Lieutenant vexed by use of racial slur

Sheriff's promise not enough for worker at detention center

Tregoning, NAACP meet

Warden accused of making insult in closed meeting

Carroll County

May 01, 2001|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

A lieutenant at Carroll County Detention Center said yesterday that Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning's pledge to work with the NAACP to correct inappropriate behavior, such as the use of racial slurs, is not enough to quell his concerns about discrimination.

Lt. Salvertore Brown has filed several complaints with the sheriff and one with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal anti-discrimination agency, alleging he has been harassed at work because of his race. Brown is African-American.

Brown's complaints, among others, prompted the sheriff and Warden George Hardinger to meet 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. The discussion revolved around Brown's complaints and other allegations of racial slurs, and the work environment for minority employees at the detention center.

At that meeting, the sheriff pledged to work with the NAACP to "maintain a work environment free of adversity."

"I don't think enough has been done," Brown said yesterday. "It's disheartening that the warden can make a racial comment and nothing is done."

According to Brown, Hardinger directed a racial slur at him during a closed meeting between the two men in September 1999. At the time, Brown was a sergeant.

"Warden Hardinger called me into his office because another officer overheard inmates making death threats against me," Brown recalled yesterday. "He asked if he could close the door, and I said fine. He said, `Whatever we talk about stays in this room' ... and out of the clear blue, he asked me, `What is a good n-----?' I asked to be excused and left his office. I wrote up a complaint to Sheriff Tregoning."

Shortly after, the two men met with Tregoning. During that meeting, Brown said Hardinger apologized. "He said the reason he had used" a racial insult "was that he was exposed to comments like that as a kid, through his stepfather. The sheriff promised it would not happen again."

Neither Tregoning nor Hardinger would comment on the incident yesterday, saying it is a personnel issue.

"It's not appropriate to discuss it in the newspaper," Tregoning said.

But in an interview last week, Hardinger recounted his conversation with Brown. His version of events differed from the lieutenant's.

According to Hardinger, the racial slur was in no way directed at Brown. "I relayed a personal experience, that my stepfather ... described a friend of the family" using a racial insult, Hardinger said. "I told [Brown] that I took exception to my stepfather's comment and it strained my relationship with [him]. Somehow, what I said got twisted around."

After Brown's complaint was filed, Hardinger received informal counseling. No disciplinary action was taken.

Several months after that incident, in July, Brown filed a second complaint with the sheriff, alleging that Hardinger had told another detention center employee that he wished Brown would take a sabbatical because Hardinger was sick of dealing with him.

"I told the sheriff that the warden was targeting me all the time and making comments about me all the time," said Brown.

In October, a third incident prompted Brown to file a complaint with the county attorney's office and the EEOC.

"The warden verbally reprimanded me in front of my shift ... saying I was causing a rift between the shifts, but he gave no evidence to support this," Brown said. "I kept bringing complaints to [the sheriff] and nothing was done. I wasn't getting any relief from the warden's harassment."

Brown said he is considering civil action.

In addition to Brown's allegations, the Sheriff's Department has had to address one other racial incident, Tregoning said last week.

About four months ago, three Carroll County corrections officers were driving together to Frederick for training. During the ride, they narrowly avoided a collision with another vehicle. The driver of the county vehicle, a white male officer, used a racial epithet and a black female officer who was riding in the car took offense.

The officer who uttered the offensive remark received a written reprimand. Tregoning would not release his name.

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