The Justice Department has apparently reached an impasse in its attempts to impose minority hiring and promotion goals on the Prince George's County Police Department, several official sources indicated yesterday.
In June, 1976, the federal agency filed a civil suit in Baltimore's U.S. District Court charging the overwhelmingly white county police department with discrimination. Since then, according to James Angus, chief of the Justice Department's employment enforcement division, the county has failed to respond to two settlement proposals, known as consent decrees.
Although Angus claimed the Justice Department is "still interested" in a settlement, he said he would "not dispute the characterization" that the county has expressed no interest in reaching one. He said the case could go to trial before U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Young this year.
County Attorney James C. Chapin representing County Executive Wigfield Kelly and Police Chief John Rhoads in the case, said his office was "still reviewing" the settlement proposals, the last of which has been on his desk since October.
"I think there is still a possibility of settlement," Chapin said. "But that depends entirely on the terms. When you have a strong defense -- and we believe we have a very strong one --you don't think you have to offer much in return for a settlement."
The county's defense, according to John A. Lally, an aide to Kelly, is that 39.8 percent of the police officers hired since the suit was filed have been blacks or women. In 1975, there were 31 black males and 10 white women on the force. Today there are 68 blacks and 15 women in the ranks.
"It seems to us that Justice wants a scalp," said one high-ranking county official. "They want to say: 'We got P.G.' What we're saying is that we're doing our job without any outside interference."
Angus said the Justice Department recognized the minority hiring efforts made by the county over the last three years, but would not drop the case. "From our perspective," he said, "there is always a question as to what the defendant would do if the suit were dropped. We are interested in a binding agreement in such cases."
Another Justice Department attorney said that "before we filed suit, they (the county police officials) we're interested in is how fast they was done under pressure."
Angus would not reveal the specifics of the latest settlement proposal. "In general terms," he said, "what we're interested in is how fast they will meet a reasonable minority position and how long it will take them to do it."
The Justice Department has maintained that the percentage of minority policemen on a force should reflect the percentage of blacks in the community. Prince George's is about 25 percent black; the police force -- despite the recent minority hiring push --
Both parties have been reluctant to discuss the case since the suit was filed. Chapin said publicity would "not be in the interest of resolution." A Justice Department attorney said the county was "scared to death" of publicity because of the recent shootings of two unarmed black suspects by white policemen.
Judge Young has already postponed the trial date for the case twice -- last spring and summer -- in hopes that the two sides would reach a settlement. Last month he ordered Chapin and Angus to a conference in Baltimore and told them to report back to him by last week on what progress they had made.
"We'll write him the letter this week," said Angus. "We'll tell him that there has been no progress. There haven't been any discussions."