The Prince George’s County executive and police chief are addressing reaching a settlement in a lawsuit against the Maryland county, following a claim of discrimination and bias inside its police department.
“This settlement allows us to continue the path that we are already on by reforming this department,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said.
Alsobrooks’ statement comes days after a $2.3 million settlement was announced Tuesday over a lawsuit filed by the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association and the United Black Police Officers Association on behalf of 12 officers with Prince George’s County police.
The lawsuit claimed systemic racism existed in the department — in policing and also promotion and discipline of officers. The lawsuit also claimed that officers who spoke up experienced retaliation.
“While there were things that we certainly disagreed on, to include some of the individual claims that were made, we agreed that overall, our department needed meaningful and lasting change,” Alsobrooks said.
Alsobrooks said that the lawsuit was filed not long after she took office and that reforms have been made and continue to be made at the police department, which included the departure of several high-ranking members of the department and the selection of a new police chief in March of this year.
“The internal culture that was the subject of this lawsuit, which took decades to create, is one that will end with this administration,” Alsobrooks said.
The new chief of police Malik Aziz said his officers are relieved that a settlement has been reached.
He said the department has seen many reforms, and will continue to see more in the future. Among them better training for personnel departments, more specialized internal affairs detectives to investigate allegations, and instituting a bias-free policy.
Aziz also said addressing the issues won’t only include tougher discipline for officers accused of violating the new policies, but it will also include counseling and mediation at the department.
“Everyone starts on a new, level playing field,” Aziz said.
Another change that has been made includes updated policies surrounding body cameras. These include new rules regarding when cameras can be turned off, when footage can be deleted, and who can view the footage captured by a camera.
The county spent millions in legal fees for this lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2018. The county spent some $17 million fighting the lawsuit and will be covering the plaintiff’s $6 million legal fee as part of the settlement.
Alsobrooks said hiring an outside legal team was necessary to face the plaintiff’s “blue-chip” attorneys in the courtroom. On the protracted nature of the lawsuit, Alsobrooks said the county needed time to go through all the claims being made.
“In this case, where we believe that the county’s liability was less clear, we had to take the time that was necessary to examine the issues, to do the investigation and make sure that the result was a fair result for both the county and for the plaintiff,” Alsobrooks said.