The 12 officers are of different races and “assert different types of discrimination and retaliation by different decision makers, at different times, under markedly different circumstances,” the letter from lawyers representing the county states. “Apart from conclusory allegations, Plaintiffs allege no facts showing a policy or statement — formal or informal — of the PGPD that links their claims together.”
The lawsuit, filed with the backing of the ACLU of Maryland and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, claims the police department systemically denies promotions to officers of color and retaliates against them for reporting misconduct involving white officers. The lawsuit also asserts the department disciplines officers of color more harshly and unfairly demotes those who complain of biased treatment.
The county’s letter comes weeks after the complaining officers in the case claimed they had been retaliated against by the department since their lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland. The lawyers for the officers assert that in recent weeks one officer was written up for petty infractions, another was transferred to a less desirable job and another was suspended.
“We look forward to defeating their arguments in court,” Dennis A. Corkery, one of the civil rights attorneys representing the officers, said of the county’s latest filing. Lawyers for the officers say they plan to ask the judge to issue a preliminary injunction in the case that would bar the department from taking additional actions against the officers. Corkery said the group also is working with the county on the recent retaliation claims, with many of them already resolved.
Police spokeswoman Jennifer Donelan declined to comment on the case, citing the pending litigation.
In its letter, the county described some of its personnel reviews involving the officers.
One plaintiff who alleges he received improper discipline had texted a “picture of his genitals to the victim of a domestic violence case he was investigating,” the county said in its most recent letter to the court. Another was being investigated for pulling out his service weapon to resolve a dispute with a parking attendant.
The lawsuit is part of an ongoing dispute within the county department.
Last year, officers of color asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the agency. Justice Department officials have declined to comment on the “existence or nonexistence” of an investigation into the department. The ACLU attorney representing the officers said the employment section of the federal agency’s civil rights division has been reviewing the officers’ concerns.
The lawsuit accuses police management of declining to appropriately punish white officers who have circulated racist text messages or made racist comments, such as asking black officers if they’re “hungry for chicken” or sending messages about bringing “back public hangings.” It also claimed that white officers who had been punished for misconduct later have been promoted to various positions but minority officers who have been similarly disciplined have not.
The county’s most recent court filing did not address in detail the claims of the complaint but broadly asserted that the accusations by the individual officers should not be considered as a whole. The internal investigations and subsequent disciplinary actions taken against them represent disparate and individual circumstances, the county contends.
“The 12 individual Plaintiffs assert five different claims for relief — hostile work environment, disparate discipline, retaliation, non-promotion, and discrimination based on disability; no plaintiff asserts all claims,” the letter states. “Moreover, an extreme risk of prejudice to Defendants arises from the fact that a jury might conclude that merely from the number of Plaintiffs in the case, there must be something wrong with the actions of the PGPD.”