13 Prince George’s Police Officers of Color File Discrimination Lawsuit

Thirteen current and former members of the Prince George's County Police Department signed on to a federal civil lawsuit filed Wednesday morning in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The suit alleges discrimination and retaliation from the department's leadership against its officers.

Attorneys working with the officers say the 13 who have signed on to the suit represent many more officers within the department.

The suit alleges some female and minority officers who reported bad behavior against white officers became victims of retaliation through demotions or transfers. There are also allegations of cover-ups for white officers who have used excessive force in the community.

"We're seeing a widespread disparity in treatment and we are tired of it, and if the community believes we are cooperating at 100 percent protecting the community while all of these internal issues are going on, they are mistaken," Officer Joe Perez said.

Sonya Lancaster, a lieutenant, says she was sexually harassed by her white field training officer, then retaliated against after her complaint was sustained.

"I have been targeted, blackballed, retaliated against and made an outcast because I spoke up against the mishandling of internal investigations and biased treatment against people who filed complaints on white officers," she said. "I spoke up when I saw African Americans fired and disciplined without just cause, while white officers who engaged in real misconduct were promoted up the ranks over and over again."

"It feels like white police leaders in Prince George's say, 'What can I do to break you? To set you up and drive you out of the department?'" United Black Police Officers Association President Thomas Boone said.

The suit asks the court to find department policies and practices unlawful, require reforms, and offer justice to mistreated officers and community members. The officers are asking for an independent monitor to oversee the reforms.

The officers filed the lawsuit with the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association and the United Black Police Officers Association and with the support of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, and the private law firm Arnold & Porter.

A spokesperson for the Prince George's County Police Department said she could not comment due to the pending litigation.

Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said Wednesday she hadn't had a chance to look at the lawsuit yet since it was just filed, but she said allegations of discrimination will be taken very seriously.

"We encourage transparency," she said. "We want to know what is happening and if we find there is a discriminatory practice that is happening, we will address it."

The lawsuit comes as the U.S. Justice Department continues its investigation into similar claims within the department. That suit includes nearly 120 officers.

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