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Alsobrooks Says She’s Committed to Changing Police Culture Following Settlement of Discrimination Suit

Flanked by members of the county police reform workgroup, local faith leaders and other officials, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) and Prince George’s County Chief of Police Malik Aziz addressed the settlement of the lawsuit alleging discrimination within the county police department Thursday. Photo by Hannah Gaskill.

Following the settlement of a costly, two-and-a-half-year discrimination lawsuit, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said Thursday that she is committed to implementing a cultural shift within the Prince George’s County Police Department.

“The department you see, I submit to you, is not the department of a year and a half ago,” Alsobrooks said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

“Moving forward, I will continue to do the work needed to ensure that our culture and policies do not support bad actors or bad behavior,” she said. “And we will also make sure that everyone in this government knows that discrimination and bias are not acceptable in our police department or any other agency.”

Alsobrooks, flanked by members of the county’s police accountability workgroup, faith leaders and other officials, said that the settlement would go into effect on July 25.

The lawsuit, brought by the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Officers Association against Prince George’s County less than two weeks after Alsobrooks took office in 2018, alleged that the county police department was not appropriately managing allegations of misconduct or discrimination by white officers.

A report, compiled by policing practices expert Michael Graham and entered in support of the lawsuit, detailed a series of episodes of racism aimed at fellow officers and community members.

Former Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski resigned after a heavily redacted version of Graham’s 94-page report was released in June 2020.

In March, Alsobrooks tapped Malik Aziz, a 29-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, to replace Stawinski as the county’s new chief of police.

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

  • New promotional practices;
  • Changes to disciplinary procedures which 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.

The lawsuit came with a hefty price tag: $2.3 million is to be split among the twelve individual plaintiffs as compensation for discrimination and retaliation they faced. To cover legal fees, $5 million will go to the ACLU of Maryland, the Washington Lawyers Committee and the law firm of Arnold & Porter.

County officials also hired a private law firm, Venable LLC, to represent them in the suit.

But Alsobrooks said it was necessary to ensure that the county would not have to double back and rehash the same cultural problems down the road.

“If anybody said, ‘Are we happy at having spent taxpayer dollars this way?’ Absolutely not,” she said. “But we were determined to do it right and to make sure that when this was done, we would not have to go backward.”

She compared the allegations to the 2020 shooting death of William Green at the hands of a county police officer, where she said she “insisted” that matter be settled “expeditiously” and that the offending officer be charged with murder.

“That was a case where the path seemed clearer, there were no issues in controversy and without even a lawsuit we settled that case immediately,” she said. “In this case, where we believe that the county’s liability was less clear, we had to take the time that was necessary to examine the issues, to do the investigation and to make sure that the result was a fair result for both the county and for the plaintiffs.”

Asked why the lawsuit took more than two-and-a-half years to settle, Alsobrooks replied, “We had to do it right.”

“The reforms that we’re talking about — the period of reformation that we’re in — required that we would not be rushed into a result that was not fair to plaintiffs in this case, that would not be fair to the county in this case, but it was necessary that we do this right,” she said. “This should have been done decades ago. Truthfully speaking, we should not have been here.”

During the news conference, Alsobrooks also detailed a series of changes made to the county police department during her tenure, including fully funding the department’s body-worn camera program.

Aziz said that the department has implemented a new body-worn camera policy. That policy establishes who has the right to delete and audit footage, when officers are allowed to activate or deactivate their cameras and the department’s ability to release footage of public interest.

According to Aziz, there was no policy regarding the public disclosure of body-worn camera footage until now. The second volume of the Prince George’s County Police Department Operations Manual says that members of the public are able to request recordings through the Maryland Public Information Act.

“What we did not have — what was not addressed — was some of the basic things that we looked at,” he said. ”So we put those … major things in it, but we gave a robust, vigorous read of it and put together a policy that we think would serve our police officers and our citizens.”

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Alsobrooks Says She’s Committed to Changing Police Culture Following Settlement of Discrimination Suit