The US Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the Maryland State Police to determine whether the agency engaged in racially discriminatory hiring and promotion practices, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
News of the investigation follows a series of complaints by black soldiers about harassment and mistreatment by other white officers, concerns that caught the attention of a Maryland state legislator last year.
“Discrimination has no place in any workplace, and especially in law enforcement agencies,” US Deputy Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a news release. of Justice. “Our investigation will determine whether the Maryland State Police Department has created racially discriminatory barriers to Black people seeking job opportunities and promotions and, if so, will identify the reforms needed to ensure equal employment opportunity.”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Woodrow W. Jones III have been briefed and have pledged to cooperate with the investigation, according to the news release.
“Significant steps have been taken and continue to address even the perception of racism or unfair treatment of any kind,” Jones said in a statement released Friday afternoon.
Hogan’s office released a statement calling the Maryland State Police “the best law enforcement organization in the country.” He said the state has committed funds to increase diversity and strengthen recruitment.
“It’s important to make sure any wrongdoing is addressed, so we welcome this investigation and have promised full cooperation,” said Michael Ricci, a spokesman for the governor’s office.
In 2021, Maryland State Senator Joanne Benson of Prince George’s County said African-American soldiers accused the agency of racism and discrimination, pointing to disparities in discipline and promotions, as well as a lack of representation and reports of cases of retaliation.
Benson met with more than 20 black soldiers who presented him with documents detailing their claims. WRC in Washington reported in February 2021. The television station did not identify the soldiers because those who spoke are violating department policy.
“They had the paperwork. They had the proof,” Benson said. “They had done their homework in relation to the incidents that have occurred and the problems that they were experiencing.”
Benson’s phone voicemail was full and she could not be reached for comment Friday.
Statistics provided by the Maryland State Police and reported by the WRC showed that black officers make up 8.9% of the agency’s senior commissioned officers and 11% of non-commissioned officers, with very few rising to lieutenant.
Clark F. Ahlers, a Maryland attorney representing black soldiers in several lawsuits against state police, said he welcomes the Justice Department’s investigation.
“I think the Maryland State Police have engaged in an unfortunate process of discrimination against soldiers of color,” Ahlers said.
“I would not need a Justice Department investigation to convince me of racial discrimination within the ranks of the Maryland State Police,” he said.
Ahlers said he has had four cases in the past five years that “screamed discrimination” by the agency, though none were directly related to hiring or promotions. One of them involved a case that went in favor of the police officer, who Ahlers said is still dealing with harassment from the department.
In another case, Ahlers said he represented a black police officer who used minimal force to arrest a motorist. He and other officers involved were acquitted in the incident. Afterwards, a white police officer left a banana in the black police officer’s car, Ahlers said.
The black police officer complained about the act and, after refusing to withdraw the complaint, was charged with first-degree assault with use of force, Ahlers said. The charge was eventually dropped by the State Attorney’s Office. As for the initial complaint about the banana being placed in his car, Maryland State Police said it had nothing to do with race, according to Ahlers.
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