Prince George’s County, Maryland, on Tuesday settled a lawsuit brought by county police officers of color who accused the department of racist practices, both in policing and in the promotion and discipline of officers.
The lawsuit was filed in December 2018 by the United Black Police Officers Association, the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association and 12 individual officers.
The settlement says the county will pay the plaintiffs a total of $2.3 million, as well as nearly $6 million in legal fees. It also specifies a host of policy changes meant to protect officers from discrimination in promotions and from retaliation if they point out discriminatory and racist practices, either within the department or in policing the public.
Joe Perez, president of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association and a retired Prince George’s County police captain, called the settlement “a little bittersweet.”
He told WTOP the policy changes were the main thing, and that the entire affair could have been settled for no money.
“We tried to mediate, with the [Department of Justice] involved, and it would have been free …. But the county refused to do that at the time,” he said.
Instead, he said, the county spent about $17 million fighting the suit.
Perez said that officers who reported colleagues for abusing someone or engaging in some other misconduct “were targeted by the highest level of the police administration, and that’s actually a more recent example — that was only about a year ago.”
He added, “Hopefully, the department will move in a positive direction, [with] fair and equitable treatment to people in the community, as well as its officers.”
Some of the specifics in the settlement
- Changes to promotional practices to reduce discrimination against Black and Latino officers.
- Clear declarations that racist, discriminatory acts, both inside the department and facing the public, are eligible for the harshest punishments.
- The prohibition of the use of race, ethnicity or national origin in policing determinations.
The judge in the case said in April that the department “has been aware of the significant disparities in promotion rates based on race dating back at least to 2012 but has done virtually nothing to address them,” the plaintiffs said in a statement.
The Police Department hasn’t responded to a request for comment. In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said, “I am pleased that we have settled this lawsuit.”
The settlement, she said, would help the county “continue to move forward, focusing on implementing the necessary reforms within our Police Department to ensure that it exemplifies best practices in policing.”
Alsobrooks added, “The residents of Prince George’s County will benefit from a department that treats all officers fairly and is committed to transparency and accountability in all we do.”
She’ll hold a news conference Thursday at 2 p.m. to talk about the specifics of the settlement.
WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.