Officials in Prince George’s County, Maryland, are pushing back against claims that the police department discriminates against officers of color, arguing in new court filings that the 12 officers suing the department don’t represent a “practice” of racial bias by the agency.
In a letter, attorneys for the Washington suburb said they plan to ask a federal judge to drop a group lawsuit filed in December by the officers and two minority police associations and instead require the officers to file their claims separately, according to The Washington Post.
The 12 officers, who are of different races, “assert different types of discrimination and retaliation by different decision makers, at different times and under markedly different circumstances,” the letter 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 civil lawsuit, filed with the help of the ACLU of Maryland and the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, alleges racist and “egregious misconduct” by the department’s white officers. Not only were officers of color routinely passed up for job promotions, but they were retaliated against for reporting the racist behavior of their white colleagues.
Moreover, the complaint accuses the department of disciplining officers of color much more harshly and unfairly demoting those who complained about the discriminatory treatment.
According to NBC Washington, lawyers who helped put this case together are also working with the Department of Justice as it investigates a similar complaint signed by 120 Prince George’s County officers last year.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Dennis Corkey, an attorney with the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, told the station in December. “White officers are getting off the hook for egregious misconduct while officers of color are getting disciplined for minor infractions.”
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland and provided examples of what officers described as a “hostile” work environment. They pointed to text messages between white officers about “bringing back public hangings,” and one that suggested getting rid “of the Black animals.” Then, there was the white police sergeant who had “Go F yourself Obama” license plates displayed on his personal vehicle.
No investigations were launched after officers complained about these incidents, nor was any disciplinary action taken against the white officers, the lawsuit states.
In its letter, the county hit back at the allegations, saying one of the plaintiffs who claims he was unfairly disciplined once texted a photo “of his genitals to the victim of a domestic violence case he was investigating.” The county also claims another plaintiff was investigated for drawing his gun to resolve a dispute with a parking lot attendant.
In its most recent filing, the county declined to address specific details of the lawsuit but argued that the allegations made by the individual officers shouldn’t be considered as a whole. It contends that the internal investigations and disciplinary actions taken against the 12 officers “represent disparate and individual circumstances.”
“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 asserts. “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.”