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21 Black Baltimore Officers Claim Discrimination Within Department; File Lawsuit

The Associated Press

BALTIMORE, Md. (AP) - Twenty-one black current and former city police officers filed a federal class-action lawsuit Monday, alleging discrimination within the city's Police Department.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, accuses the department of condoning a hostile workplace, blocking black officers from promotion, levying uneven discipline and retaliating against officers who spoke out against discrimination.

It also alleges that racism led to the firing last month of former police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark.

The group of officers seeks the appointment of an independent monitor over department discipline, reinstatement of fired officers, expunging of negative marks from the disciplinary records of some officers, payment of lost wages to plaintiffs who were suspended without pay or fired because of racism, and punitive damages and compensation.

The lawsuit names as its defendants Mayor Martin O'Malley, acting police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm, former Police Commissioners Edward T. Norris and Thomas C. Frazier, Labor Commissioner Sean R. Malone and other city lawyers.

City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler called the allegations "untrue" and said many are barred by statutes of limitations.

"People who have serious issues to raise come in to present them, they don't issue press releases," he said. "What I know in the short time I've had to look at it is that a large number of plaintiffs are people who have had what we call 'troubled' histories in the Police Department."

The lawsuit's accusations reach back to 1994. The suit excludes Clark and former Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel, both of whom served under O'Malley.

In alleging racism in the firing of Clark, the suit says that former Internal Affairs Chief Zeinab Rabold, a plaintiff and one of Clark's closest advisers, "discovered evidence that showed an effort by certain white members of the BPD to remove former Commissioner Clark." It also states that Daniel was dismissed in less than 60 days because he spoke out against racism in the department.

O'Malley fired Clark last month, saying domestic abuse allegations against the commissioner, though unsubstantiated, had eroded his leadership ability. Clark, who is not a plaintiff in the suit, has filed a separate action against O'Malley.

City officials said Monday that since O'Malley took office in 1999, the percentage of African-Americans has grown in several areas of the force. The number of sworn officers is up to 43 percent from 38 percent.

The lawsuit, in describing the alleged hostile work environment, states that black officers have found dog feces wrapped in an black newspaper and placed on their desks, endured racial epithets, had hangman's nooses placed in their lockers and had zebra stripes painted on pictures of their mixed-race children.

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