City police officer suspended for inquiry

Letter accuses lieutenant of undermining Frazier

February 26, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A white Baltimore police lieutenant was suspended yesterday as the department investigated charges that he made comments troubling to black officers and repeatedly undermined the commissioner's strategies.

Police commanders ordered a swift inquiry based on an anonymous letter sent to Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier on Monday. By Wednesday, 15 detectives had descended on the Southwestern District and interviewed dozens of officers.

Lt. Ernie D. Meadows, a 27-year veteran, was ordered to a desk job Wednesday night. Yesterday, a department spokesman said he was suspended with pay until the investigation is completed.

The letter, obtained by The Sun, alleges that Meadows addressed a group of white supervisors and "stated that white lieutenants and sergeants have to be careful and look out for one another because this department is going to be looking to burn one of them."

Most of the letter accuses Meadows of questioning Frazier: "He also stated that your meetings are stupid, meaningless and a waste of time. He has even went as far as suggesting that a fund be started to pay off the remainder of your contract to get you out of the department."

Meadows could not be reached for comment yesterday. He denied the allegations through his lawyer, David B. Love, who said his client "may be a convenient scapegoat" for the police agency that for years has been embroiled in racial strife.

Love said Meadows never stated that white supervisors needed to band together. "He says at roll call every night that all officers need to stick together and back each other up." He said the department would not let Meadows take a lie-detector test.

High-ranking police sources have said that while no overtly racial comments were reportedly made, black officers interviewed said the statements raised questions about whether they would be fairly treated under Meadows' command.

Frazier would not comment on specifics yesterday, but he said seven of the first 10 officers interviewed at the district supported the contents of the letter. He said investigators uncovered "far more discrimination than was implied in the original memorandum."

Richard A. Hite, president of the Vanguard Justice Society, a group for black officers, said he is pleased with the department's swift action. "It sends a positive message to those who don't believe that this will not be tolerated by this agency," he said.

Alvin O. Gillard, head of the Community Relations Commission that has been working with police to address disparate treatment, said the commissioner's handling of the recent complaint "is how issues should be dealt with."

The letter alleges that Meadows took a substantial amount of time questioning Frazier's policies during roll calls, at which supervisors set the tone for officers before they hit the streets. The writer said the commentary "demoralizes the shift" and confuses officers about their job.

"Imagine being a trainee, probationary or rookie officer and having to listen to your shift lieutenant constantly ridicule the commissioner and plotting against everything he stands for," the letter says.

Department commanders said the allegations are a concern because they raise issues of insubordination and mismanagement. But they stressed that the charges pertaining to discrimination triggered Frazier's quick action.

Race has been an explosive issue for the 3,200-member department -- which is 36 percent African-American -- since Frazier arrived in 1994. Black groups, fired officers and some state delegates have repeatedly called for the commissioner's ouster.

Frazier has acknowledged that disparate discipline exists but said he has instituted reforms to alleviate what he calls "historic inequities" in the department.

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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