Hyattsville officers who allege impropriety say department forced them out

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A former Hyattsville police lieutenant and a current officer said Tuesday at a news conference that they were suspended and one forced to retire early because they were outspoken about alleged impropriety in the department.

Appearing outside the Hyattsville police station with leaders from the NAACP and Casa de Maryland, retired Lt. Gary Blakes and officer Barbara Smith said that they were punished for decrying racism and sexism in the department and that they have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Blakes said he was subjected to an internal affairs investigation and suspended after comments he made at a department meeting about a video that depicted an officer slamming a teenager into a car at a Prince George's County mall in October. Blakes, who was not in the video, said he thought that wrongdoing had occurred, but commanders disagreed. Blakes said he retired about a month ago amid the investigation to avoid disciplinary proceedings.

Smith said she was suspended in April with pay after she collapsed with chest pains at the station and was deemed unfit for duty by a department doctor. She said that on the same day, commanders had warned her that she might face internal charges for running a drug education program outside Hyattsville -- but she thought her suspension stemmed from another incident. A few years ago, she said she witnessed an officer punch and kick a Hispanic man who was in handcuffs, and she refused an order to falsify a report about it.

The Montgomery and Prince George's chapters of the NAACP have complained about the Hyattsville Police Department's treatment of minority officers in the past, asking the Justice Department to investigate. June White Dillard, president of the Prince George's County chapter, said Tuesday that the action against Blakes and Smith shows that the problem is escalating.

After a spokesman was told of the news conference by a reporter, the Hyattsville Police Department issued a statement saying it had "neither been provided a copy of nor been informed of the contents of the specific allegations made during the press conference conducted by the NAACP this morning."

"Until such time as city officials are in possession of that information, they will be unable to provide a relevant response to any allegations made," the statement said. "To protect the privacy of all individuals, including the officers and former officers involved, the City is unable to provide further information on personnel issues."

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