Prince George's CountyWilliam J. Ford

Prince George’s Settles Police Discrimination Suit

Support Uneven for Alsobrooks Decision

The Rev. James Robinson stood next to Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks recently in support of her decision to settle a more than 2½-year discrimination lawsuit involving current and former Black and Latino police officers.

“There have been major changes since she has come into her position and what I feel as a resident is this: everything she said she was going to do she’s done so far. She’s a promise keeper,” said Robinson, pastor of Tree of Life Christian Ministries in Clinton. “There’s a lot more work to be done, but I think that this lady right here is ready to lead and do it.”

Kema Hutchinson-Harris of Clinton disagrees, especially with the county spending more than $25 million to fight the suit.

“This could’ve ended a long time ago. If we had a county executive to use tax dollars better, we wouldn’t be in this,” said Hutchinson-Harris, co-founder of Community Justice. “[Alsobrooks] was state’s attorney for eight years. She knew about this corruption in the police department before she was county executive. It is time for a change.”

Prince George’s residents may not all agree on the length of time it took to settle a lawsuit filed in December 2018, but there is consensus that the police department must be revamped and reorganized to end discrimination against fellow officers and residents.

The settlement, which went into effect Sunday, July 25, includes $17 million for hiring Venable, a private law firm in Northwest; $5.8 million in attorney and reimbursement fees to the plaintiff’s representatives; and $2.3 million for the 12 plaintiffs.

During a press conference Thursday, July 22, Alsobrooks said no one’s “happy” spending taxpayer dollars to defend the suit, but “we had to do it right.”

“We would not be rushed into a result that was not fair to the plaintiffs in this case and would not be fair to the county in this case,” she said. “We needed to take the time that it was necessary to do it properly.”

According to the suit, white officers created a hostile work environment for Black and Latino officers.

A report filed in federal court last year showed 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.

Michael E. Graham, a former 33-year veteran with the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department, compiled the nearly 100-page report on behalf of the plaintiffs, the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Officers Association.

This became the second police-involved case within a year in which the county settled to end litigation.

In September, the county agreed to pay $20 million to the family of 43-year-old William Green, killed by a former police officer in January 2020 while handcuffed in a police cruiser.

The family’s attorney, Billy Murphy, said at that time the figure represented the largest in Maryland and one of the biggest in the country for an unlawful shooting by police.

Alsobrooks said police reforms to eradicate the discriminatory and retaliatory culture needed to be put in place years ago.

“This should have been done decades ago,” she said. “I don’t think anybody denies that there’s no way we should’ve been here.”

‘Extremely Impressed’

Alsobrooks and Police Chief Malik Aziz, who joined the department in May and brings nearly 30 years of experience, summarized some of the upgraded policies as part of the settlement, including a pledge to establish bias-free policing, implement anti-discrimination training and conduct Equal Employment Opportunity investigations.

Aziz replaced former police chief Hank Stawinski, who resigned the same day as the Graham report became public and also named in the suit.

Although the county pushed for funding of body-worn cameras during Alsobrooks’ administration, Aziz said a new policy needed to be implemented such as the process to release video footage.

Aziz said officers can “start healing” now that a settlement has been reached.

“That’s always a morale booster when you can put something behind you and look forward to a new day,” he said.

Aziz has chatted with several community leaders since he arrived from Dallas, Texas.

Linda Thornton Thomas, president of the county’s NAACP, said she’s “extremely impressed” with Aziz.

She said she’s working with the police department to possibly operate at least three community justice hubs in each part of the county – northern, central and southern.

The hubs would be located in high-crime areas and would serve as sites where officers and residents can not only chat, but also host community events.

“This would be like a safe haven and just another form of community policing,” she said. “The fact that [Aziz] talked about this with us and said he would like to work with the community is a plus. I’m extremely impressed with him. His background and what he has done where he came from can make people think differently about policing in Prince George’s County.”

Dawn Dalton of Upper Marlboro, whose son experienced an assault by Prince George’s police in 2010, wants to give Aziz a chance.

“I believe he has an opportunity to be a good chief and really create change,” she said. “With the right people sitting across the table from him, he’ll understand we’re not asleep at the wheel.”

William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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