Officers Seek To Oust Police Chief

Some On City's Force Protest Suspension Of Top-ranking Black

Baltimore Mayor Steps In

Commander At Center Of Dispute Is Accused Of Criticizing Frazier

April 24, 1997|By Peter Hermann and John Rivera | Peter Hermann and John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier faced a revolt by some black officers and calls for his ouster yesterday after he suspended the department's highest-ranking black police commander and accused him of insubordination.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke intervened late last night and persuaded Frazier to rescind the suspension of Col. Ronald L. Daniel, said the mayor's spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman.

But Daniel still could face disciplinary action, Frazier said. The mayor, commissioner and Daniel are scheduled to meet tomorrow.

Schmoke and Frazier contradicted each other on whether the commissioner informed the mayor in advance that Daniel was to be suspended.

Coleman said the mayor had been told over the weekend by Frazier only about an investigation into Daniel's alleged insubordination.

"I think that the mayor was more than a little troubled," Coleman said, adding that the investigation will continue.

Schmoke's dramatic late-night intervention was the climax of an afternoon, evening and night of frantic meetings and telephone calls involving Frazier, Daniel and angry members of a black police group who demanded that Daniel immediately be reinstated.

Frazier insisted last night that he told Schmoke in advance of Daniel's suspension. He said he was not ordered to rescind it, but this marks the first time that the mayor has publicly pressured his chief to reverse a major decision.

"I think it's premature to characterize [Frazier's] job as being in jeopardy," Coleman said. Frazier said he is "not at all" concerned and added: "I have the mayor's support."

Daniel's suspension occurred as a result of a meeting last week with fellow black officers in which he questioned the chief's commitment to ending racial disparity in the department and allegedly called for Frazier's removal.

Frazier was told of Daniel's comments and is accusing him of insubordination and violating several departmental rules, including one that prohibits officers from participating in a "seditious, rebellious or reactionary movement."

But Daniel's suspension triggered a rebellion as 13 members of the Vanguard Justice Society -- including high-ranking Majors Wendell M. France and Barry Powell -- who asked Schmoke during a two-hour meeting last night to fire the chief.

Schmoke, who recently called Frazier "the best police commissioner in the country," initially said last night through his spokesman, Coleman, "I am extremely concerned and more than troubled by the current situation." Coleman later called The Sun to say the suspension had been rescinded.

Daniel said it was premature to speak publicly about his matter.

Frazier denied last night that he took action against Daniel because of his criticism on racial issues.

"I was contacted over the weekend by African-American commanders who alleged that [Daniel] had questioned my ethics and motives and advocated my removal from office," Frazier said. "I see that commentary as disruptive to the efficient operation of the department and our ability to fight crime."

The commissioner said the alleged comments by Daniel get "in the way of fighting crime, and I won't tolerate it."

A top police commander who supports Frazier said last night that there was an organized "coup attempt" by a small group of high-ranking officers "to overthrow the police commissioner." The source quoted a black commander who told the chief: "It sickens me to my stomach to hear talk of an uprising."

Sgt. Teresa E. Cunningham, president of Vanguard, which represents about 600 of the force's 1,100 black officers, said Frazier is sending an ominous message to black officers -- that if they say anything that he perceives to undermine him, "he will literally whack your head off."

At the same time Frazier moved against Daniel, Frazier promoted a black major to colonel, named a female major to head the homicide unit and moved another black commander, Col. Robert Smith, to temporarily fill Daniel's position.

But critics termed the changes a smoke screen to blunt criticism of Daniel's suspension. Cunningham called the changes "bogus promotions."

Daniel, who is chief of the Field Operations Bureau and in charge of 2,500 of the department's 3,200 officers, initially was placed on administrative leave with pay. Frazier declined to talk about specifics of the probe into Daniel's comments, which the department's Internal Investigation Division is conducting. He said it would be over in "a matter of days."

Possible disciplinary action includes demotion or termination.

Daniel's police powers were to remain intact during the 12-hour suspension, but he was stripped of his departmental car and ordered to stay away from his office at police headquarters until the matter was resolved.

At a news conference attended by Vanguard and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, France -- who heads the National Black Officers Association -- called the action against Daniel a "very egregious act.

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