NAACP seeks dept. probe for bias against black police officers

The Montgomery and Prince George's County chapters of the NAACP ask the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the Hyattsville Police Department, alleging that the police agency discriminated against six African American officers. Officer Barbara Smith would not speak but decides to stand before cameras so that people could attach a face to the complaint, her attorney says.
By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Montgomery and Prince George's chapters of the NAACP have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the Hyattsville police Department, alleging it discriminated against six African American officers.

June White Dillard, president of the Prince George's County's chapter of the NAACP, said the organization submitted documentation to the civil rights division of the Justice Department that shows a double standard exists in the 42-member police department. At a news conference at NAACP offices in Largo, she said African American officers have been subject to sexual harassment, wrongful terminations and a hostile work environment.

"Two African American officers were wrongfully terminated during their 18-month probationary period, while a white officer who had five accidents and two police misconduct charges was promoted during the probationary period," Dillard said. "An African American officer had to present medical documentation and was still placed on patrol duty even though six months pregnant. A white female officer was given light duty with no medical requirements.

"The same officer was subjected to sexual comments," Dillard added.

Dillard said the NAACP filed 10 pages with the Justice Department documenting the officers' complaint.

Henry Hailstock, president of the Montgomery County branch of the NAACP, said he hand-delivered the complaint to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the civil rights division for the Justice Department, on Friday.

Alejandro Miyar, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the agency would review the letter to determine what action, if any, is appropriate.

Sgt. Greg Phillips, spokesman for the Hyattsville police, said officials in the department "have not been served with or had the chance to review any documents with regard to the allegations being made by the NAACP and so has no way of making a relevant response until such time as those documents are received and reviewed."

Dillard said the NAACP did not contact Hyattsville police before going to the Justice Department because she said she had little faith that police would take action.

"These police officers have filed complaints about their treatment in the Hyattsville Police Department since 2002, and the city administrator has always cleared" the department, Dillard said. "There was no reason to contact them now because the department has failed to resolve any of these complaints for the last eight years."

Five officers who attended the news conference were advised by their lawyers not to speak or identify themselves because they are facing charges that they say other officers have filed against them in retaliation.

Another officer, Barbara Smith, would not speak but decided to stand before news cameras so that people could attach a face to the complaint, her attorney said.

"She was targeted and harassed because she is refusing to keep quiet," said Smith's Attorney Anitha Johnson. "They wouldn't even give her leave when she was six months pregnant, so she agreed to go on patrol with a gun."

In a statement, Phillips said that the City of Hyattsville enforces an anti-discrimination policy and that he thinks the actions will be found to have been appropriate and consistent with that policy.

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