Chinese signatures on graduation certificates upset northern Virginia police chief

FAIRFAX, Va. — A northern Virginia city has been barred from a nationwide police training academy after the city’s chief complained about Chinese signatures on trainees’ graduation certificates.

Herndon Police Chief Maggie DeBoard complained that the academy’s director, Maj. Wilson Lee, used Chinese characters to sign the certificates graduates receive when they complete their training at the Fairfax County Criminal Justice Academy.

In an email sent last month and obtained by The Associated Press, DeBoard told Lee: “I just found out that the academy graduation certificates were signed by you in a different language, not English. This is unacceptable to my agency. I do not want our Herndon officers to receive these and I request that they receive certificates signed in English, the language they are expected to use as officers.”

On March 18, Thomas Arnold, the county’s deputy director for safety and security, wrote to DeBoard to inform her that the county was terminating Herndon’s ties with the academy.

In a statement, Herndon Town Manager Bill Ashton said the town is investigating the incident.

He defended DeBoard. “It is unfortunate that Chief DeBoard’s recent interaction with the Fairfax County Criminal Justice Academy has been deemed discriminatory. I have known Chief DeBoard personally for over twelve years and this interaction is completely inconsistent with the dedicated public servant I know,” said Ashton.

The city of Herndon is part of Fairfax County, just outside the nation’s capital, but the city has its own police force. The much larger Fairfax County Police Department is the primary user of the academy, which also serves the city of Vienna, the county sheriff’s office and the county fire chief.

Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis declined to comment on the dispute. But in an email he sent to officers, he defended Lee. “Over 16 years of impeccable career, commemorating a legal name given at birth with a signature that exudes heritage pride has not attracted any criticism. That shouldn’t be the case.”

Last year, a former Herndon police officer sued the city in federal court, alleging sexual harassment and discrimination by a supervisor. The lawsuit accused DeBoard of failing to stop the harassment even though she was aware of it.

The lawsuit was ultimately settled before trial, but court documents show other officers complained of racial discrimination during DeBoard’s time as chief.

In court papers, the city said DeBoard took the female officer’s concerns seriously and that she would have recommended firing the officer accused of harassment, but he resigned before she could do so. Lawyers for the city said the racial discrimination complaints were filed by officers who faced disciplinary action.

Herndon police on Wednesday referred questions to the city manager’s statement.