Officers sue P.G. officials

May 05, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer

One former and three current Prince George's County police officers have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they were targeted for harassment after testifying against a police official who made a racist remark.

The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, names County Executive Parris N. Glendening and other county officials as defendants -- claiming that they knew of the purported abuse of authority and failed to stop it.

It is the fourth lawsuit by Prince George's County police officers since 1991 to allege race or sex discrimination in the department.

In the current case, officers claim that they rarely encountered problems in the department before March 19, 1992.

But on that date, a lieutenant made racially bigoted remarks during roll call, the suit says. Asked about the race of some armed suspects, the lieutenant responded: "Black, aren't they always?"

The four officers -- two of whom are white and two black -- complained about their boss' comment, and the department's internal investigations division found grounds to recommend disciplinary action against him.

But a police trial board found the lieutenant not guilty after listening to testimony from three of the officers.

In the aftermath, the officers claim in their suit, they were singled out by their superiors in the department for disciplinary action in retaliation for testifying against the lieutenant. A total of 70 complaints were filed against them, they say.

"You come to work every day, and you know they're trying to drive you off the department," said Cpl. George L. Munkelwitz, adding that one officer had received 32 commendations and another had earned the department's second highest honor before their troubles began.

The officers maintain that Mr. Glendening, who is running for governor, was aware of their problems and failed to act. Corporal Munkelwitz said a file about the alleged harassment was hand-delivered to Mr. Glendening several months ago.

"He said he would personally handle it. We've never heard from him since," Corporal Munkelwitz said.

The others filing the suit are Officer James B. Harrison, Cpl. Daren D. Livingston and former Officer Alphonse R. Gauthier Jr., who resigned.

Michael Connaughton, deputy county attorney, said he had not seen the suit and declined to comment.

According to the suit, senior officers in the Police Department have relied on bogus "citizen complaints" and distortions of fact in pursuing charges against the officers.

The officers are seeking $1 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages.

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