Racial bias charges filed against DNR police again

August 25, 1993|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Staff Writer

Charges of racial discrimination in the Maryland Natural Resources Police have resurfaced in federal court in Baltimore, where eight years ago an agreement promising improved race relations eased black officers' concerns.

Sgt. John I. Gilmer, a black officer who was a complainant in a successful 1985 class action suit against the Department of Natural Resources, claims his role then only aggravated his superiors. In the years since, their racial comments and insults have intensified, he contends in a lawsuit filed Aug. 18 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Sergeant Gilmer claims in the suit that numerous complaints of sexual or racial harassment against white officers have been ignored, while officials aggressively pursued similar complaints against blacks.

In the suit, which names as defendants DNR Secretary Torrey C. Brown and Col. Franklin I. Wood, natural resources police superintendent, Sergeant Gilmer seeks no monetary damages.

Instead, he asks the court to schedule a hearing before Oct. 27, when he is to face a disciplinary hearing on what he claims are trumped up charges to force him from the police force.

He also asks the court to block further discriminatory actions and order the department to investigate and conduct formal hearings against white officers named in his written complaints.

The suit comes nearly a month after state police confirmed they are investigating whether high-level Maryland Natural Resources Police officials have ignored complaints of racial discrimination and sexual harassment. The investigation was requested by Dr. Brown, a point emphasized by Thomas A. Deming, DNR's principal counsel.

"We will deal appropriately with whatever the report of that investigation is," Mr. Deming said. "As far as [Sergeant Gilmer's] complaint itself, we don't think there are any grounds stated in the complaint for delaying the scheduled disciplinary proceeding.

"Certainly, we disagree with the general allegations," he added.

In the suit, Sergeant Gilmer, who was unavailable for comment, filed a copy of an April 1 letter he sent to Dr. Brown detailing some of his experiences.

The letter describes a flurry of internal complaints and counter-complaints -- more than 60 filed by Sergeant Gilmer and more than 60 filed by his supervisor, Maj. Wayne Bromwell -- over a four-year period ending in 1992.

DNR officials would not comment on the disciplinary actions pending against Sergeant Gilmer. But they say the department has made substantial strides in hiring minorities and women.

In 1985, a class-action suit brought in federal court in Baltimore by 10 black officers and job applicants alleged racial bias in DNR's hiring and promotional policies. The suit was settled when DNR agreed to sign a consent decree that required it to hire more blacks and women.

There are currently 217 officers in the natural resources police force. In 1985, the force had four minority officers and four females, Mr. Deming said. The agency now has 33 minority officers and 20 females.

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