City Manager Jim Parajon refused a three-member city grievance panel’s order to promote her to the position after finding that she’d been harmed and discriminated against in her pursuit of the job.

In her decision, Uston wrote that City Manager Jim Parajon has the sole authority on hiring and promoting in Alexandria, and that the grievance panel exceeded its authority in demanding that he promote Lisle to one of two open assistant police chief positions.

Uston wrote in her decision that she would not restate the city’s “alleged failure to follow established procedures and standing practices in this selection process,” and that the panel went outside of its limited scope.

“While the panel may order such relief as it deems necessary to remedy the harm shown to have affected the grievant (Lisle), the actual scope of that relief, while not clearly defined, is clearly limited,” Uston wrote in her decision. “Any relief ordered must be consistent with written personnel policies of the City. Nowhere is the Panel empowered to promote an employee. That power is instead reserved to the City Manager.”

Lisle’s attorney Will Thetford said his client was disappointed by the ruling and is looking at appeal options.

“I do hope the city keeps one of those positions open for her,” Thetford said. “The panel said that Monica Lisle should be in that position and is qualified for the position.”

A flawed process

The grievance panel was comprised of an Alexandria Police Department lieutenant, a deputy director of planning, construction and facilities, and a staffer with the Department of Planning and Zoning. They found on July 3 that APD violated 10 city procedures in the effort to fill the vacant position. Those violations included improperly posting the job announcement in the summer of 2022, appointing under-qualified officers to question candidates, appointing an all-Black panel that “improperly” considered race, and tanking Lisle’s application with unfairly low scores.

On July 1, however, Parajon’s officer amended city administrative regulations so that only he – not a grievance panel – can promote employees in the city of Alexandria.

Parajon and Police Chief Don Hayes then submitted affidavits to the court acknowledging that they discussed “concerns” that had been raised regarding the hiring process last October. Parajon allowed the process to continue despite those concerns, and he told the court that he had nothing else to do with filling the position until Hayes finally selected now-Assistant Police Chief Easton McDonald.

Former Alexandria Police Chief David Baker is an Alexandria Police Foundation board member, and said that the optics of the hiring failure reflects poorly on the department’s leadership.

“I wish someone in the decision-making posture in the city would have corrected whatever was going wrong in this process and redid the whole thing,” Baker said. “I know this department, and there will be lingering ill-will, finger pointing and mistrust. None of that is good for the city, and I find it sad and unnecessary and I wish they’d handled it better.”

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