Thursday, March 12, 2020

Let’s ensure police are accountable to communities

Michael Owen Jr., the Prince George’s County police corporal who has been charged with second-degree murder for allegedly shooting William Green seven times while he was handcuffed in Owen’s patrol car, had a history of firing his weapon. His personnel file apparently include a string of complaints that were not sustained — meaning investigators found no wrongdoing. This whole terrible situation could have been avoided if the department were more motivated by public transparency to recognize patterns of unacceptable behavior. 

By: Joe Perez, President, Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association-NCR

Bad behavior by one police officer can make all officers look bad. But when police chiefs use good management that identifies patterns of bad behavior by officers and holds them accountable, they can improve public safety through better relationships with the community. Trust is needed in order to efficiently solve crimes and effectively serve the people. One way we can achieve that trust is by police departments being transparent in their investigations of misconduct complaints. 

I worked in internal affairs for many years and know first-hand how important it is for all complaints to be handled with equal diligence. But our current law does not allow police departments to show communities how investigations are handled. That breeds distrust and concern that some complainants are taken more seriously than others. It also means that some officers may be investigated harshly, while others are given a free pass. 

In police departments, there are several categories of findings. “Sustained” means that wrongdoing was found, “non-sustained” means that wrongdoing could not be proved or disproved, “exonerated” means the conduct was lawful and justified, and “unfounded” means the accusation was false. That “non-sustained” category is sticky. The investigators did not find you guilty, but they did not find you innocent either. And in most departments, the vast majority of complaints result in a finding of “non-sustained,” so it matters that departments release information about how those investigations are handled. 

The problem is that currently in Maryland when you file a complaint of police misconduct, you cannot find out how the department investigates your complaint. All you can find out is the outcome and any discipline. You cannot find out whether the department conducted a thorough or lackluster investigation of your complaint. This is because the complaint file is considered a “personnel record” under Maryland’s Public Information Act and personnel records may never be disclosed.

That needs to change. I support a legislative effort to remove the complaint file from the personnel record category. That is important because it would allow the police department to disclose the complaint file in appropriate situations. And when that change is made to improve transparency, it should include all outcome categories, because the public should have the right to know whether all complaints of misconduct are adequately investigated. That means information is released about whether witnesses are contacted, body camera footage is reviewed, and generally how the department handles the complaint. 

It is a matter of good management. In my experience, most departments have only about 10% of officers who commit most of the infractions. Being transparent about all complaints would help departments to establish a pattern for problematic officers, who often have a string of non-sustained complaints. It would cause officers to think twice about engaging in misconduct. And it would make it less likely for officers to cover stuff up. 

The recent case of Michael Owen Jr., the Prince George’s County police corporal who has been charged with second-degree murder for allegedly shooting William Green seven times while he was handcuffed in Owen’s patrol car, is the latest example we must pay attention to. Owen had a history of firing his weapon, and a personnel file that apparently includes a string of complaints that were not sustained. This whole terrible situation could have been avoided if the department were more motivated by public transparency to recognize patterns of unacceptable behavior. 

These accountability issues can be systemic. Take the example of the Baltimore Police Department, which was exposed in a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Justice for failing to investigate and sustain complaints. The statistics were alarming: Of the 1,382 allegations of excessive force that BPD tracked from 2010 through 2015, only 31 allegations — or 2.2 percent — were sustained. Also during that five-year period, the department completed investigations into 1,359 allegations of discourtesy, but sustained just 2.6 percent of those allegations, arising out of only 15 incidents.

As a result of those findings and others in the report, the Baltimore Police Department has been operating since 2017 under a federal consent decree instituted by the Justice Department that mandates reforms and oversight.
Most importantly, if police departments do not have to be transparent about the investigation of complaints that are found non-sustained, then there is less incentive to ever sustain a complaint. I encourage departments to consider that it also helps them to make public the information about all complaints because then there will be more trust when they show the facts when officers are truly not guilty, too. 

We can protect and serve better when bad behavior isn’t allowed to make us all look bad. 

Within the law enforcement community, transparency holds us accountable to one another. It is often difficult to police ourselves when no one is watching. By publicly releasing information about the investigations they do into complaints, police departments can ensure we are accountable to the people we serve while repairing damage done in the past.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

DOJ Investigation and Lawsuit Links

DOJ Investigation and Lawsuit Links

Amended Lawsuit against the Prince George's County Police Department

Prince George's County Police Motion to Dismiss rebutal

Prince George's County Police Motion to Dismiss status


On June 7, 2019 the Judge heard from both sides in reference to the county’s motion to dismiss.The County had two principle arguments for partial dismissal of the case. They are listed below. It is my opinion that the county should be ashamed of itself. They have chosen to spend approximately over a million dollars to protect racism, discrimination, retaliation and police corruption for the reputations of a few wrongdoers. In the meantime, they are sacrificing the reputation of the county and its residents because this is happening in their back yards.

As many of you know, it was our last resort to go public but this police administration chose to make this public in February 2017 (Chief’s Press Conference) and the new county executive co-signed on keeping that administration in place. Attached is the DOJ letter notifying the PD of its investigation.

Here are the highlights:


HNLEA and UBPOA seek other forms of relief that require individualized
proof. For instance, the Complaint requests that the Court order Defendants to:

• “Immediately rescind and expunge any and all discipline
issued to Plaintiffs and their members from any and all files
and records of the PGPD;

• “Immediately reinstate any and all Plaintiffs and their
members who were wrongfully terminated from
employment due to the discriminatory acts complained of
herein . . . .”

Our attorneys explained why it was important not to remove HNLEA and UBPOA from the complaint.We are waiting for a decision on both arguments from the judge. All I could say is that it was refreshing to see how good this federal judge was, in contrast to the Prince George’s County Judges which seem to automatically side with the county.

2.    The Court Should Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Claims Against Defendant Murtha.

The following is what our attorneys filed in response to removing Defendant Murtha from the case.This is only partial information on why not to remove him as a defendant:

·      “This is more than sufficient to state a claim against Murtha under Rule 8. The Court should reject Defendants’ suggestion that the allegations against Murtha are subject to a heightened pleading standard. If the Court requires further information, Plaintiffs hereby proffer that discovery will show:

·      In May 2016, the Internal Affairs Division received an anonymous complaint against Deputy Chief Murtha, regarding his approval and falsification of electronic time sheets for Corporal Richard Smith over a period of 14 months.
·      At the time Murtha was Defendant Chief Stawinski’s Executive Officer, and the second highest ranking officer in the Bureau of Patrol.
·      Capt. Perez was assigned to the investigation, and he gathered evidence sufficient to show that Murtha had falsified time sheets for Cpl. R. Smith.
·      However, soon after Capt. Perez reported that information to his commanding officer in IAD, Major Rafael Grant, the investigation was taken away from him. Without explanation, the investigation was assigned to an officer outside of IAD, Major Irene Burke. A White officer in IAD beneath Capt. Perez in rank, Lieutenant Lightner, was assigned to assist Major Burke.
·      Capt. Perez was instructed to provide all materials concerning the Murtha investigation to Major Burke and Lt. Lightner. Capt. Perez was also ordered to instruct Lightner to delete from IAD computer systems the investigatory materials concerning the Murtha investigation.

·      Capt. Perez continued to express interest in the matter. However, Lt. Lightner had been ordered not to discuss the matter and was not permitted to discuss the status of the matter with Capt. Perez, even though Capt. Perez was his commander.
·      In an interview that was recorded and transcribed, Defendant Murtha provided a false statement to Major Burke and Lt. Lightner. Specifically, to explain the absence of scan-card records that would support that Cpl. R. Smith was actually working and present in the County, Murtha stated that he had assigned Cpl. R. Smith to night duty and that Murtha personally observed him working each evening because he let him into the building.
·      After taking over the investigation, Major Burke and Lt. Lightner did not sustain the complaint against Murtha. Lt. Lightner was then promoted and reassigned to work for Deputy Chief Murtha.
·      In October 2016, when Capt. Perez and other PGPD Officers of Color filed a supplemental complaint with the Department of Justice, it contained a description of Murtha’s conduct in approving and falsifying electronic time sheets, as well as the efforts of others within the Department to cover up this misconduct. The Complaint cited additional evidence that Murtha was authorizing overtime pay for White officers who were not entitled to it.
·      A few days before filing the supplemental DOJ complaint, Capt. Perez met with and advised Defendant Stawinski that he would be filing the complaint described above, as well as an EEOC complaint.

·      Within an hour of informing Stawinski about the supplemental DOJ complaint and EEOC complaint, Capt. Perez was advised he was being removed from Internal Affairs.

·      In sum, Defendants’ motion to dismiss Deputy Chief Murtha lacks merit.”

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 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


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.

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