Hank Stawinski resigns as Prince George’s County police chief

Prince George’s County police Chief Hank Stawinski speaks at a news conference on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

Prince George’s County police Chief Hank Stawinski resigned Thursday, effective immediately.

County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said in a statement she accepted his resignation.

News of Stawinski’s resignation came Thursday afternoon, following a 94-page report by the American Civil Liberties Union that detailed racial bias and discrimination toward officers of color.

A lawsuit was brought forward by the ACLU on behalf of 13 officers of color of the Prince George’s County Police Department.

In the report, those 13 officers detailed a “pervasive and widespread” presence of discriminatory practices by the department.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan reported that Bob Ross with the Prince George’s chapter of the NAACP called a vote of no-confidence shortly before Stawinski stepped down.

The report alleges over two dozen incidents in which white officers made racist remarks or displayed racist behavior, and many of those officers went undisciplined by the department, while officers of color faced retaliation for reporting the incidents.

An expert opinion in the suit details the department’s failure to properly handle cases of racial discrimination and prejudice among officers.

“There are practices within the department that result in complaints by civilians and minority officers about racial harassment or discrimination that are not being treated appropriately, in that they are either not investigated, not investigated appropriately, or not disciplined appropriately,” said Michael Graham in the expert opinion of the suit.

Graham worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for over 30 years and served as its assistant sheriff.

“The current leadership of the department appears to have made a deliberate choice not to track or monitor its performance concerning these matters,” Graham said.

Graham also said the department’s manual for dealing with harassment among officers did not go far enough to protect those who filed complaints. In many places, the guide tells officers who they can lodge complaints with but does not specify that those complaints must be handled once they have been received.

Further, Graham said that once a complaint was made, there was no system in place to separate officers from a potential harasser, which left them open for more abuse or retaliation.

Lt. Sonya Zollicoffer, one of the plaintiffs named in the report, said the report shows an accurate picture of how the department handled race-related incidents under Stawinski.

“I’m never pleased for someone losing their position, losing their job or having to step down,” Zollicoffer said. “But I will say that it was coming, because we had been asking for change for so long and complete, genuine transparency and we weren’t getting that.”

Zollicoffer said she was glad to see the discrimination being addressed within the department, because she feels that it also impacted the way officers interacted with the community.

“You have to fix it within before you can fix it outside the department,” Zollicoffer said. “Because it filters out to the community.”

In one incident outlined in the suit, an unknown individual placed a picture of an African American face and an afro wig on a training dummy that was used for police baton practice. The incident was assigned to an investigator but was closed without any discipline or charges given out.

Alsobrooks scheduled a news conference at noon Friday addressing Stawinski’s resignation.

WTOP’s Michelle Basch, Kate Ryan and Mike Jakaitis contributed to this report.

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

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