As National Demand for Police Accountability Grows, PGPD Disciplines Officers of Color Who Object to Mistreating Community
GREENBELT, MD – In an explosive expert report written by a respected law enforcement leader that details over two dozen instances where white officers in the Prince George’s Police Department (PGPD) engaged in racist conduct with no or minimal discipline, including for the use of racial epithets or offensive imagery, Michael Graham, a former senior officer with the LA County Sheriff’s Office nationally recognized as a police practices expert, makes clear what Officers of Color have been saying for years: PGPD has a policy and custom of unconstitutional conduct. Graham’s 94-page report is part of a federal court filing in HNLEA vs. Prince George’s County, Maryland, that also includes sworn statements from numerous Officers of Color attesting to the ingrained pattern of race discrimination, retaliation, and abuse that permeates the County police department.
Coming amid a growing nationwide demand for police accountability following the killing of George Floyd, the filing highlights numerous instances of discrimination and retaliation that involve Black and Brown officers objecting to abuses of Black and Brown community members.
Retired Cpt. Joe Perez, President of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association, said: “This fact-finding report only reaffirms what many of us have personally witnessed and experienced and continue to suffer from at the hands of Chief Stawinski. Our hope is that this report will be the catalyst for the much-needed change. Let the facts speak for themselves. If you think this does not affect your life, take a minute to read about what happens to community concerns and citizen complaints. Spoiler alert: nothing. No investigation is conducted. No thought is given to the mistreatment of the citizens of Prince George's County.”
The PGPD has a white police chief, Henry Stawinski, under whose leadership Black and Brown officers have experienced extensive discrimination in recent years, leading to the filing of legal action by 13 Officers of Color in 2018. Even since this court filing, there have been two killings of Black residents, William Green and Leonard Shand, but, despite nine officials being involved, only one officer had any serious repercussions when Cpl. Michael A. Owen Jr. had criminal charges filed against him.
Speaking to County contentions that it has taken these offenses seriously, Lt. Thomas Boone, President of the United Black Police Officers Association, said: “Chief Stawinski is the face of police reform like a slave master is the face of freedom.”
Highlights from the report, filed in response to the County’s absurd attempt to paint this as a few isolated instances:
- The report details over two dozen instances where white PGPD officers engaged in racist conduct, including use of racial epithets and other derogatory language or circulated offensive imagery. Most of the perpetrating officers received no or minimal discipline.
- The report describes five instances where the Department received complaints from prominent civic leaders about racist behavior by white officers. None of these officers were disciplined.
- The report analyzes the Department’s response to racial profiling complaints. No PGPD officer has been disciplined for racial profiling.
- An analysis of the Department’s investigative and disciplinary statistics shows that officers of color are significantly more likely to have internal disciplinary charges sustained against them as white officers and are several times as likely to be terminated.
- The report describes 16 Officers of Color who experienced retaliation -- either the institution of charges or involuntary transfers – many after complaining about the conduct of white officers.
Lt. Sonya Zollicoffer, Second Vice President, United Black Police Officers Association, said: “At one point I was honored to wear the uniform because I represented my community. But because I spoke up for others who were afraid to speak up, the department retaliated against me and kept me from working. When I worked in Internal Affairs, I saw that Black officers with minor infractions were disciplined more harshly than white officers with serious offenses. The community doesn’t trust us because there’s never been transparency. I’m concerned about the point between the blue line and the blue lie. We need the blue truth.”
The Graham Report has four sections: 1) PGPD’s discrimination policies as compared to models from International Association of Chiefs of Police; 2) Review of PGPD’s practice of ignoring claims of racist conduct by white officers, including ten egregious incidents that were not investigated, and 14 "investigations" where discriminatory conduct that were not taken seriously; 3) Review of PGPD’s handling of civilian complaints, finding that not a single civilian racial profiling complaint during the six year period examined has been sustained. 4) Review of PGPD’s investigation of instances of retaliation against Black and Brown officers and PGPD’s failure to address or prevent it, with no investigation or discipline whatsoever. Notably, the section examining handling of civilian complaints includes a statistical analysis showing that Internal Affairs investigations at PGPD are fundamentally discriminatory, and includes a comparative analysis of discipline of white and Black officers. In sum, the whiter you are the more lenient the process, and vice versa.
“The plaintiffs are filing this expert report with the court today as part of a response to PGPD’s attempt to paint this case as a series of isolated and unconnected acts of racism instead of an intentional system of retaliation against officers who are fighting for accountability within the police force” said Dennis Corkery, Counsel at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. “Plaintiffs are frustrated that they are required to file so much of this report and exhibits under seal today because PGPD has fought to keep these records, and the systems they expose, from public scrutiny.”
“Given the pandemic of police terror happening across the nation, the fact that Black and Brown officers also face retaliation by white leadership in a majority Black county for raising concern about police misconduct against community members speaks to how deep and destructive white supremacy is within law enforcement,” said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director of the ACLU of Maryland.
The plaintiffs are represented by John Freedman, Peter Grossi, Jr., Adam Pergament, Preston Smith, and Mei-Wah Lee from Arnold & Porter; Jonathan Smith, Dennis Corkery, Joanna Wasik, and Tristin Brown from the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, and Deborah Jeon from the ACLU of Maryland.