Judge upholds police transfers made to end 'immature, childish' behavior

December 28, 1993|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Staff Writer

A Baltimore County judge yesterday upheld involuntary transfers that the Police Department made in 1992 to break up "the good-old-boy network" at the Eastern Traffic Division.

Some officers in that division subjected two female officers to pranks involving a sexual aid, calendars featuring naked and scantily clad women, and racial and sexual vulgarities. The department later transferred the officers who engaged in the pranks.

Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz blasted "the immature, childish and juvenile behavior that was exhibited in this case," which "could not and should not be tolerated by the people that ran the Baltimore County Police Department."

Michael Marshall, representing nine officers who sued to reverse the involuntary transfers, said the men should have been formally charged and allowed to defend themselves before a police trial board.

He and co-counsel Herbert R. Weiner couldn't say last night whether they will appeal.

John A. Austin, representing the department, said that even though police supervisors reminded the group of the department's zero-tolerance policy for discrimination, "it was clear no lights were going on in the heads of these officers. It was clear the department had an obligation to deal with the situation."

Maj. Mary Kim Ward testified that she initiated the action after two female officers complained to her. Major Ward, who was a liaison for then-Chief Cornelius J. Behan at the time, said an internal investigation confirmed the complaints.

Detective Paul Merryman of the Internal Affairs Section said one of the 1992 complaints was that men were given preferential treatment.

Sgt. Joseph Roberts, a 27-year veteran of the department, was dismissed after allegedly threatening to shoot one of the female officers, Maj. William A. Kelly Jr., commander of Field Support Services, testified. The problems continued after Sergeant Roberts was removed.

Sergeant Roberts, who was not a plaintiff in the civil suit, is being sued in U.S. District Court by Charlynn Loiacono. She claims he threatened her with a gun and told her women didn't belong on the force.

Capt. Robert H. Sullivan, who heads the Operational Support Services that includes the traffic divisions, said, "Individually, they were good officers, but as a group . . . there was just a general insensitivity that I could not bring a stop to, as long as they had each other to lean on."

Although each officer was involved in at least one incident, he said, "To a man, they said, 'I didn't do nothin'. . . . That organization, that group had to be busted up. As commanding officer, I had no qualms whatsoever."

Captain Sullivan said he told the men he would consider requests for reassignment back to the traffic division after a year, but determined "they would never be back as a group again." None of the officers lost salary, leave, or suffered disciplinary action.

Judge Levitz ruled that the transfers were not punitive, but were part of the internal management of a "paramilitary organization" and were intended "to break up that good-old-boy network [in the interest of] having a proper work environment."

The plaintiffs in the case were Officers Joseph Cannady, David Emerick, George Hippler, Robert Koch, Robert Knutsen, Michael Stricklin, Edward Byers, Lt. Thomas Johnston and Sgt. Ronald Wilhelm.

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