Maryland state lawmakers plan to focus their attention this month on what continues to be a hot-button topic nationwide: police reform.
Members of the House of Delegates who serve on a police reform and accountability work group are scheduled to host its first public hearing Thursday, Aug. 6.
Another public hearing scheduled for next week will highlight police body cameras. According to legislation approved this year and sponsored by Delegates Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Glenarden and David Moon (D-Montgomery County), a task force will study options to store audio and video recordings and make budgetary recommendations for state, county, local and campus law enforcement departments.
A report must be completed with recommendations to the General Assembly by Dec. 1.
“I think we can put our money where our mouth is,” Lewis said. “The American public is on our side to get reform done.”
The lawmakers’ police reform legislation was spurred by the May 25 death of George Floyd when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Five years ago in Baltimore, Freddie Gray died while in police custody in Baltimore. Two years later in 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice chose to not bring federal charges against the five police officers.
Across the state on the Eastern Shore, 19-year-old Anton Black died in September 2018 during an altercation with police. Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery County) will reintroduce police reform legislation named after Black during next year’s General Assembly session.
Locally, a former Prince George’s County police officer fatally shot William Green of Southeast in January in Temple Hills. Two months later in March, a grand jury indicted the officer, Cpl. Michael Owen, of second-degree murder, manslaughter and other charges.
The county police department continues to deal with an ongoing lawsuit alleging racial and retaliatory practices.
A report released this summer by Michael E. Graham, a former 33-year veteran with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, shows Prince George’s police training has been “deficient.” It also shows Black and Latino officers are twice as likely to receive disciplinary charges compared to their white counterparts and senior officers failed to keep track of disciplinary actions.
Police Chief Hank Stawinski resigned hours after the report was made public.
Graham’s report, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, comes in connection to the lawsuit filed in December 2018 led by former county police officer and retired Capt. Joe Perez, president of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Officers.
Another dozen Prince George’s Black and Latino police officers, not affiliated with the suit, request the interim police Chief Hector Velez to promote those qualified ranked officers to positions either vacant or currently with acting personnel.
The officers, represented by Greenbelt attorney Lawrence Holzman, sent a letter July 13 to Velez to request a meeting with him and other police leadership. They claim department policy for officers on a list eligible to be promoted as a lieutenant, sergeant, or captain expire several months before the next oral or written exam takes place. That allows senior leadership to promote white officers ahead of Black and Latino officers.
Another test was scheduled in April, but was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
After no response, one of the officers, Sgt. Lynn Grant, and the officer’s attorney, Lawrence Holzman, spoke during a virtual press conference on July 28. Grant has been with the department for more than 20 years and on the promotion list.
“We’re not at the bottom of the barrel. We’re very capable of stepping into our position and moving the county forward,” Grant said. “I’m here because a lot of the members that stand with me are afraid of retaliation. It’s just a shame in 2020 we still have to hide and be afraid to speak up.”
In regard to the ongoing suit filed during her second week in office as county executive, Angela Alsbrooks said at a press conference Thursday, July 30 discussion of the suit must remain in court.
“It was filed in the court of law and that’s where it should be resolved,” she said. “I think what people are tired of is press conferences every week to hash out the details of a lawsuit, when the lawsuit should be resolved in court.”