City solicitor's plan to hire former police lawyer criticized

July 16, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's law office is under fire for a proposal to hire the former chief lawyer for the police department, despite criticism that his office unfairly targeted black officers for discipline.

City Solicitor Otho Thompson asked the Board of Estimates Wednesday to approve a one-year contract with Gary C. May, whom the law office wants to hire as the chief solicitor who would be assigned to the litigation division.

"We have a need for experienced lawyers," Thompson told city officials before the estimates board's public meeting. He later added that May "is a tough prosecutor. Although there have been a number of allegations, these allegations are just such -- allegations."

May, who did not return telephone calls yesterday, was moved from his post as general counsel for the Police Department in April after five years on that job. He then was sent to work in the city Department of Public Works, on assignment by Thompson's office.

Thompson now wants the city to hire May in a higher position in the solicitor's office. The estimates board plans to vote on the proposal at its meeting Wednesday.

But state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV and fired police Sgt. Louis H. Hopson Jr., the lead plaintiff in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the Police Department, say that May should not be allowed to continue to work for city government.

They charge that May oversaw the Police Department's legal disputes at a time when there was a blatant disparity in the department's treatment of investigations against black police officers.

"I'm not anti-Gary May," Mitchell said. "But this is an individual who does not deserve to be in the city solicitor's office."

Added Hopson: "Every independent agency has found the legal department guilty of discrimination against African-Americans. The evidence is just so overwhelming."

A series in The Sun last January showed that from 1985 to 1996 -- most of the time under black police commissioners -- 99 black officers and 37 white officers were fired. Blacks, who made up 20 percent to 30 percent of the department, were more than twice as likely to be fired as their white colleagues.

The disparity improved from November 1997 until January this year with 20 white officers and 18 black officers being fired or forced to resign. May's office dropped another 37 cases -- 24 against black officers. Nine officers -- seven of them black -- were found not guilty at trial boards.

Thompson dismissed the findings, saying that May did nothing wrong in handling investigations in the department and that "he's an excellent lawyer."

"He has a job to do," Thompson said. "We can't kill the messenger."

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