Whistleblower Officers Reach Settlement in Discrimination Lawsuit Against Prince George’s County

Prince George's County government photo.

Officers who filed a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination and harassment within the Prince George’s County Police Department announced that they reached a settlement Tuesday.

“We were committed to stand together for change,” Lt. Sonya Zollicoffer, vice president of the United Black Police Officers Association, said in a statement. “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.”

The lawsuit, brought by the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Officers Association against Prince George’s County in 2018, alleged that the county police department does not appropriately manage allegations of discrimination or misconduct by white officers.

A report compiled by policing practices expert Michael Graham detailed several blatant instances of racism aimed towards community members and fellow officers entered in support of the lawsuit.

Former Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski resigned shortly after a heavily redacted version of Graham’s 94-page report was released last June.

A largely unredacted version was made public earlier this year.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) tapped Malik Aziz, a 29-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, to permanently replace Stawinski as the county’s new chief of police in March.

“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,” Alsobrooks said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon. “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.”

Alsobrooks is expected to discuss the case more specifically at a Thursday press conference.

The settlement agreement tasks the police department’s Office of Integrity and Compliance with ensuring that officers comply with new policies imposed as a result of the lawsuit, including:

  • New promotional practices;
  • Changes to disciplinary procedures that make clear that officers and supervisors who participate in or enable racist, discriminatory or retaliatory acts may be subject to severe punitive measures;
  • Altered conduct policies that bar officers from making policing determinations based on race or ethnicity; and
  • Updated equal employment opportunity, anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation practices to encourage incident reporting, accountability, meaningful conflict resolution and periodic training.

“People lost their jobs, some were demoted, some were driven out, and community members were killed,” said Retired Captain Joe Perez, president of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association. “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.”

Additionally, $2.3 million will be split among the plaintiffs as compensation for the discrimination and retaliation they experienced as members of the department, and the county will pay $5 million in legal fees to the ACLU of Maryland, the Washington Lawyers Committee and the law firm of Arnold & Porter.

“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,” Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement. “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.”

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