Tuesday, February 12, 2019

HNLEA & UBPOA provide testimony in support of HB 413

February 4, 2019         

House Health and Government Operations Committee
6 Bladen Street
Annapolis, Maryland 


The Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association and the United Black Police Officers Association write to provide wholehearted support for HB 413, Public Information Act - Personnel and Investigatory Records - Formal Complaints Against Public Employees.

The Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association (HNLEA) is a nonprofit association of Latino and minority law enforcement professionals involved in the administration of justice and dedicated to the advancement of Hispanic and minority interests in the law enforcement profession.

The United Black Police Officers Association’s (UBPOA) mission is to provide an organization for minority law enforcement officers with professional development and training, to create meaningful partnerships between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve and to promote equal appointments, assignments, and promotions within the law enforcement profession.

HNLEA and UBPOA support the Public Information Act because of the need for transparency between law enforcement and the communities we are sworn to protect. Events such as Ferguson Mo., Chicago, Ill., Baltimore Md., and recently unfair disciplinary practices and retaliation for reporting other officers’ misdeeds in Prince George’s County Police Department have eroded the trust in law enforcement to unprecedented levels across the country. From a community policing perspective, transparency builds trust in the communities we serve. This trust is needed in order to efficiently solve crimes and effectively serve the people.

Within the law enforcement community, transparency holds us accountable to one another. It is often difficult to police ourselves when no one is watching. This legislation would help to ensure a system of checks and balances is in place.

Passage of the Public Information Act would help to put sufficient protections into place to ensure we are accountable to the people we serve while helping to repair the damage done in the last couple of years.

HNLEA and UBPOA urges a positive report on House Bill 413, Public Information Act - Personnel and Investigatory Records - Formal Complaints Against Public Employees.

Sincerely,                                                                    Sincerely,
Joe Perez                               Thomas Boone
Joe Perez, President                                                    Thomas Boone, President
Hispanic National Law                                               United Black Police Officers Association
Enforcement Association

Monday, February 11, 2019

Chief Kelvin Sewell: Looking beyond the Blue Wall of Silence

Personal experience and empirical data tell us that structural and individual racism pervade every aspect of American life. Yet many police departments operate behind a “Blue Wall of Silence,” pretending that discrimination and harassment do not exist within the force, rather than acknowledging the uncomfortable and incontrovertible reality.  As the leader of an organization made up of Officers of Color, I know this all too well.  We confront the Blue Wall on an almost daily basis, and we know what happens when officers who look like us dare to speak out.

When two Black officers at the Pocomoke City Police Department broke that Blue Wall by calling their chief’s attention to serious racial harassment they faced from white officers, and Chief Kelvin Sewell stood up for them, all three quickly became targets of retaliation. 

Despite his tremendous success as Pocomoke’s first Black police chief – doing the tough work of lowering the crime rate and improving relations with the community – Chief Sewell began experiencing intense harassment after he refused to reprimand the Black officers who filed complaints.  This harassment involved threats using racial slurs, the spreading of false rumors, and lobbying town officials to fire Chief Sewell and the other two officers.  Ultimately, this campaign succeeded, and all three Black officers were fired.  

But the harassment didn’t end there.  When the officers filed formal discrimination charges and a lawsuit, it got even worse -- even though the charges they made were sustained by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and joined by the U.S. Department of Justice.  Local law enforcement officials who were named in these charges enlisted the assistance of the Maryland State Prosecutor’s office.  

After a wide-ranging investigation into many baseless rumors, the State charged Sewell and one of the other Black officers with “misconduct” based on their discretionary handling of a car accident in which nobody was injured and driver’s insurance reimbursed the damage to the cars involved.  Officers – especially local police chiefs – are supposed to have broad discretion in their handling of such cases. But Officers of Color like Chief Sewell are not afforded the same benefit of the doubt in their decisions as white officers, especially when they have spoken out against racism.

Thankfully, Chief Sewell was vindicated in November 2018, when the Maryland Court of Special Appeals safeguarded his right to a fair trial by overturning his wrongful conviction for his judgment call on this incident .  The appeals court found that the lower court had wrongfully rejected testimony by two of Chief Sewell’s expert witnesses, which prevented him from getting the fair trial he was entitled to. The conviction was reversed, but the Court remanded the case, leaving open the possibility of a new trial.

To us, it is an indefensible waste of public resources to prosecute – and now attempt to retry – a highly-respected, history-making Black police official like Chief Sewell over this petty disagreement in judgment, when we know there is so much evidence of real and egregious acts of police corruption in Maryland. 

The type of discriminatory retaliation which Chief Sewell has endured for breaking the Blue Wall is typical of the unfair treatment faced by Officers of Color in internal investigations.  When a minority officer commits a minor infraction, the department turns over every rock, digging until it can find something to use against them – even if, as in Chief Sewell’s case, it doesn’t quite fit the charge. Sometimes it seems like white police leaders sit waiting for a minority officer to misstep, ready to turn around the minute it happens and position that person as the bad guy. Yet when white officers commit a similar – or even more egregious – act, the department looks the other way, allowing them to get away with it. They forget to interview witnesses, time is allowed to lapse, and steps are even taken to conceal the evidence.

Instances of internal corruption like these are far more deserving of the State Prosecutor’s focus than the petty charges against Chief Sewell.  Last month, my police colleagues and I in Prince George’s County filed a lawsuit challenging years of egregious race-based discrimination and retaliation both within our department and against the community we are sworn to serve. 

Months before we even filed this lawsuit, we sought the assistance of the State Prosecutor’s office to investigate criminal misconduct and corruption we had witnessed at the highest levels of our county’s police department.  But we were unable to get any response or call back from State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt. Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department and local news agencies have reported extensively on police abuse of force and corruption in Maryland. 

Why does the Maryland State Prosecutor insist on looking the other way, still unable to see beyond the Blue Wall? 

1 See New York Times, “Lawsuit: Police Chief Condones White Officers' Racism, Abuse,”
2 (see U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Civil Rights Div., Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Dep’t

Joe Perez, President
Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association NCR
P.O. Box 766, Cheltenham MD 20623
www.hnlea.org 240-244-9189

Saturday, February 9, 2019

National Action Network Meeting with PGPD13

February 9, 2017 
Washington DC. 

The United Black Police Officers Association (UBPOA) and the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association (HNLEA) met with leaders of the National Action Network (NAN) in order to discuss Police Accountability within the Prince George’s County Police Department.  Topics of discussion were, the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Pattern and Practice Investigation into PGPD as well as the lawsuit against the Prince George’s County Government.  Specifically, the racism, discrimination, retaliation and wrongful terminations within the Prince George’s County Police Department.  Both NAN board members and the community expressed a strong desire to call for county leaders to be held accountable for their actions and inactions.  

Police accountability and institutional racism is a national problem. We look forward to working with the National Action Network and developing a strong national partnership. Ms. Nia 2X moderated the lively discussion. Ms. Angela Taylor, NAN Committee Chairwoman for Gentrification & Politics spoke about disparities in politics and the need to make your voices heard.  

The National Action Network is one of the leading civil rights organizations in the Nation with chapters throughout the entire United States. Founded in 1991 by Reverend Al Sharpton, NAN works within the spirit and tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote a modern civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, citizenship, criminal record, economic status, gender, gender expression, or sexuality. 

For more information about NAN, please visit https://nationalactionnetwork.net.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Discrimination & Retaliation continues at PGPD

Over the years, the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association & the United Black Police Officers Association have met with prior administrations in order to discuss concerns of racial inequities in transfers, assignments, promotions, and discipline.  Although at times we did not agree on solutions, there was a mutual respect of perspectives and resolutions were found. The issues faced were always kept within the police department.  While we have had some racial tensions within law enforcement in the past, those racial tensions have been polarized by events such as Ferguson Missouri, Baltimore Maryland, and Charlottesville Virginia.  As a result, many in power within law enforcement see minority Law Enforcement officers quite differently.  This is what I refer to as having Shades of Blue within Law Enforcement.  There is no problem transferring, investigating, retaliating against, and firing the Darker Shades of Blue.  And like in the 1960’s, going after those non-minorities who affiliate with the Darker Shades of Blue.

We originally filed a complaint with the DOJ around March 2016.  After receiving additional complaints from the rank and file and being personally targeted, we filed an amended DOJ complaint in October 2016.  Since January 4, 2017 we've met with the PGPD administration in order to discuss some of the concerns.  Through the help of the NAACP, we requested the help from DOJ, Community Relations Service, in order to try and mediate the numerous concerns that were brought to our attention and the administration.  The administration refused to mediate even after I personally urged the Public Safety Director to contact DOJ and take steps to mediate. Then the administration took active steps to conceal the wrongdoing and target the complainants.  Often times, minority surrogates were used against us in order to create the illusion that the retaliation or wrongdoing was just.

Over the course of the three years, the administration has chosen to send a very strong message to those involved in the issues raised. By doling out retaliatory transfers, denial of due process during investigations, terminations, denial of promotions, vilifying accusers, as well as a variety of micro-aggressions against anyone exposing wrongdoing and racist behaviors. This administration sent a message that was loud and clear.  As each incident unfolded, we passed along this information to the DOJ, Civil Rights Division and the number of complainants rose.      

Over this same period of time, we advised the Chief of Police of the impact of his decisions on officers, the agency, the county government, and the citizens of Prince George’s County.   His answer was always the same - 'I don’t make decisions based on how they are going to look.'  As of late, we all look very bad.  Not every officer is a bad apple, not every non-minority or minority officer is a bad apple.  This administration chose their personal feelings and vindictiveness over the image of the institution and the well-being of the community we are sworn to protect.  It is with great consternation that we expose these misdeeds to the public.

It is worthy to note that over the past three years EEOCs filed have risen approximately six hundred percent (600%).  Under this administration we have fired more people of color than several of the past administrations combined. The last Caucasian officer fired by the county police was in May 2015 for involvement in a homicide in Charles County.  The last white officer convicted in criminal court (November 2017) for assaulting a homeless woman is still employed within the police department’s community services division.  According to WTOP, the Officer saw the woman sleeping outside of a pawnshop in Lanham, Maryland, in September 2016 and asked her to move along. “She was not moving fast enough for him, so he picked her up by her ears to get her standing to her feet,” John Erzen with the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office told WTOP.  He also hit the woman in the head and yelled obscenities at her, Erzen said. “This whole incident was witnessed by two other county police officers who reported to their supervisors what happened,” Erzen added. (two minority officers) He was suspended from his job in October 2016, and now a judge has found him guilty of second-degree assault and misconduct in office. https://wtop.com/prince-georges-county/2017/11/prince-georges-co-police-officer-convicted-in-homeless-womans-assault/

Most fired in the last three years have been African American males and African American females.  An African American female, mother of 5, is scheduled for a departmental trial board where she faces termination for a procedural violation.  One would think in a predominately African American county, with an African American County Executive, this trend of targeting minorities would not continue.  The one non-minority officer convicted in court in November of 2017 is still among us, placed on administrative duties working with our kids and our community.

Having the Department of Justice conduct a Pattern & Practice Investigation can reset the current trends.  We need to remove the fox from guarding the hen house and develop a level playing field for all officers and our community regardless of color or gender. We need to ensure that when there is doubt, officers are confident to bring forth inquiries without fear of retaliation.  In addition, we need strong new leadership that is willing to address these very serious issues before they continue to spill into our communities.  Leadership that is willing to act now and not wait for an outside agency to fix our problems.

Joe Perez, President
Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association

Friday, February 1, 2019

Pocomoke City Leaders, Civil Rights, and Police Groups Call on State Prosecutor to Close Case Against Kelvin Sewell

Petition, Letter Urge State Prosecutor to Focus on Serious Issues of Official Misconduct, Like Police-Involved Death of Anton Bla├ąck 

For immediate release: 
January 31, 2019

Contact: Meredith Curtis Goode, 443-310-9946, media@aclu-md.org 

POCOMOKE CITY, MD – More than 1,100 Marylanders, including many from Worcester County and Pocomoke City on the Eastern Shore, have signed a petition being sent to Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt, urging him to end the State’s misguided prosecution of former Pocomoke Police Chief Kelvin Sewell. The petition drive builds on advocacy by a group of Pocomoke residents, community leaders, civil rights and police accountability advocates urging the State Prosecutor to move on to more pressing matters – like the disturbing police-involved death of Anton Black – and discontinue pursuit of Mr. Sewell.

 “We are hopeful that the justice system will work in this case and the State will stop the unfair prosecution of Chief Sewell,” said Rev. Ronnie White of Citizens for a Better Pocomoke. “We’re hoping and praying that we’ll have our police chief back in Pocomoke."

Late last year, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned the wrongful 2016 conviction of Mr. Sewell – the first Black police chief in Pocomoke City whose stand against racial harassment made him the target of retaliation from local white leaders. Following that ruling, the coalition sent a letter https://www.aclu-md.org/en/file/1923 sent to Davitt that highlights the opinion of Court of Special Appeals Judge Daniel Friedman cautioning that the evidence of wrongdoing against Sewell – related to his handling of a traffic accident where no one was hurt and the driver’s insurance paid for all damages – was so completely inadequate that the case should have been dismissed outright.   Davitt acknowledged receipt of the letter in late December, but has yet to respond.

“During this month that we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr, former Chief Kelvin Sewell’s case underscores that justice continues to be elusive for African Americans in the State of Maryland,” said Carl Snowden, convenor of the Caucus of African American Leaders. “It’s our hope that the special prosecutor will drop this case.”

The letter stresses continued strong support for Chief Sewell, particularly in Pocomoke’s Black community, and voices concern for how the State Prosecutor persists in characterizing Chief Sewell’s conduct in the worst light possible.  It also shares insights from residents that the continued prosecution of Sewell has been destructive to race relations in the Pocomoke community, exacerbating preexisting racial tensions, and reigniting fears of law enforcement in the Black community that Sewell had worked effectively to overcome during his time as Chief.  

Additionally, the letter urges the State Prosecutor to understand that Officers of Color often are not afforded the benefit of the doubt in their decisions, and make them vulnerable to retaliation, especially when those decisions could be construed as somehow favoring other People of Color in a highly-segregated small town like Pocomoke City, where almost all the elected leaders are white.  That is why the United Black Police Officers Association and the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association – who have sued the Prince George’s Police Department (PGPD) for discrimination and retaliation against Officers of Color who speak out against discrimination and corruption in the PGPD – joined the letter to Davitt. 

“I have seen how Officers of Color like Chief Sewell are often not given the same benefit of the doubt in their decisions as white officers, especially when they have spoken out against racism,” said Joe Perez, president of the Hispanic Law Enforcement Officers’ Association. “It can seem like white police leaders are just waiting for a minority officer to misstep, ready to turn around the minute it happens and position that officer as the bad guy. That’s why we are taking a stand to support Chief Sewell.”

Go the ACLU of Maryland’s website to read the letter to State Prosecutor Davitt: https://www.aclu-md.org/en/press-releases