PALMER PARK, Md. - The police chief for Prince George's County held a news conference to address a complaint filed with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) alleging racial discrimination, unfair promotional practices and disciplinary procedures within the police department.
The complaint was sent to the DOJ last October and is reportedly filed on behalf of more than 90 officers.
Police Chief Hank Stawinski said he has been attempting to contact the DOJ to get more details about the complaint, but has not received any information from them so far.
In the meantime, Stawinski teamed up with local president of the Fraternal Order of Police "convening a panel of outside experts and union representation to examine the department's practices, promotion system, and disciplinary procedures."
Stawinski also addressed several photos that are part of this complaint. One of the photos is of a training dummy that apparently shows a black face pasted on it and an afro wig at its feet. The chief said this photo is believed to have be taken in 2015 or earlier because this particular piece of equipment has not been used since then.
Another photo shows a personalized license plate on an officer's blue Chevrolet truck that reads "GFYOBMA." Stawinski said the acronym GFY meant to be offensive. The photo is believed to have been taken last year and Stawinski learned about this license plate, he made it clear that the car was not permitted on police department property. He said he also looked into what he could and could not legally do because he did not feel that it was appropriate. He said the officer did end up removing the license plate from their vehicle.
Another photo shows a locker where "African American" is written on it where it is supposed to say "Color Guard" with the word "Color" crossed off. An officer with the Special Operations Division who saw this locker recently and reported it directly to the police chief. Stawinski said it is currently being investigated.
Stawinski said he needs to identify whether these are individual cases or whether there is a systemic problem and they are now examining trends when it comes to disciplinary action and promotions. He said if a problem is identified, he will work to fix it immediately.
"I worry about the 2,000 members of this department and I don't hold anyone in any different view because they express a concern," said Chief Stawinski. "The reality is that we must work to improve this institution. We have evolved tremendously in 10 years, in 20 years. The only way that works is we all reject the status quo, we restructure, we investigate, we bring impartial people in to look at issues and tell us where they believe we have problems and then we act."
"We will continue to monitor this investigation, to ensure that our members cooperate with this investigation, to ensure that things of this nature are not allowed in the workplace and we move past this," said John Teletchea, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89.
The National Hispanic Law Enforcement Association and United Black Police Officers Association filed the complaint on behalf of the officers and said on Twitter that they have been meeting with the Justice Department.
The Office of Inspector General for the Prince George's County, which has oversight of the police department, sent the DOJ a letter asking them to clarify what they are looking into and how the police department can support them in their inquiry. However, they have yet to receive a response.