Discrimination Complaint Against Prince George's Co. Police Dept. Includes Training Dummy Depicting Black Man, Anti-Obama License Plate - NBC4 Washington

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Discrimination Complaint Against Prince George's Co. Police Dept. Includes Training Dummy Depicting Black Man, Anti-Obama License Plate

DOJ reviews complaint filed by dozens of police officers

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The chief reacts to several racially charged photos, including what appears to be an anti-obama license plate. Tracee Wilkins reports.

    (Published Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017)

    What to Know

    • Complaint filed with DOJ includes photos of black training mannequin and license plates seemingly offensive about Obama.

    • Police chief said the plates were removed from the sergeant's vehicle within 72 hours of learning about them.

    • DOJ reviewed the complaint, interviewing some officers Wednesday.

    A complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice by dozens of Prince George’s County police officers alleging discrimination within the department includes a training dummy depicting a black man and a sergeant’s seemingly vulgar anti-President Barack Obama license plates.

    The 300-page complaint sent to the Justice Department in October includes a picture of an internal affairs sergeant’s license plate with letters that seem to stand for “go f--- yourself Obama.”

    At least one officer was concerned the plates’ reference to the former president is offensive to officers and residents living in a majority black county that largely supported Obama.

    Prince George's County Police Chief Hank Stawinski said the license plates were removed from the sergeant's personal vehicle within 72 hours after the chief learned of them. He said it was suggested to him that the letters stood for "good for you Obama," but he immediately rejected that idea and prohibited the vehicle from parking on county property.

    "I found that repulsive. Repulsive," Stawinski said. "It does not represent the ideals, the policies and the practices of the Prince George's County Police Department."

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    The plates were recalled after a citizen complaint, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicles Administration.

    “In reviewing the records of the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), it has come to our attention that Personalized Plate GFYOBMA has been issued in error," a spokesman said in a statement.

    The MVA told News4, "MVA records indicate that the personalized plate was not returned, therefore MVA will send a pick up detail from MVA."

    A county police spokesman said the sergeant who had the plate is also a private citizen and the plates were issued by the state of Maryland.

    The MVA said the personalized plates are often done electronically, allowing offensive plates to slip through sometimes. They said this was an example of that.

    Another picture in the complaint shows a training dummy with an Afro and a picture of a black man’s face taped to it. It was taken inside a Prince George’s County Police Department training facility.

    It was a defensive tactics mannequin that can be used to train for a variety of situations as a suspect or a victim, Stawinski said. At a news conference at  5 p.m. Thursday, he said the wig was a black, curly wig and he showed a picture of it on another mannequin that appeared to be white in a scenario as a victim with a gunman behind it.

    Prince George’s County police were not the only officers with access to the facility, a department spokesman said.

    Those training materials and that facility are no longer in use, Stawinski said.

    The Justice Department reviewed the complaint Wednesday. Representatives with the DOJ's Community Service Division met with officers who filed the complaint and the leadership of the Prince George’s County branch of the NAACP.

    There is still no word on whether the Justice Department will officially investigate the filing, which includes up to 90 officers.

    The department sent a letter to the Justice Department saying it is eager to assist in the investigation, Stawinski said.

    “We have been trying diligently to get information to address and we’ve received nothing,” Stawinski said.

    Last week, Stawinski announced the creation of a panel to review internal practices and ensure fairness. The panel was not created in reaction to the complaint, police said.

    "If we find wrongdoing, we will address it," Stawinksi said Thursday.

    The department’s independent Inspector General and a representative from Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89 are co-chairing the panel, which will include union representatives and members of institutions outside the police department.

    The officers who signed the complaint are members of the local chapters of the National Hispanic Law Enforcement Association and the United Black Police Officers Association.

    Another of their concerns is that complaints filed against minority officers are handled more harshly than complaints filed against white officers, ACLU of Maryland Public Policy Director Toni Holness told News4 last week.