Officers sue department, schools

2 say they were dismissed from Walbrook, debate team dissolved as part of retaliation

September 14, 2006|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,sun reporter

Two Baltimore police officers formerly assigned to teach criminal justice and coach debate at the Walbrook high school campus are suing the school system and the Police Department, saying they were victims of retaliation resulting in their removal and the disbanding of the debate team.

The defendants in the lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, include Mayor Martin O'Malley, Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm and former schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland.

The suit accuses Maisha Washington, who was principal of the Homeland Security Academy on the Walbrook campus last year, of "conspiracy ... to destroy the debate program."

It says Washington and Maj. Mary S. Young, who oversaw the officers, knowingly relayed to their supervisors false information about the job performance of the officers who sued, Sgt. Angelo Brooks and Officer Eugene Fields Jr.

Edie House, a spokeswoman for the school system, and Officer Troy Harris, a spokesman for the Police Department, said they could not comment on pending litigation. Young also declined to comment.

Washington, who no longer works for the city school system, could not be reached yesterday.

The suit, which seeks $6 million, says school system officials should not have hired Washington as a principal given her background leading a charter school in the District of Columbia in the late 1990s.

The Washington Post reported in 1999 that Washington and her co-principal were fired, and the Young Technocrats Math and Science Public Charter Laboratory School was shut down amid allegations of financial mismanagement.

Norris C. Ramsey, an attorney for the officers, said Brooks used his personal money to run the program, assisted by Fields.

Ramsey, whose daughter was on the Walbrook debate team, said the team gave students the opportunity to travel for competitions, an experience that was "just awesome for them" at a time when the school was beset by frequent fires and violence.

"It gave them self-esteem," Ramsey said.

He said the officers were father figures to many children from single-parent homes.

Ramsey said Brooks was involuntarily transferred from Walbrook and charged with neglect of duty before a Police Department trial board, which found him not guilty.

Afterward, Ramsey said, Fields sought a transfer because of a hostile work environment and was charged with stealing a computer from the school.

After the principal's departure, Brooks was sent back to the Walbrook campus a few weeks ago, Ramsey said, but there are no longer any resources for a debate team.

In addition, Ramsey said, his client has been assigned to teach more classes than would be permitted if he were covered under the teachers union contract.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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