Rally alleges racial bias by union against city police commissioner

Labor group defends call for Clark to step down during investigation

`Same as every other ... officer'

May 21, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Some of the city's top black leaders and the head of Baltimore's police union accused each other yesterday of trying to use Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark's apparent domestic troubles to further their own racial agendas.

Led by Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, Del. Salima S. Marriott and G.I. Johnson, the local head of the NAACP, about 30 people demonstrated outside of police headquarters, saying the union was trying to take Clark down because he is black.

"You have the good ol' boy racist network unhappy with the black commissioner," said George W. Collins, 78, a community activist from Cross Keys.

Collins' comments drew applause from the crowd and led McFadden to call out, "That's right!"

Dan Fickus, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, responded in a written statement, calling it "truly shameful" that the protesters had, in his view, chosen to turn the allegations of domestic violence against Clark into "a racial incident."

Clark and his fiancee, Blanca Gerena, had a dispute at his North Baltimore apartment off Falls Road early Saturday morning, after which two officers reported hearing her say that the commissioner had assaulted her. Clark and Gerena later said in a news conference that they had argued but there was no assault.

The incident is being investigated by Howard County police to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest. A spokesman for Mayor Martin O'Malley initially said that the probe could be completed by the end of this week.

But Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said yesterday that it is not certain when the report will be wrapped up.

"We are working on this investigation as quickly and thoroughly as possible," she said. "We just can't yet speculate about when it will be complete. We want to make sure we dot every `i' and cross every `t.' The investigation is active right now. I think it's evolving and it will be complete when the investigators working on the case are finished."

McFadden and the other protesters said it was unfair of the union to call on Clark to step down until the investigation is complete. Clark initially resisted doing so, saying it is common for officers to remain on duty while they are being investigated. Fickus said police are often forced to turn in their badges and guns solely because of allegations.

Clark eventually agreed to take a paid leave.

The protesters noted that the union did not call on the previous commissioner, Edward T. Norris, to step down when he was being scrutinized for using a department expense account for lavish personal expenses. Norris, who is white, pleaded guilty in March to federal public corruption charges.

Marriott said the union was using the incident "to destabilize his leadership."

"It was an opportunity and they took full advantage," she said.

Fickus said the union's "sole motive" was to make sure Clark "was treated the same as every other police officer."

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