Schmoke says he knew of police bias Mayor gives deposition in discrimination suit by Baltimore officer

October 27, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has known about racial strife in Baltimore's police force for years and has told his police commissioners that they would have to deal with the issue, the city's chief executive said last week in an unprecedented court deposition.

The mayor, however, stopped short of saying what the police leaders -- three of whom were African-American -- did to quell racial discord. He did not criticize Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, who has been accused of racial insensitivity.

Schmoke was forced to testify in a $13.5 million lawsuit filed against the city in U.S. District Court in Baltimore by police Sgt. Robert Richards. The black officer claims that while he was promoted, he was discriminated against because he was not allowed to remain in the helicopter unit after his promotion.

"The problem of discrimination in the department is something that was well known to me since my time as state's attorney" in 1982, Schmoke said during 34 minutes of questioning Friday in his City Hall conference room.

"And in my conversations with the commissioners that I appointed, I indicated to them that this would be a problem that they would have to address during their tenure in office."

City lawyers had fought hard to keep Schmoke from testifying. The mayor, a former federal prosecutor and city state's attorney who was elected to City Hall in 1986, is regularly subpoenaed in civil trials, but had never been forced to give testimony, said City Solicitor Otho M. Thompson.

Joseph Mallon, Richards' lawyer, said he is trying to show a pattern of racism in the Police Department. He has deposed several police administrators, including Frazier.

Mallon said the deposition "shows that individuals from the top on down have been aware of racial discrimination in the Baltimore City Police Department and they have still not found a way to resolve the situation."

Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's spokesman, said Schmoke gave two mandates to Frazier when he was hired in 1994: Bring the crime rate down and "address these smoldering issues of discrimination and disparate treatment."

But the mayor would not comment yesterday on the deposition, saying he had not reviewed the transcript.

Asked whether police commissioners before Frazier had done enough to address racial problems on the force, Coleman said: "The mayor has no problem commenting on your question, but his lawyers are telling him that he cannot."

Thompson also declined to comment on the mayor's testimony.

Although the civil suit is not scheduled for trial until January, it has had considerable fallout.

Schmoke transferred Police Col. Ronald L. Daniel to an obscure city agency last year after Daniel called Frazier a racist in his deposition in the lawsuit. Frazier's testimony that racial disparity exists sparked a round of protests by fired black officers when it was released in the summer. The officers demanded that the commissioner be ousted for failing to deal with the problem.

The mayor's deposition contains no explosive comments or contradictions from public statements made about race on the police force.

Schmoke said he asked to be kept informed about Richards' claims "primarily so I could report back to a lot of people interested in this matter in the community."

He said he asked the Community Relations Commission to examine the matter.

"I didn't have the authority to do anything other than that," Schmoke said.

Pub Date: 10/27/98

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