Feds launch investigation into Maryland State Police hiring practices
The US Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the Maryland State Police to determine whether the agency engaged in racially discriminatory hiring and promotion practices, federal prosecutors said Friday.
News of the investigation follows a series of complaints from black soldiers about harassment and abuse by other white officers, concerns that caught the attention of a Maryland state lawmaker l ‘last year.
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“Discrimination has no place in any workplace, and especially in law enforcement,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Justice, in a press release. “Our investigation will determine whether the Maryland State Police Department has created racially discriminatory barriers for black people seeking job opportunities and promotions and, if so, identify reforms needed to ensure equal employment opportunity.”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Woodrow W. Jones III have been briefed and pledged to cooperate with the investigation, according to the news release.
“Significant steps have been taken and continue to address even the perception of racism or unfair treatment of any kind,” Jones said in a statement released Friday afternoon.
Hogan’s office released a statement calling the Maryland State Police the “best police organization in the nation.” He said the state has committed funds to increase diversity and strengthen recruitment.
“It is important to ensure that any wrongdoing is addressed, so we welcome this investigation and are committed to full cooperation,” said Michael Ricci, spokesman for the governor’s office.
In 2021, Maryland State Senator Joanne Benson of Prince George’s County said black soldiers accused the agency of racism and discrimination, pointing to disparities in discipline and promotions, as well as the under-representation and allegations of retaliation.
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Benson met with more than 20 black soldiers who presented him with documents detailing their demands, WRC reported in Washington in February 2021. The broadcaster did not identify the soldiers because those who spoke out violated department policy. .
“They had the papers. They had the proof,” Benson said. “They had done their homework regarding the incidents that had occurred and the problems that they were encountering.”
Benson’s phone voicemail was full and she could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Statistics provided by the Maryland State Police and reported by the WRC showed that black officers made up 8.9% of senior officers and 11% of non-commissioned officers in the agency, with very few becoming lieutenants.
Clarke F. Ahlers, a Maryland attorney who represents black soldiers in several lawsuits against state police, said he welcomes the Justice Department’s investigation.
“I think the Maryland State Police have engaged in an unfortunate process of discriminating against soldiers of color,” Ahlers said.
“I wouldn’t need a Justice Department investigation to convict me of racial discrimination within the ranks of the Maryland State Police,” he said.
Ahlers said he had four cases in the past five years that “cried discrimination” by the agency, though none were directly related to hiring or promotions. One involved a case that was in favor of the soldier, who Ahlers said is still dealing with harassment from the department.
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In another instance, Ahlers said he depicted a black soldier who used minimal force to stop a motorist. He and other officers involved have been cleared in the incident. Afterwards, a white soldier left a banana on the black soldier’s car, Ahlers said.
The black soldier complained about the act and, after refusing to withdraw his complaint, he was charged with first-degree assault for the use of force, Ahlers said. The charge was eventually dropped by the state’s attorney’s office. As for the initial complaint about the banana placed on his car, Maryland State Police said it had nothing to do with race, according to Ahlers.