Sheriff to work on racial problems

Meeting with NAACP follows alleged slurs

April 26, 2001|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Carroll County Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning pledged yesterday to work with the local chapter of the NAACP to "maintain a work environment free of adversity," after meeting with the group's president to discuss inappropriate racial remarks made by a correctional officer and the warden of the county detention center.

"We're going to continue to do what we've done in the past, which is to provide training to all employees and to make sure that cultural diversity and sensitivity is part of our training," Tregoning said in a telephone interview.

The sheriff and Warden George Hardinger met last week with Phyllis Black, president of the Carroll County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the organization's executive committee to discuss allegations of racial slurs and the work environment for minority employees at the detention center.

The discussion focused on the treatment of black employees at Carroll County Detention Center in Westminster - one who was disciplined and another who was terminated during his probationary period - and two incidents involving alleged racial slurs.

"I am hopeful that changes will take place, but I won't be satisfied until I see action," Black said. "I'd like to see that proper [sensitivity] training occurs on a regular basis, at least twice a year, and that disciplinary action is taken by Sheriff Tregoning when inappropriate behaviors and remarks are made. I don't think that was done in either of these cases."

In the most recent incident, about four months ago, three Carroll County corrections officers were driving together to Frederick County for training. During the ride, they narrowly avoided a collision with another vehicle. The driver of the county vehicle, a white male officer, made a "spontaneous comment," Tregoning said, and a black female officer who was riding in the car took offense.

The officer who uttered the offensive remark was not disciplined. Tregoning would not release his name. He also refused to talk about events that led to termination of one black employee and disciplinary action against another because personnel records are confidential.

The only incident Tregoning would discuss involved a conversation that Hardinger had several months ago with Salvertore Brown, who was then a sergeant at the detention center. The two men were discussing a death threat made against Brown, who is African-American, by two white inmates. During the conversation, Hardinger used a racial slur.

"As we continued to discuss things, the issue of race came up ... and I relayed a personal experience, that my stepfather ... described a friend of the family" using a racial insult. "I told [Brown] that I took exception to my stepfather's comment and it strained my relationship with" his stepfather, Hardinger said. "Somehow, what I said got twisted around."

Brown filed a complaint with the county attorney's office and later with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal anti-discrimination agency. The county dropped its investigation when the EEOC complaint was filed. The EEOC looked into the incident and advised Brown it would not pursue the complaint, Hardinger said.

"The issue was investigated, and [Hardinger] was given informal counseling," Tregoning said.

Brown, who has since been promoted to lieutenant, could not be reached for comment.

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