Schmoke ousts Daniel from command post Mayor transfers critical colonel to obscure city agency

September 05, 1997|By Peter Hermann and JoAnna Daemmrich | Peter Hermann and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

The embattled Baltimore police colonel who sparked an uproar by calling his boss a racist was stripped of one of the most powerful commands on the force yesterday and transferred to an obscure city agency.

A lawyer for Col. Ronald L. Daniel, one of the highest-ranking black police commanders on the force, immediately filed an injunction in federal court to block the move. A hearing is scheduled for today.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ordered the transfer, which Daniel's lawyers called a retaliatory demotion, after a day of meetings to try to resolve the feud that erupted in April and had again turned into a public spectacle.

One of the lawyers for Daniel, who recently labeled Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier a racist in a deposition, said the colonel was "devastated" by the transfer.

"They stripped him of all semblance of responsibility and authority to give him an undefined role in the mayor's office," said Frank Laws, the lawyer. "It's an age-old method for punishing people. You banish them someplace where they don't want be."

Daniel, a 23-year veteran who was one of Frazier's first promotions three years ago, has no intention of resigning, Laws said.

As one of two colonels in charge of the Field Operations Bureau, Daniel directed half of the city's police districts. His new job is at the Mayor's Coordinating Council on Criminal Justice, a small agency that manages crime-fighting efforts financed with state and federal grants. The agency has a $585,616 budget and a staff of five.

The new director of the agency, Betsi Griffith, said Daniel will be the liaison between community groups and police and will administer grants for six high-crime "hot spots" in the city.

Schmoke's action underscored his unwavering support for Frazier, whom he credits with bringing down crime in Baltimore and whom he has called "one of the best police commissioners in the nation." Schmoke also insists that Frazier has made a good-faith effort to resolve long-standing racial disparities within the 3,200-officer force.

Earlier in the day, the mayor could barely restrain his anger as he condemned Daniel's statements, which were made under oath in a discrimination suit brought by a black police sergeant.

"I do not believe that Tom Frazier is a racist, and it's a horrible thing to say about somebody," he said. "It is one of the most highly charged words in our language, and you shouldn't use it lightly. Colonel Daniel is just wrong to call Commissioner Frazier a racist."

But Daniel's transfer drew sharp criticism from some political and community leaders, who called it nothing short of retaliation. Others supported the mayor and police chief, however, saying they had no choice but to act to prevent the feud from paralyzing the police force.

"The other black police officers are getting a chilling message about what happens when you speak out about racism," said state Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a West Baltimore Democrat. "They're getting the message that you have to just lump it.

"The mayor's actions are outrageous. His statements are outrageous," he added.

His cousin, City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., also said he was deeply concerned about the "terrible message to African-American officers."

"They see that this can happen to a high-ranking officer, why wouldn't it happen to them?" he said. Daniel, he said, "was sworn to tell the truth" and had the right to speak candidly, especially on such a sensitive issue as race relations.

Others said they're more worried about keeping crime-fighting efforts going.

"To me, it's not a black-and-white issue," said Carl Stokes, a former councilman who serves on the school board. "For me, and for most citizens, I think, the issue is what happens in their neighborhoods. People are interested in crime fighting, and they want to see the top brass working together."

The Rev. Melvin B. Tuggle II, president of Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore, supported Frazier and said Daniel's comments appear to be of a personal matter because he is the only black colonel complaining about racism.

"Insubordination is a major problem," Tuggle said. "If my second command questioned me like that, I'm going to get rid of him. No mayor can function and do his job properly if the second in command is not in agreement."

Schmoke did more than staunchly support his police chief yesterday; he appeared to suggest Daniel should leave.

"When I'm trying to make decisions as mayor, I encourage my staff to give me their honest input," he said, his face grim as he stared at a bank of television cameras in a City Hall conference room. "But once I make the decision, then it's time to support the mayor, and if you don't and it's a matter of principle, then you resign."

At another point, he said: "If one of my closest Cabinet officers went out and publicly called me a racist and criticized my personnel decisions I wouldn't tolerate that. That person would be an ex-Cabinet officer today."

But Schmoke was obviously torn. He mentioned that he had gone to high school with Daniel. He spoke highly of Daniel as "a very talented officer, a man who served the city well, a person who was a finalist on a short list to be the commissioner and probably could have been a police chief in another city." He sounded wistful as he said he wished there was a way for Daniel to overcome his deep doubts about Frazier.

"I don't think he should ruin his future career by this type of controversy, this type of quarrel. I hate to see people who have made such a commitment to this community get involved in this kind of mess," he said. "There ought to be a way of straightening this out."

Initially, many at City Hall expected Daniel to resign. Others speculated that Schmoke, who said he did not have the authority to fire Daniel, was pushing him to apologize. Several people close to the mayor said he did not want Daniel to leave.

Pub Date: 9/05/97

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