Prince Ge­orge’s County fought against claims that the po­lice depart­ment is bi­ased against of­fi­cers of color, say­ing the 12 of­fi­cers su­ing the depart­ment do not rep­re­sent a “pat­tern or prac­tice” of dis­crim­i­na­tion by the agency.

Twelve al­lege racial dis­crim­i­na­tion in law­suit

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY LYNH BUI

Prince Ge­orge’s County fought back against claims that the po­lice depart­ment is bi­ased against of­fi­cers of color, as­sert­ing in new court fil­ings that the 12 of­fi­cers su­ing the depart­ment do not rep­re­sent a “pat­tern or prac­tice” of dis­crim­i­na­tion by the agency.

The county said in a let­ter that it plans to ask a fed­eral judge to dis­miss a group law­suit filed in De­cem­ber by two mi­nor­ity po­lice as­so­ci­a­tions and sev­eral of­fi­cers of color and in­stead re­quire the of­fi­cers to file claims in­di­vid­u­ally.

The 12 of­fi­cers are of different races and “as­sert different types of dis­crim­i­na­tion and re­tal­i­a­tion by different de­ci­sion mak­ers, at different times, un­der markedly different circumstances,” the let­ter from lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the county states. “Apart from con­clu­sory al­le­ga­tions, Plain­tiffs al­lege no facts show­ing a pol­icy or state­ment — for­mal or in­for­mal — of the PGPD that links their claims to­gether.”

The law­suit, filed with the back­ing of the ACLU of Mary­land and the Wash­ing­ton Lawyers’ Com­mit­tee for Civil Rights and Ur­ban Af­fairs, claims the po­lice depart­ment sys­tem­i­cally de­nies promo-

tions to of­fi­cers of color and re­tal­i­ates against them for re­port­ing mis­con­duct in­volv­ing white of­fi­cers. The law­suit also as­serts the depart­ment dis­ci­plines of­fi­cers of color more harshly and un­fairly de­motes those who com­plain of bi­ased treat­ment.

The county’s let­ter comes weeks af­ter the com­plain­ing of­fi­cers in the case claimed they had been re­tal­i­ated against by the depart­ment since their law­suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Mary­land. The lawyers for the of­fi­cers as­sert that in re­cent weeks one of­fi­cer was writ­ten up for petty in­frac­tions, an­other was trans­ferred to a less de­sir­able job and an­other was sus­pended.

“We look for­ward to de­feat­ing their ar­gu­ments in court,” Den­nis A. Cork­ery, one of the civil rights at­tor­neys rep­re­sent­ing the of­fi­cers, said of the county’s lat­est fil­ing. Lawyers for the of­fi­cers say they plan to ask the judge to is­sue a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion in the case that would bar the depart­ment from tak­ing ad­di­tional ac­tions against the of­fi­cers. Cork­ery said the group also is work­ing with the county on the re­cent re­tal­i­a­tion claims, with many of them al­ready re­solved.

Po­lice spokes­woman Jen­nifer Donelan de­clined to com­ment on the case, cit­ing the pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion.

In its let­ter, the county de­scribed some of its per­son­nel re­views in­volv­ing the of­fi­cers.

One plain­tiff who al­leges he re­ceived im­proper dis­ci­pline had texted a “pic­ture of his gen­i­tals to the vic­tim of a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence case he was in­ves­ti­gat­ing,” the county said in its most re­cent let­ter to the court. An­other was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for pulling out his ser­vice weapon to re­solve a dis­pute with a park­ing at­ten­dant.

The law­suit is part of an on­go­ing dis­pute within the county depart­ment.

Last year, of­fi­cers of color asked the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment to in­ves­ti­gate the agency. Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials have de­clined to com­ment on the “ex­is­tence or nonex­is­tence” of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the depart­ment. The ACLU at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the of­fi­cers said the em­ploy­ment sec­tion of the fed­eral agency’s civil rights di­vi­sion has been re­view­ing the of­fi­cers’ con­cerns.

The law­suit ac­cuses po­lice man­age­ment of de­clin­ing to ap­pro­pri­ately pun­ish white of­fi­cers who have cir­cu­lated racist text mes­sages or made racist com­ments, such as ask­ing black of­fi­cers if they’re “hun­gry for chicken” or send­ing mes­sages about bring­ing “back pub­lic hang­ings.” It also claimed that white of­fi­cers who had been pun­ished for mis­con­duct later have been pro­moted to var­i­ous po­si­tions but mi­nor­ity of­fi­cers who have been sim­i­larly dis­ci­plined have not.

The county’s most re­cent court fil­ing did not ad­dress in de­tail the claims of the com­plaint but broadly as­serted that the ac­cusa- tions by the in­di­vid­ual of­fi­cers should not be con­sid­ered as a whole. The in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions and sub­se­quent dis­ci­plinary ac­tions taken against them rep­re­sent dis­parate and in­di­vid­ual circumstances, the county con­tends.

“The 12 in­di­vid­ual Plain­tiffs as­sert five different claims for re­lief — hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment, dis­parate dis­ci­pline, re­tal­i­a­tion, non-pro­mo­tion, and dis­crim­i­na­tion based on dis­abil­ity; no plain­tiff as­serts all claims,” the let­ter states. “More­over, an ex­treme risk of prej­u­dice to De­fen­dants arises from the fact that a jury might con­clude that merely from the num­ber of Plain­tiffs in the case, there must be some­thing wrong with the ac­tions of the PGPD.”

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