Following the filing of a damning expert report in federal court detailing dozens of instances of alleged racial discrimination, retaliation and abuse within his department, Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski resigned Thursday evening, effective immediately.
“We’re asking everyone to please pay attention to what’s going on within our department, within the leaders in and out of the department — the county exec[utive] — to help us fix this problem,” Lt. Thomas Boone, president of the United Black Police Officers Association, said at a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) accepted Stawinski’s resignation and plans to hold a news conference about the matter on Friday afternoon.
Robert Ross, the county’s NAACP chapter president, said he had been planning to propose a vote of no confidence in Stawinski’s leadership at the group’s general membership meeting Thursday evening.
The report, compiled by policing practices expert Michael Graham, was filed in support of a federal lawsuit levied against Prince George’s County by the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Officers Association.
The suit was originally filed in December 2018.
Though the document is largely redacted, Graham noted that the Prince George’s County Police Department does not appropriately manage allegations of discrimination or misconduct by its white officers, noting several complaints brought forth by Black and Brown employees that went uninvestigated or under-prosecuted.
“The current leadership of the Department appears to have made a deliberate choice not to track or monitor its performance concerning these matters,” he wrote.
Some of these alleged uninvestigated incidents include a text exchange in which one individual made sexist comments about Black women officers and joked about bringing back “public hangings;” a complaint about a personalized license plate bearing an acronym that allegedly stood for “Go Fuck Yourself Obama;” an episode where a band of mostly white officers staged a walk-out in the middle of an implicit bias training session; an incident where a white officer published denigrating images of a Hispanic officer with captions that made fun of his ethnicity; and a complaint about an officer who made disparaging comments about Black people, saying “at least slaves had food and a place to live.”
The report also explored a series of uninvestigated complaints filed by public officials and civilians, most of which are heavily redacted.
Of the incidents that did manage to be pursued, Graham found those inquiries were often inadequate, including an instance where an individual allegedly put “a picture of an African-American face and an Afro wig on a training dummy used to practice baton strikes.”
“Pictures of the training dummy with hand-written words ‘black face’ and ‘afro wig’ were circulated within the Department,” the report reads. Six and a half paragraphs detailing the investigation are redacted.
According to the report, no officers faced charges or disciplinary measures following the investigation.
Graham also determined that instances where charges of racism were substantiated often had ineffective repercussions.
He reported that, overall, there is “extensive evidence” that Prince George’s County Police Department has fallen into a practice of insufficiently investigating and disciplining episodes of alleged discrimination.
“This failure was known at the senior most ranks of the Department who either directly authorized or condoned it,” Graham wrote.
The report also found that Black and Brown officers are more often subject to investigations — facing charges, being found guilty, being subjected to disciplinary measures and are more prone to being fired.
They also often face retaliation for filing complaints in the form of counter-complaints or departmental transfers.
“The pattern of retaliation is indicative that leadership of the Department condones retaliation, and, in certain cases, evidence reflects direct participation of leadership of the Department in retaliatory acts,“ the report reads.
Prince George’s Police Department Cpl. Adrian Crudup is familiar with these practices.
Crudup served in the department for 13 years — and during two of those years he said he was the only Black person in his eight-officer squad.
“Throughout my time, the working conditions were pretty hostile,” Crudup said at the Thursday news conference. He described complaining to his superiors about off-color comments and “obvious signs of racism and discrimination” made towards officers and community members.
After he began to speak up, Crudup said he was transferred three times in a six-month period, retaliated against and even criminally charged for an incident that he wasn’t involved in.
Two years later, he learned that the white officer he had filed a complaint against filed charges against him in revenge. The charges were dropped.
“The department never came out and apologized, they never said anything, they just immediately took the word of the white officer without even doing a proper investigation,” Crudup said.
“This fact-finding report only reaffirms what many of us have witnessed, experienced and continue to suffer from at the hands of the Stawinski,” said Retired Cpt. Joe Perez, president of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association — the organization that has brought the lawsuit. “Our hope is that this report will be the catalyst for the much-needed change, not the illusion of change that is being portrayed by Stawinski in the news media.”
Perez stated that while Stawinski was in command, the department lost its Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement certification, which nationally accredits police departments for deploying best-practices.
“Behind the scenes, the Prince George’s County police administration believes that heavy-handed policing reduces crime,” Perez explained. “I’m here to tell you it does not.”
‘A day of reckoning’
Last week, the now-departed police chief appeared on a town hall with Dels. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s) and Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s) to discuss police-community relations in the face of a series of recent high-profile killings of Black people, like Breonna Taylor, who was shot eight times in her Louisville, Ky., apartment and George Floyd, who was suffocated by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
During the event, Stawinski told members of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus that he was unsure why “so many people must ascribe to a movement that should be self-evident.”
“Black Lives Matter is true, but why do we need so many people saying that simple fact?” he asked. “It should be, again, self-evident, particularly 50 years on from the civil rights movement of the 1960s.”
According to a news release from the ACLU of Maryland, two Black Prince George’s County residents have been killed by police since the suit was filed in 2018. Nine officials were involved in these incidents. Reportedly, only one of the officers involved faced criminal charges. He was black.
During the same town hall last week, Stawinski said that the entire department had been through implicit bias training.
Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore City Police major and executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a group for law enforcement officers supporting criminal justice reforms, said that what happens within a police department bleeds into the community that it serves.
“If we cannot resolve the racism among our ranks internally, we’ll never, never do it within the communities that we serve,” he explained. “It’s just that simple.”
Perez said he wants to see real, substantial change within the Prince George’s County Police Department.
“We need to see the problems fixed,” he said. “And, unfortunately, the way that they’re going to be fixed is by chopping off the head right at the top because that’s the person who sets the tone.”
Joanna Wasik, an attorney at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, said that filing of the report Thursday conflicts with assertions by the Prince George’s County Police Department that the case illuminates “a few isolated instances of discrimination.”
“PGPD wants to limit our case and avoid accountability for the entire department,” Wasik asserted. “Their report documents a deliberate choice by PGPD leadership to foster a culture where reports of misconduct, racism and discrimination by officers and civilians are not taken seriously.”
The 94-page report in question is largely redacted. Wasik said it’s because when the department leaders produced files for the lawsuit, they chose to designate them as confidential, forcing a redacted version to be filed publicly.
She said that the department has the ability to remove the designation.
During the Legislative Black Caucus town hall last week, Stawinski said that, as the president of the Maryland Chiefs of Police, he helped introduce a bill during the 2020 legislative session that would “bring transparency in those instances where an individual was killed or harmed by a law enforcement officer, where a law enforcement officer had sexually assaulted, lied, destroyed evidence or practiced discrimination.”
“I want to be clear, there’s a goodly number of women and men in this industry in policing in the state of Maryland. And they do their level best, and they would not do the wrong thing, even given the opportunity, but there are structural obstacles to us being transparent,” Stawinski said last week.
Some law enforcement veterans aren’t having it.
“My message to Stawinski is: If you want to be transparent with your community, then unredact this report and reveal to the public the current ongoing incidents that have an enormous impact on our communities,” Perez said at the Thursday news conference.
Deborah Jeon, legal director of the ACLU of Maryland, alleged that some police commanders, in conjunction with the Fraternal Order of Police, have been urging white officers to destroy existing investigation records to conceal additional police abuse from publication.
Jeon said that Thursday’s filing is in response to the department’s attempt to limit the scope and number of instances that plaintiffs may provide regarding discrimination by the department.
“There are dozens of incidents of misconduct that we have discovered and are seeking to make a part of the court record,” she said. “And the motion filed by the police department seeks to prevent us from introducing that information into the public record.”
In a brief filed Thursday morning in response to the county’s motion to limit the number of discriminatory acts that may be considered at trial, the attorneys called the maneuver an attempt to sidestep accountability.
“At root, Defendants’ motion is both an implicit acknowledgement that there are simply too many acts evidencing their discriminatory policies, practices and customs, coupled to a meritless plea to set an arbitrary limit on the number that can be presented at trial,” the introduction reads.
“A day of reckoning is coming for Prince George’s County police,” Jeon warned. “We believe today’s court filing moves us a big step closer to that day.”