City police major retires abruptly

Commander accused of racial profiling in seeking rape suspect

`I'm deeply sorry'

March 06, 2002|By Gady A. Epstein, Ivan Penn & Laurie Willis | Gady A. Epstein, Ivan Penn & Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A top police commander retired abruptly yesterday amid accusations of racial profiling for recently urging officers to stop "every black male" late at night at a bus stop where a rape occurred.

The Feb. 22 directive by Maj. Donald E. Healy, commander of the Northeastern District, came to light yesterday during a morning radio talk show and prompted angry criticism from the city's black leaders, at least one of whom phoned Mayor Martin O'Malley demanding Healy's removal.

"I'm deeply sorry if I offended any citizens," said the 52-year-old Healy, who is white, in a statement released by police at a hastily called news conference after he met with Commissioner Edward T. Norris. "I assure you that my intention was to apprehend a violent criminal; it had nothing to do with profiling."

The directive to all shifts in the Northeastern District called for "special attention" to a bus stop in the 1500 block of Woodbourne Ave. from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and instructed officers to conduct half-hour checks and interview citizens.

"A female was raped last night between the above hours," Healy wrote, referring to the assault on a 57-year-old black woman. "Every black male around this Bus Stop is to be stopped until subject is apprehended."

Norris and O'Malley reportedly heard about the memo yesterday at the mayor's Cabinet meeting.

The commissioner called Healy's memo a setback to the agency, which has worked hard during his tenure to improve relations in the African-American community.

"They have to understand it's not the posture of the Police Department," Norris said, flanked by top officers. "Our record is much different. We've gone a long way to correct problems of the past."

Norris labeled the memo "an egregious mistake," saying, "It's something you can't tolerate."

O'Malley issued a statement afterward: "This type of behavior is outrageous and unacceptable. Racial profiling will not be tolerated in any form in the Baltimore City Police Department."

The retirement ends what had appeared to be a successful 29-year career on the city force for Healy. The former head of the department's tactical unit, Healy had been transferred in January to head the Northeastern District, which had seen an increase in violent crime in recent months.

In his short time in the district, Healy appeared to have made a good first impression with several African-American community and political leaders, who said yesterday that they believed he was a well-intentioned officer making a sincere effort to tackle crime.

"As a resident and a community leader, I don't feel offended," said Richard E. Hackett, president of the predominantly black Perring Loch Covenant Association.

Hackett said his association's government liaison spoke with Healy yesterday and was assured that the major regretted how he worded his directive and did not intend to endorse racial profiling. Hackett said his concern is apprehending the rape suspect.

"We spoke with our block captains, and we spoke with as many residents who were home at the time, and they are all behind the major," Hackett said before the retirement announcement. "They want this suspect caught."

The response was much harsher from a number of the city's top black leaders, who heard about the directive when it was discussed yesterday morning on Larry Young's talk show on WOLB.

"It is outrageous," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the city Senate delegation, at a news conference in Annapolis attended by more than a dozen Baltimore lawmakers.

McFadden said he had called O'Malley in the morning and told him he wanted Healy "gone by the end of the day." After receiving word Healy had retired, McFadden shouted, "Great!"

G.I. Johnson, president of the Baltimore Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said yesterday he didn't think Healy or any other officer would have issued the memo had the suspect been white.

"For me, to be automatically a suspect because of my color makes me mad," Johnson said. "It's frightening. That puts me that much closer to being in danger."

One of Northeast Baltimore's two black City Council members, Lisa Joi Stancil, said he had made a "huge mistake" in his zealousness to catch a suspect, but said she was more concerned about what she felt was a larger problem in the department.

"If the reaction is only to fire him, that's not going to solve the problem," Stancil said. "We need to have widespread training from the top throughout the ranks."

Norris said he would meet with commanders today to discuss the memo. Last night he named Capt. Gary D'Addario, a 37-year veteran who most recently was deputy commander of the Western District, to replace Healy.

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