Retaliation against black police denied City department asks EEOC for evidence it violated civil rights law

Names, documents sought

U.S. agency had found officers charging bias were targeted in probe

December 29, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Gerard Shields contributed to this article.

An article in yesterday's Marlyand section gave an incorrect first name for Walter Shook, Baltimore Community Relations supervisor of investigations.

The Sun regrets the error.

Baltimore police strongly denied yesterday retaliating against black officers who complained of racism, and they asked that a federal agency turn over evidence that proves entrenched bias in the department.

The chief legal counsel for the police, Gary May, sent a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week asking for names of witnesses and documents used to conclude that the department violated federal civil rights laws.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"It's very difficult, if not impossible, to address the facts in this case when the report cited no facts and did not cite any documents," May said yesterday. "We categorically deny having retaliated against any police officer."

The letter, sent Wednesday and released yesterday, is the first formal response to the EEOC report that concluded officers who complained of racial bias were targeted for investigations and that blacks were disciplined more harshly than whites.

Former Sgt. Louis H. Hopson Jr., a black officer who was fired this year and was the catalyst for the EEOC complaint, said yesterday that the department "is still in the denial stage."

Hopson, who said he was dismissed for exposing racial disparities, called May's response typical of the agency. "It's a Baltimore City Police Department ploy to question the integrity of anybody who looks at them," he said. "That's always been their problem."

The Police Department's letter will likely delay a meeting with the EEOC to discuss possible remedies. May said he needs the documents and witness names to draft a response to the EEOC's charges, which could take two weeks. He said the EEOC has not answered his letter, and officials there could not be reached for comment.

Hopson said he would use the EEOC findings to seek a criminal federal rights investigation of the department and is considering filing a class action civil lawsuit on behalf of black officers.

Police officials believe they have made strides to end racial disparity on the force by revamping the disciplinary process, and they say they are eager to show their new system to federal investigators.

The department made the changes two years ago after the Baltimore Community Relations Commission concluded that discrimination existed in the way officers were disciplined. The 3,200-member department is 36 percent African-American.

Wayne Shook, the commission's supervisor of investigations, said yesterday that Baltimore police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has implemented all the recommendations. "It was worse before Frazier," he said. "Frazier has definitely taken some steps to remedy the situation."

But, Shook added: "I don't think he understands the depths of the problems he's dealing with. You can't be neutral. You have to be more than neutral."

The letter May sent gives a glimpse of the department's defense. Much of it will center on Hopson, who was fired after a police trial board concluded he had made a false statement during a trial in Baltimore Circuit Court in 1994.

Hopson had testified as a character witness for an officer accused of a crime, and prosecutors questioned him about a 15-day suspension he had received in 1987 related to making false statements in a search warrant affidavit.

Guilty finding denied

On the witness stand, Hopson denied being found guilty of administrative charges of perjury. He said he accepted a 15-day sus- pension on an administrative misconduct charge related to giving false testimony.

After Hopson's testimony, Assistant State's Attorney Sharon H. May (who is not related to Gary May) wrote a letter Dec. 23, 1994, to police internal investigators asking for an inquiry. A month later, the state's attorney's office told the Police Department that it would drop all cases in which Hopson was the only witness.

An internal police investigation concluded that Hopson "was knowingly misrepresenting facts pertaining to previously sustained internal investigation complaints." He was fired after a department hearing in February 1996.

Gary May said the department's response to the EEOC "will rely very heavily on the fact that the complaint against Hopson arose from outside the Police Department. We didn't solicit it. The complaining witness was a state's attorney."

'Serious misconduct'

The department's legal counsel said the city will defend any class action suit brought against it. "The people who are claiming retaliation are officers who were fired for very serious misconduct," May said. "They are just hiding behind claims of retaliation."

Pub Date: 12/29/98

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