Four Takoma Park police officers and a former officer have filed a complaint with the federal government alleging the police department repeatedly denied them promotions because they are Latino or black.
The 200-page document, delivered Monday to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, also alleges that the five endured racial and ethnic slurs from colleagues and that the department ignored their complaints about the offensive comments.
Police Chief Thomas W. Anderson, who assumed his job two years ago after serving as the police chief in West Columbia, S.C., denied that there is discrimination on his 42-member force, which includes two Latino and 16 black officers. Anderson has asked the U.S. Department of Justice for assistance in resolving the matter, a police spokeswoman said yesterday.
Mayor Kathy Porter said the complaint was troubling because Takoma Park, a Montgomery County city of 18,000 known for having some of the region's most liberal laws, "prides itself on diversity." Porter said she told the city attorney to open an investigation.
In a related development, the local branch of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association said it had sent a copy of the EEOC complaint to the Justice Department and asked for a separate inquiry. The local group's president, Tom Garcia, said he "can only imagine that if the officers in this department are being discriminated against, what the community is going through."
One of the EEOC complainants, Joe Perez, now employed by the Prince George's County police, said that he had won numerous awards during three years on the Takoma Park force but that he was denied promotion to specialized units three times. He said several black and Latino officers who obtained additional training to qualify for promotion were rejected in favor of less qualified white officers.
"We are being held to a higher standard, all the time," Perez said. "We can't understand how the chief can deny [the discrimination within] the organization."
The EEOC complaint also alleges that a sergeant once told officers that "Hispanics are always stealing hubcaps" and that an officer once joked, as a group of minority officers approached, that "the squad is starting to look like a gang."
Perez, 35, said he resigned after an ethnic slur was sprayed on his personal car in the department parking lot and the police chief told him he was taking the incident "too seriously." The EEOC complaint alleges that Anderson replied: "It's not as bad as it seems. It's your imagination, don't be so paranoid."
The department spokesman denied that Anderson made the comments.
At a news conference yesterday, Anderson, who said the EEOC complaint was the first to be filed against the Takoma Park police in 15 years, acknowledged that during several roll calls, Latino officers were referred to as "amigos."
"There was a comment made, and I recall hearing about that," Anderson said. "But the officers involved didn't file a complaint. . . . We always try to be sensitive to the concerns of our employees."
The complaint alleges that memos about discrimination were sent to the chief and went unanswered.
Anderson said that he has bolstered efforts to recruit women and minority officers. As a result, 60 percent of the new officers are black, and the number of women officers has increased from three to five, he said. There is only one black and one woman above the rank of corporal, officials said.
If the EEOC finds that the allegations have merit, the agency will meet with the parties to reach a resolution, spokesman Michael Widomsky said. If agreement cannot be reached, the EEOC will refer the matter to the Justice Department for possible litigation, he said. By law, the EEOC is allowed to file suit against only private employers.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said she was unaware of the separate request for an investigation made by the local branch of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association. But the department can investigate class-action complaints filed by organizations, she said.