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July 20, 2021

Policy Wins Include Protection Against Biased Policing, Reforms to Promotion, Discipline, and Enhancement of Special Monitoring Office

UPPER MARLBORO, MD -- Today Black and Latinx officers who blew the whistle on racism against officers within the Prince George’s Police Department (PGPD) and against Black and Latinx community members, and who were subjected to severe retaliation as a result, announced a settlement of their federal lawsuit. The settlement includes significant policy changes to end biased policing, to impose significant discipline for racist acts committed by police against other officers or community members, and to stop discrimination and retaliation against Black and Latinx officers who challenge police abuse.

The agreement follows Federal Judge Theodore Chuang’s issuance of an injunction in April requiring overhaul of PGPD’s promotional system to combat discrimination, as well as the departure of the white commanders named as individual defendants in the lawsuit, including Former Chief Administrative Officer for Public Safety Mark McGaw, Former Internal Affairs Commander Kathleen Mills, and Former Police Chief Henry Stawinski.

“I am pleased that all the main players who were a particular problem are now gone and the new chief provides an opportunity for change,” said Lieutenant Thomas Boone, President of the United Black Police Officers Association. “This is an important step, but the work is not over. We have reached a place where things can be reset, and we will see if we can work better together with the County and the police department going forward. It is important to not just fight our individual fights, but to work together for what’s right and create movement for real change. I encourage the community to make sure you know what’s going on and to continue to hold your leadership accountable.”

“The settlement with all the policy changes speaks volumes,” said Retired Captain Joe Perez, President of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association. “People lost their jobs, some were demoted, some were driven out, and community members were killed. It is my hope that our personal sacrifices will lead to positive change both for the officers and for the communities they serve, so that everyone can be treated with dignity and respect. The change to ensure supervisors are penalized for failing to comply with General Order 58 regarding review of use of force is particularly important to ensure people will be treated better in the community.”

“We were committed to stand together for change,” said Lieutenant Sonya Zollicoffer, Vice President of the United Black Police Officers Association. “As a team, we stood in truth and transparency. As Black and Brown police officers, we dared to be different and go against the grain to stand for equality and justice even if it was only just-US.”

“We applaud the bravery and determination of the plaintiffs who experienced horrible working conditions at the Prince Georges Police Department,” said Dennis Corkery, counsel at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “These conditions also extended to the policing of the community, creating an environment of distrust and fear for Black and Latinx constituents in the county. Partnering with community groups who experienced abuse kept their collective voices front and center during the case.”

The case – filed in December 2018 by the United Black Police Officers Association, the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association and 12 individual officers – challenged PGPD’s long-standing policies and customs that condoned unconstitutional conduct. Stark racial bias – well-known to Department leadership – was allowed to fester over many years. Judge Chuang noted this in granting the plaintiffs’ Request for a Preliminary Injunction in April: “PGCPD has been aware of the significant disparities in promotion rates based on race dating back at least to 2012 but has done virtually nothing to address them. Even when the 2017 Panel identified specific issues that could be examined in order to address the adverse impact of the promotion process, it did nothing.”

PGPD policy changes won by the Black and Latinx officers include:

  • Changes to Promotional Practices and Policies to reduce or eliminate adverse impact and discrimination against Black and Latinx officers.
  • Changes to Disciplinary Practices and Policies to make clear that racist, discriminatory, and retaliatory acts, including discriminatory conduct in employment and bias-based policing, are eligible for the most severe punishments. The revised policy also makes clear that supervisors who do not meet their responsibilities in doing use of force reviews are subject to severe discipline.
  • Changes to Prohibit, Prevent, and Discipline Discriminatory, Racist, and Retaliatory Conduct to prohibit officers from using race, ethnicity, or national origin in policing determinations.
  • New EEO, Anti-Discrimination, and Anti-Retaliation Policy and Bias-Free Policing Determination Policy that creates meaningful investigation and resolution of complaints, increased reporting and accountability and that require pre-service, annual in-service, and periodic supervisor training for officers and supervisors.

To help ensure these vital changes are fully implemented, the Settlement Agreement vests the Department’s new Office of Integrity and Compliance with responsibility for monitoring and ensuring the compliance of the PGPD and its officers with the new policies. Ongoing monitoring will be especially critical over the next year, as PGPD will be tasked with implementing these changes and complying with new mandates under the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021, which sets minimum requirements regarding use of force, discipline, and other policies for law enforcement agencies across the state. This monitoring should be done transparently to the community groups working hard to secure accountability and justice for police abuses in Prince George’s County.

“It took tremendous bravery and boldness for the Black and Brown officers in the Prince George’s Police Department to blow the whistle on the entrenched racism and retaliation inflicted on them by white leadership for years,” said Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland. “Today, they are making a powerful mark on the policies and practices of the department with the goal of ending race discrimination, creating equitable opportunities, and ensuring accountability for officers who abuse community members.”

Other provisions of the Settlement Agreement allocate approximately $2.3 Million among the individual and organizational plaintiffs to compensate them for past discrimination and retaliation they experienced. The Agreement provides that the County will reimburse the attorneys from the Washington Lawyers Committee, the ACLU of Maryland, and Arnold & Porter, a D.C. law firm who litigated the lawsuit, for the $825,000 in expenses they advanced, and will also pay them $5 million in legal fees as provided in federal civil rights cases. The fees will be used by all three groups to fund future pro bono cases and to fund other charitable causes.

The plaintiffs are represented by John Freedman, Adam Pergament, Preston Smith, Mei-Wah Lee, Danait Mengist and Kaitlin Robinson from Arnold & Porter; Jonathan Smith, Dennis Corkery, and Joanna Wasik from the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, and Deborah Jeon and Ieshaah Murphy from the ACLU of Maryland. Counsel received pro bono expert assistance and services from a team from BDO LLP led by Anthony Lendez, Marc Simon, Thomas Terranova, Joe Sremack, and Aron Finkelstein.