Approval urged for settlement in race profiling

Supporters of pact concerned about delay

`We've waited long enough'

Schaefer, Norris have misgivings about proposal

February 05, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

After weeks without state action, supporters of the proposed settlement in Maryland's racial-profiling lawsuit say there is little room for further negotiation about objections raised by the new head of the state police and the state comptroller.

"If the review drags out or if [the Ehrlich] administration tries to start the negotiations from scratch, at that point, it makes sense to take this to court," said Washington defense attorney Robert L. Wilkins, who began the legal battle in 1992 after he was stopped by a state trooper in Cumberland and refused to consent to having his car searched. "What's before them is a package. We've been working on this for the past four years. It's already a compromise."

Attorneys representing the American Civil Liberties Union, Wilkins and dozens of minority motorists who filed a class action suit, claiming state troopers pulled them over for "driving while black," have stopped short of setting a deadline for officials to sign off on the historic agreement. But African-American leaders are urging the state Board of Public Works to vote on the $325,000 settlement when it meets today.

The board, which is made up of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., state Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, has not placed the agreement on its agenda.

Schaefer and Col. Edward T. Norris, the state police superintendent, have expressed misgivings about the proposal, which would require state police to develop a system for tracking the race of stopped motorists, establish a police-citizen panel to monitor reports of racial profiling, and set up a telephone number for complaints.

Kopp said she supports the settlement. That could make the governor the swing vote.

A spokeswoman for Ehrlich said he is reviewing the proposed agreement and plans to meet with both sides in the next week or two.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus held a news conference last week to express concern about the delay in voting on the settlement, which was proposed in December, shortly before Gov. Parris N. Glendening left office. However, Schaefer and Kopp agreed to defer consideration, at Ehrlich's request, until the new governor and Norris could review it.

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat, said African-American leaders were patient when the settlement wasn't put on the Board of Public Works agenda, which was crowded with school funding projects, last month. But, she added, "We've waited long enough. We just want the governor, comptroller and treasurer to approve this and let it go. This case has been pending for 10 years."

Officials of the troopers union have criticized the deal, saying that officers weren't consulted during negotiations. Norris has said he planned to implement many of the changes outlined in the consent decree, such as installing more cameras in patrol cars. But he said he has reservations about other proposals, such as an oversight committee. However, he has not offered a recommendation to the governor on the agreement.

Kopp said yesterday that she remained confident the settlement will be approved. "I think the governor and the superintendent are looking at it as quickly as possible while giving it a thorough review," she said.

Schaefer's support for the settlement is dwindling. "While the comptroller doesn't believe in profiling, he doesn't like what he sees with this issue," said Michael D. Golden, a spokesman for the comptroller. "This only puts greater expectations on our police officers who already have a hard enough job as it is. Mr. Schaefer sees something like this stifling their effectiveness in interdicting drugs coming into or through Maryland."

But Edythe Flemings Hall, president of the Maryland state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branches, said, "There need to be checks and balances for police. Why should they be above review? I don't see why any official would be against protecting the rights of the citizens of Maryland."

"We're on tenuous ground," she said. "We're committed to this. So we're not going to sit by quietly and allow weeks to turn into months."

Reginald T. Shuford, an attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said the group is preparing to argue the case in federal court if officials don't vote on the settlement "very soon."

"It's not a threat," Shuford said. "But we've already waited. This agreement has the potential to be a best-practices model for the nation."

Sun staff writer Joe Nawrozki contributed to this article.

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