By Petula A. Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
When the homeless man walked from the cold drizzle into Philip Eure's office yesterday, he was offered a chair in a wood-paneled room, and he told his story, uninterrupted from beginning to end, a story about a beating by police. He laid his hospital records on the table and described fruitless attempts to get the attention of the police internal complaint system.
"I think he was just so happy to have someone finally listen," said Eure, the executive director of the District's new Office of Citizen Complaint Review. "When we were done, he said: This is beautiful-someone is actually listening to me.' "
Yesterday was the first day the office was open for business. After that first complainant left through the plain, white door, Eure added: "We can't assure him his complaint will be sustained. But we took the complaint, and now the process begins."
This is the intricate dance of accessible compassion and stern impartiality Eure hopes will rebuild the police department watchdog group that was disbanded in 1995, when it became mired in a backlog of nearly 1,000 cases and lost the faith of the community.
The DC Civilian Complaint Review Board was established in 1980, and it was quickly swamped with complaints. Members tried to review the cases themselves and clashed with police who sometimes refused to cooperate with a system they called biased against them.
So the DC Council abolished the board in 1995. In 1999, the council revived it through legislation that created a different type of board.
"We have qualified investigators…preventing the problems previously seen when board members looked at each of the cases," said Michael Sainte-Andress, one of the four board members appointed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).
The biggest differences are the $1.2 million budget and Eure, a Harvard University Law School graduate who spent 11 years with the Department of Justice, board members said.