Memo, outrage swiftly ousted city police major

Healy retired hours after accusations of race profiling began

`He had a real problem'

March 07, 2002|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

In the end, there could be no second chance.

The violation not only went to a core tenet of a police department determined to better its image with a community often suspicious of its tactics, but also raised troubling constitutional issues regarding racial profiling.

And even though Maj. Donald E. Healy, 52, was highly decorated, even though he was winning friends in his new district and had given 29 years to the department, this mistake would not be forgiven.

"There wasn't a whole lot of hand-wringing, or pacing back and forth," Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday when asked to revisit the handling of the case. "It was pretty cut and dried."

Like many in the city, O'Malley learned about a memo Healy wrote -- ordering that all black males in the vicinity of a recent rape be stopped -- Tuesday morning. By then, the words of the Northeastern District commander had been broadcast over the radio and were being repeated in City Hall and at the State House in Annapolis.

They had been written Feb. 22, hours after a 57-year-old woman was raped at gunpoint near a bus stop in the 1500 block of Woodbourne Ave. She was on her way home from work shortly after midnight and had noticed someone following her. The faster she walked, the faster he walked. Then, he put a gun to her head.

Hours later, Healy issued a directive to all shifts under his command. "Every black male around this Bus Stop is to be stopped until the subject is apprehended," it read in part.

Healy resigned about eight hours after those words became public.

Former state Sen. Larry Young, radio commentator for WOLB-AM, had received a copy of the memo at his home Monday night. Young, who also is president of the local chapter of the National Action Network, made calls to verify the memo's authenticity. By Tuesday morning, he had confirmation. Discussions with the radio station's management and legal counsel followed. He went on the air at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

"I was offended," said Young. "I knew that it was illegal, and I was hoping that once it was brought out to the community that drastic action would be taken."

Third District City Councilwoman Lisa Joi Stancil heard Young's broadcast in her car. She knew Healy, who served in her district, and had attended community meetings with him. She wasn't ready to jump to conclusions. She called Healy when she arrived in her office.

"My assessment was that it was as he indicated, a huge mistake," said Stancil. "I told him he had a real problem."

Word of mouth

Tony White, the mayor's press secretary, had heard from a constituent and relayed news of the memo to O'Malley and Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris. Councilman Robert W. Curran heard about it from a mayoral aide. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the city Senate delegation, called O'Malley's office from Annapolis, angry about what he had heard and demanding Healy's resignation. He had learned about it on the Senate floor, from Sen. Joan Carter Conway, whose staff had told her.

Some, like McFadden, initially responded with disbelief that such a directive not only existed but had been put in writing.

For the Rev. Gregory B. Perkins, president of the city's Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the memo merely confirmed a long-held belief.

"Racial profiling does happen," he said. "It was only by the grace of God that this memo was discovered."

Little hint of trouble

By noon Tuesday, an internal police investigation was under way. A man's career was on the line. Yet, the day was calm in Healy's office.

Curran, a 3rd District Democrat, dropped in on Healy about 12:30 p.m. He, too, wanted to hear for himself. It was a cordial meeting, lasting about 20 minutes. Healy showed him the memo and acknowledged that it was mistake. Then, they talked about the rape and the battle to bring down crime in the district.

"It was business as usual," said Curran. "He knew it was a faux pas. But did it seem that four hours later, he was going to be out of there? No."

The mayor had turned the problem over to his police commissioner, confident the situation would be handled. Norris kept O'Malley updated.

By 3:30 p.m., Healy was meeting with Norris at headquarters downtown. In Annapolis, city senators and delegates were arranging a news conference. An hour later, reporters gathered at police headquarters to hear Norris' decision. Shortly after 5 p.m., Norris told them Healy had retired.

Healy had no comment yesterday, but in a statement dated March 5, he wrote: "I'm deeply sorry if I offended any citizens. My intent was the same it has been for 29 years, to protect and serve the citizens of Baltimore." He said his intention "had nothing to do with profiling."

`No-nonsense major'

There were mixed emotions yesterday. Gary L. McLhinney, president of the police union, regretted the loss of a "hard-nosed, no-nonsense major" who spent his career in the field.

McFadden said he was pleased because the mayor and police commissioner upheld their promise that racial profiling would not be tolerated.

Stancil said she hopes the City Council uses its oversight powers to require continuing sensitivity training within the Police Department. O'Malley said the memo, which was around nearly two weeks before being exposed, was a "wake-up call" to redouble efforts to eliminate profiling.

Norris met commanders yesterday to reinforce the illegality of racial profiling.

Possible lawsuit

Jimmy A. Bell, a national civil rights lawyer, said he intends to pursue litigation against the city, saying it violated the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"I've been contacted by several individuals regarding their rights being violated as a result of the memo that went forth," Bell said. "I will be meeting with them next week."

Young, whose broadcast led to Healy's resignation, said: "In the hoopla regarding this situation, we can't lose sight of the fact that somebody was raped."

The crime remains unsolved.

Sun staff writers Laurie Willis, Gady A. Epstein and Ivan Penn contributed to this article.

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