Sergeant files bias suit against city $13.5 million motion says ex-supervisor, other bosses blocked promotion

September 19, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A black Baltimore police sergeant filed a $13.5 million lawsuit against the city yesterday, charging that a pattern of racism and harassment condoned by top department commanders kept him from being promoted.

The officer's former supervisor, Sgt. Douglas Womack, is named in the federal suit as a catalyst for the alleged discriminatory behavior against Robert R. Richards, a former police helicopter pilot.

Richards, who recently was promoted to sergeant, filed the suit yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

A news conference has been scheduled for this morning at the Fraternal Order of Police office in North Baltimore.

The 16-page suit details a wide range of racial disparities that Richards attributes to Womack or other commanders. Richards said Womack repeatedly referred to him using vulgar terms, filed false complaints against him with the Federal Aviation Administration and told a white officer that his judgment was questionable because of that officer's friendship with Richards.

Richards blames his recent transfer from the helicopter unit on discrimination.

"The management-level employees had actual knowledge about the existence of a racially hostile environment and not only failed to take prompt and adequate remedial action, but participated in creating this hostile environment," the lawsuit says.

Womack, who would not comment on specific charges, called the lawsuit "a personal affront." In a brief telephone interview yesterday, he said: "Anybody who says I ever did somebody in because of their race is a liar. It's as simple as that."

Sam Ringgold, the Police Department's chief spokesman, would not comment on the suit yesterday, citing the official policy against commenting on pending litigation.

Womack, assigned to the communications division, faces a departmental trial board in relation to complaints by Richards.

Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said the union is concerned about the "obvious retaliation" against black and white officers who complained about the way Richards was treated.

In a statement released yesterday afternoon, the union said it has "attempted to resolve this matter on several occasions only to be rebuked by Police Department command."

Richards' lawyer, Joseph T. Mallon Jr., said yesterday that his client had been repeatedly harassed since he joined the aviation unit in 1991. At first, Mallon said, Richards dismissed the treatment as a personality conflict.

"He knew he was being treated differently, but he didn't want to cite racial discrimination as being the factor," the lawyer said. "When the harassment continued, he had to look objectively at what was happening. The only thing that was different between himself and other members of the unit was his skin color."

Mallon said that even after Womack was removed from the aviation unit, he advised a department commander on how to privatize and "as a result, he cut Bob Richards' position. It was the only position cut. He was the only pilot affected."

Mallon would not release copies of statements taken during discovery, but he said two other aviation officers have said under oath that Womack told them: "I'm out to get Bob Richards."

Among the allegations contained in the suit: Womack is said to have falsely accused Richards of violating FAA regulations and "attempted to coerce an aircraft mechanic to give false statements."

Pub Date: 9/19/96

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