NAACP asks board to probe charges of jail bias

Carroll County

July 19, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Members of the Carroll NAACP branch met yesterday with the county commissioners to ask them to look into allegations of racial mistreatment of inmates and staff at the detention center, despite the sheriff's pledge to "maintain a work environment free of adversity."

NAACP members told the commissioners that in the past three years the group has received complaints about: the use of racial slurs; the reassignment and demotion of employees who complained; and the failure to hire a probationary employee who complained of racially discriminatory treatment.

If the commissioners agree the detention center environment needs improvement, they might have authority because some grants the county receives require compliance with anti-discrimination laws, said Phyllis Hammond Black, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning, an elected official and not subject to the commissioners' authority, was out of the county and said through a staff member that he would not be available for comment until today.

Allegations of inappropriate behavior at the detention center surfaced in spring 2001 after a lieutenant filed several complaints with the sheriff and one with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal anti-discrimination agency, alleging he had been harassed at work because of his race.

After meeting with the warden and Black, Tregoning pledged that he would "maintain a work environment free of adversity. ... 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."

But NAACP members said yesterday that the sheriff had not followed through on that pledge.

"They have not really tried to rectify what has been going on. We're at a loss," Black told the three commissioners yesterday. "We are asking for your support. ... We need to feel we have the support of the county. ... We're going to have to take some steps because it cannot be tolerated."

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, president of the board, told the NAACP that the commissioners would discuss the matter and respond in a few weeks.

Neither the NAACP members nor the commissioners discussed specific cases.

Black said the state and national NAACP are aware of the issue, but that the chapter prefers for now to handle it locally.

"Our attorneys have told us we need to listen today," Gouge said at the outset because of the pending complaints.

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier told chapter members that the commissioners have "taken notice of your concerns." Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he thought it should be a state or federal issue and the commissioners could not withhold funds.

In the past three years, Black told the commissioners, she and the former chapter president had at least four meetings with the sheriff and the warden over complaints about the treatment of inmates and staff.

With her yesterday were three local chapter officials: Harry Henson, Robert Hagans and Martin Lee.

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