GREENBELT, Md. — Editor's note: The video above is from December 2020.
After spending 2.5 years and nearly $26 million fighting a workplace discrimination lawsuit, Prince George's County will pay a group of officers of color $2.3 million to settle. According to the Washington Post, more than $23 million was spent on legal fees.
The case was filed in December 2018 by the United Black Police Officers Association, the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association and 12 individual PGPD officers, alleging they were "forced to endure a work environment pervaded by race discrimination and retaliation." The lawsuit called for an end to the "unconstitutional conduct" and the implementation of "comprehensive reforms."
“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."
PGPD policy changes resulting from the lawsuit 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 create 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.
The department's Office of Integrity and Compliance -- formed in February as one of the 46 recommendations accepted from the Prince George’s County Police Reform Work Group -- will be in charge of enforcing the police changes.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks released the following statement Tuesday, saying she would host a press conference Thursday:
“I am pleased that we have settled this lawsuit. When it was first filed in December 2018, I promised our residents that we would dig deeply into these claims, we would examine each point, and based on what I saw, I would be unafraid to make changes and address issues. Since that day we have begun meaningful changes within the department and with this settlement we can now continue to move forward, focusing on implementing the necessary reforms within our police department to ensure that it exemplifies best practices in policing, to include fairness and equity in how we interact with those we serve and how we address internal challenges within the department. The residents of Prince George’s County will benefit from a department that treats all officers fairly and is committed to transparency and accountability in all we do.”
Former Police Chief Hank Stawinski resigned from the department in June 2020 following the release of a 94-page report submitted as evidence on the ongoing 2018 lawsuit. It documented numerous allegations that serious complaints about racial bias in the department were never adequately investigated.
The report included 17 cases where Black and Latinx officers who said they filed complaints against white officers for engaging in racist, discriminatory, or other unethical conduct were retaliated against. It also said that from 2016 to 2019, of the 6,805 uses of force reported, 94% of the uses of force involved a minority civilian, 86% of whom were Black.
"To everything there is a season... and we are in a new season," Alsobrooks said in a June 2020 press conference where she announced a new interim chief following Stawinski's resignation. "I am under no illusion that there aren’t things that are broken in our police department. "What I can tell you is that I am committed, however, to conduct a comprehensive assessment of where the challenges are.”
The county executive promised to tackle issues with the department, and said the county would be developing incentives to increase the number of PGPD officers who actually live in the district.
In September 2020, the county also settled a $20 million lawsuit, agreeing to pay the family of a man fatally shot six times by an officer. Cpl. Michael Owen shot William Green six times while Green was handcuffed on Jan. 27 in Temple Hills, according to Prince George's County police.