Lynh Bui and Rachel Chason, Washington Post, December 12, 2018
A group of officers filed a lawsuit in federal court against Prince George’s County, alleging that the police department discriminates against black and Hispanic employees and retaliates against those who report racist or inappropriate conduct involving white officers.
Two police associations representing black and Hispanic officers and 12 current and former officers filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Maryland. They assert that the department denies officers of color promotions and disciplines them more harshly than white officers. The suit also accuses the department of unfairly transferring, demoting or firing those who complain of biased treatment, creating an environment that fosters distrust between police and the community.
Among the complaints, the lawsuit accuses police leadership of failing to appropriately discipline white officers who have circulated text messages about bringing “back public hangings” or who have asked black officers whether they are “hungry for chicken.”
The lawsuit is the latest action in ongoing complaints by officers of color, who last year asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate their concerns.
Deborah Jeon, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which is backing the officers’ lawsuit, said the employment section of the Justice Department’s civil rights division is conducting the probe. Jeon said federal investigators have continued to interview officers in their review of employment practices in the Prince George’s police force.
In addition to the ACLU of Maryland, the officers’ lawsuit is backed by the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. Officials from both organizations said racially biased employment practices in a law enforcement agency can harm the community being policed by that agency’s officers.
“Any police department that fosters a culture of racial harassment and retaliation against officers of color within its ranks can’t hope to gain the community trust and support that is so necessary for achieving better public safety for everyone,” said Dana Vickers Shelley, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland. “Officers who speak out against misconduct and racism should be praised, not punished.”
Some of the officers who say they have been unfairly targeted have complained of white officers using racial epithets to describe minority officers, according to the lawsuit, which also contends that white officers called minority communities “s—holes” or “ghettoes.”
The lawsuit seeks an independent monitor to ensure fairness of disciplinary procedures within the department. It also demands the department reinstate officers it says were wrongfully terminated, compensate them for lost wages and expunge their related disciplinary records.
Thomas Boone, president of the United Black Police Officers Association, said he was demoted to patrol recently for continually bringing his concerns to the attention of the department. Boone said he flagged disparities in performance in psychological evaluations between white applicants and applicants of color to his supervisors before one of them told him to stop and gave him a bad performance evaluation.