Maryland State Police troopers file suit alleging racial discrimination in PD

The complaint states policies and procedures have imposed “unfounded, unwarranted and overly severe and disparate penalties” for people of color

By Darcy Costello
Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — Three Maryland State Police troopers are accusing the statewide law enforcement agency of racial discrimination in a legal filing seeking a class-action lawsuit on behalf of employees of color.

The Monday filing in U.S. District Court alleges the department — already under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice — has a longstanding pattern of discrimination through disparate discipline, retaliation against officers making complaints and the denial of promotions.

According to the complaint, policies and procedures at the agency have imposed “unfounded, unwarranted and overly severe and disparate penalties,” established an unfair promotional system and maintained a hostile work environment. The agency, it added, has a practice of “willful and intentional” retaliation against employees who raise objections.

“These officers are people who put their lives on the line for the state of Maryland, are dedicated to service and face really egregious discrimination,” said attorney Michal Shinnar. “Maryland State Police don’t do the same to Caucasian officers. They are not disciplined for similar circumstances.”

The Maryland State Police responded in a written statement confirming the complaint was received Monday night and is under legal review. The agency said it was not currently able to share information on the complaint’s allegations, but said it remains committed to providing high quality service to Marylanders and ensuring fair treatment of employees.

“Significant actions have been taken and are continuing to address even the perception of racism or unfair treatment of any kind,” the statement said. “The dedicated troopers and civilian employees of the Department will continue to serve and protect the people of our state with the highest integrity, fairness and selfless service.”

Plaintiffs are seeking a revision of the agency’s disciplinary and promotion policies, an independent monitor to oversee the department and a declaration that the state police violated U.S. laws. Those found to have faced racial discrimination also are seeking relief including monetary compensation, expunged discipline, reinstatements and promotions.

The complaint, filed in the Greebelt federal courthouse, proposes a class, which a judge would need to certify, made up of officers of color who were denied promotions, disciplined and otherwise discriminated against by state police since October 2019.

The three named plaintiffs are Byron Tribue, Matin Dunlap and Analisse Diaz. Tribue and Dunlap are current troopers and Black men, while Diaz is a Black Puerto Rican woman fired by the agency in 2019.

Shinnar said her firm, Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, represents “numerous” other clients with cases pending before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who face “other similar extreme mistreatment.” She said she expects to add plaintiffs in an amended complaint.

“We want to make sure officers of color across the state of Maryland are treated fairly, and correct the practices moving forward,” Shinnar said.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced in July it had opened a “pattern or practice” investigation into similar alleged racial discrimination in hiring and promotion practices. Erek L. Barron, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, told The Baltimore Sun the probe would look into how the Maryland State Police hires, promotes, trains, disciplines and makes special opportunities available to employees.

The governor and state police superintendent said at the time they welcomed the probe and would cooperate with investigators.

The complaint argues the treatment of officers of color at the state police includes a pattern or practice of failing to address harassment. It cites examples of racist comments or symbols such as the Make Waldorf Great Again challenge coin and a shooting range training target under investigation.

The challenge coin referenced in the complaint led to an internal investigation and discipline in 2021 for the trooper who created it. He received a written reprimand and two days’ suspension without pay, according to a disciplinary file.

State police spokeswoman Elena Russo said this month the state police investigation into the shooting range target found it was not used, purchased or manufactured by a state police employee. She said an investigation into its origin and who brought it to the range in Western Maryland is being done by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

The proposed class-action complaint additionally argues officers of color are disciplined for “minor, negligible and/or non-existent violations” of agency policies, with punishments that exceed recommendations and investigations that take long periods of time.

It also argues that officers of color who complain of discrimination are not protected by the agency. Rather, according to the complaint, the investigating office routinely concludes no discrimination took place and the department has a “pattern or practice” of retaliation against officers of color who complain or propose discipline for Caucasian officers.

One of the plaintiffs, Tribue, was suspended for 301 days during an investigation into an alleged one-hour error in his time card, according to the complaint. The investigation, which was assigned to an officer Tribue had previously lodged a discrimination complaint against, lasted seven months and delayed Tribue’s eligibility for a promotion to sergeant.

The court filing cites examples of white officers accused of wrongdoing who received less discipline than Tribue got for the timecard error. The allegations range from a trooper getting into a car accident after leaving a shift early or getting a speed camera violation in an area outside of his patrol area while on the clock.

Other examples the complaint says didn’t lead to any investigation included colleagues who failed to report for duty because they were under the influence of alcohol or who used excessive force on a suspect who required facial reconstruction surgery.

In another incident, plaintiff Dunlap lodged a complaint to the agency’s Office of Fair Practice because a banana had been left on his car, which he took as a racist reference. The office said it couldn’t be proven as “racism or discrimination.”

After Dunlap’s complaint, officials reopened a complaint of misconduct against him. It was not sustained and he ultimately returned to work, but he was put on unpaid suspension during the probe and was at one point criminally charged. In years since, according to the complaint, he has been denied assignments to specialized units.

The third plaintiff, Diaz, experienced racist remarks such as a supervisor saying it wasn’t a “big deal” to use the “n-word” and a suggestion that she should be hired as the cleaning staff, which she interpreted as a reference to her as a Hispanic woman, the complaint says.

The complaint argues that when Diaz began to be requested for special assignments or was offered training opportunities, her supervisor intervened or expressed displeasure. She began to experience retaliation, the complaint said, including a poor performance review, which she appealed. The retaliation then “escalated.”

Diaz lodged a complaint of discrimination and, soon afterward, received notice she was under an Internal Affairs investigation. It ultimately lasted 18 months and led to her termination in 2019, according to the complaint.

The document argues there was no “legitimate, non-discriminatory” reason for the agency’s actions toward Diaz.

Claims made in a lawsuit represent only one side of a case; Maryland State Police had not filed an answer in federal court as of Tuesday afternoon.

©2022 Baltimore Sun.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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