Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A trespass warning, for wearing the wrong swimsuit

I had a very disturbing experience today at Turkey Thicket pool today.  We arrived at 4:55pm, during a lifeguard “break”; no one would tell us how long it was.  While we were waiting, we were approached by a lifeguard and another DPR employee, who asked me if my tankini sport shirt was a swimsuit.  I told the woman (Kata) that it was my understanding sport shirts were OK as long as they weren’t cotton, due to an email from Sean Link (head of DPR aquatics) from last summer stating “If a bather has a shirt that is swim apparel, such as in the link below, they are certainly able to wear it. http://www.coolibar.com/sunprotectiveswimwear.html?s_kwcid=TC%7C8789%7Cswim%20shirts%7C%7CSM%7Ce%7C6629508974”. (Those shirts are made of polyester, the shirt I was wearing was polyester, nylon and spandex, exactly what swimwear is made of).  She said it was a difficult situation because she had asked other people to change when wearing similar swim attire, despite the fact that I might be right.  I asked her why my shirt wasn’t acceptable and she said it wasn’t swim material.  I pointed out that “swim shirts” which are explicitly allowed by DPR are not “swim” material.  I said that I was planning to swim as I was wearing appropriate swim clothing.  She walked away. 

The other employee, a man, was very rude to me, so my husband asked for his name and supervisor’s name, and he refused to tell us.  This had actually happened before – my husband took our daughter to the pool a few weeks ago, and this man said my husband couldn’t wear a sport shirt on the deck.  My husband removed it, but asked for his name and supervisor, so he could find out the policy, and after stalling, he said his name was Timothy.  I asked Kata (the lifeguard) what his name was and she said Marvin Drummond, so he had previously lied to my husband. [We were also told today that only swimsuits were allowed on deck, no cover ups or T-shirts, and that “as soon as you leave the locker room you are ‘in’ the pool”.  However, I have an email from Sean Link, who said “staff is aware of the rules regarding allowance of cotton cover-ups (and other pool-friendly attire) on the swimming pool deck.”  Another email from Sean to the listserv last summer states “My staff should not prohibit anyone from wearing a t-shirt, whether cotton or some other material when not in the swimming pool. I share your frustration as it has been clearly communicated at our internal staff meetings. If a patron is sitting poolside in pool appropriate attire, with a cover-up on that is permissible.”]

While I was in the pool (approximately 20 minutes), I observed 8 individuals with mesh basketball shorts on, one with visible cotton underwear, two with cotton head wraps, one arm cast, and approximately 10 individuals on deck with shoes or tshirts.  Even the lifeguards were wearing cotton shorts, mesh shorts, and mesh shirts (none of which were from the website indicated by Sean), and one of the on-duty lifeguards was doing flips off the diving board while wearing this mesh outfit.  My husband asked why no one else was being instructed to change and Kata’s answer was “you haven’t been here all day, sometimes we ask people to leave.”  But DPR staff did not ask anyone else to leave while we were in the pool.

The first time we were hassled at Turkey Thicket (for not showering first), we apologized and learned the rules.  The second time, when my husband was asked to remove his shirt on deck (and did), he contacted DPR twice (and I contacted them once via Twitter) for clarification, with no response.  But the fact that no one else was asked to change, including the dozens of other people wearing (according to the lifeguards) unacceptable attire, when taken with the fact that we are always in the racial minority at this pool, does not seem to be a coincidence.

Marvin returned after I had been in the pool for 10 minutes to tell me that his supervisor, Cecelia, said what I was wearing wasn’t a swimsuit.  I asked him if she was there, to see what I was wearing, and he said no, she was on the phone.  I said that what I was wearing was non-cotton and qualified as a swim shirt.  He walked away and didn’t say anything else.  Approximately 10-15 minutes later, two police officers walked in and told me that I needed to leave.  They provided no information to me as to why I was being asked to leave, but I asked a lot of questions and figured out Marvin said he had had this issue with me specifically three separate times (I have never met him before) and that I was wearing cotton (I was not, and he knew it because he pulled on the back of my shirt to look for a tag) and that he had asked me to leave (to be clear, he had NEVER asked me to leave).  The police, by the way, said it appeared that I was wearing a swimsuit when they arrived.  We were told by the police we were barred from the entire facility (not just the pool) for a year, and that if we continued to ask questions to the police officers, we would be arrested and our daughter would be put in custody of social services.  Furthermore, we were told that if we returned we would be arrested for trespassing, but the police would not provide copies of the trespass warning we were required to sign, and DPR staff refused to make copies.  The fact that neither DPR nor the police are required (or even ethically obligated) to provide a reason for issuing a trespass warning on public property is unacceptable.

I find it appalling that DPR, despite the fact that my husband and I emailed DPR half a dozen times for clarification on the “swim shirt” and “no shirts on deck” rules (in addition to multiple community requests for this information that I am aware of), can’t get their act together, decide on a policy, post it clearly at each pool, and train their employees accordingly.  Furthermore, why is the DPR employee in charge of the Turkey Thicket pool obscuring his name badge, refusing to provide his name and lying about it?  Why, when asked for this information, did he call the police and have law-abiding, rule following, taxpaying citizens removed, rather than simply provide information that any public employee should be required to provide on demand?  We have a right to know this information, and asking for it should not result in us being excluded from taxpayer-funded recreational facilities.  The fact that the DPR rules for pool facilities are still listed vaguely as “proper swim attire” over a year after many community requests for clarification is ludicrous.  That someone can be barred (not asked to leave, but banned for a year) from a public facility for wearing a piece of clothing of possibly (but not certainly) the wrong (but not unsafe or inappropriate) material, while at least a dozen other people wore definitively unacceptable materials without being harassed, is unfathomable.  The fact that my husband was additionally barred apparently for asking for Marvin’s name and supervisor’s information is ridiculous.

First, I want the trespass warning formally revoked in writing by DPR.  Along with this, I want a letter from the Director of DPR to MPD explaining that DPR requests the order to be revoked, so that we can confirm with the police department that we won’t be arrested the next time we try to use the pool.  Further, I would like DPR to conduct a formal investigation as to why this employee refused to provide us with his name or his supervisor’s contact information until ordered to by the police.  In addition, we would like a written apology from DPR, along with written definitions of what “pool”, “deck”, “proper swim attire”, and “swim shirt” are, along with the written policy explaining what actions staff are to take if they believe the rules aren’t being followed.  If we are allowed back in the pool, as we should be, we ask that Marvin, if he is allowed to remain in charge of that facility, which he should not be, not be allowed to approach or talk to us (he’s not a lifeguard, so he has no need to). 

If DPR decides to dig in its heels and not revoke the order, I demand a full accounting of what Marvin told the police to justify our being barred, including who made the decision, what justified the decision, and why no one informed me that I should leave before calling the police.

I hope that other people who have had issues with the Turkey Thicket staff, or DPR aquatic staff generally, will come forward so that if changes need to be made, they can be made quickly.

If you want DPR to clarify its position on what “proper swim attire” is, please do one (or more) of the following:

- Contact the DPR Director, jesus.aguirre@dc.gov

- Tweet to @DCDPR

- Email Kenyan McDuffie at kmcduffie@dccouncil.us (and his constituent services coordinator, jmandel@dccouncil.us)

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