The U.S. Department of Justice and Maryland's U.S. Attorney's Office announced Friday they are opening an investigation into allegations that the Maryland Department of State Police has been racially discriminatory in its hiring and promotion practices.
Former and current Black Maryland State Police troopers spoke out to News4 last year, sharing similar stories about the culture of their department.
"We always have to watch our backs – what we say, what we do," one officer who wished to remain anonymous said in Feb. 2021. "And it's never an even playing field."
"There's the good old boy system, and we're not a part of it," another trooper said.
We're making it easier for you to find stories that matter with our new newsletter — The 4Front. Sign up here and get news that is important for you to your inbox.
While Black troopers make up less than 12% of the overall department, data has shown they are disciplined at a higher rate than white troopers, especially in 2020.
"They return outrageous punishments that are inappropriate for any trooper and it's so clear that it's happening to African American troopers," attorney Clarke Ahlers previously told News4. Ahlers has defended some Black troopers who say they were unfairly penalized.
"I'm a conservative older white male. I'm not a person who sees or screams racism at every turn," Ahlers said. "In the three cases of African-American troopers I've represented I think there was overt racial prejudice against these troopers."
The justice department and the attorney's office said Friday that their investigation will be conducted pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion.
“Discrimination has no place in any workplace, and especially in law enforcement agencies,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our investigation will determine whether the Maryland Department of State Police has created racially discriminatory barriers for Black people seeking job opportunities and promotions and, if so, identify the reforms necessary to ensure equal employment opportunities.”
"Significant actions have been taken and are continuing to address even the perception of racism or unfair treatment of any kind," Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Jerry Jones said regarding the investigation. "I am aware of the U.S. Department of Justice investigation, after receiving notification late this morning. I welcome this investigation. I have assured the Department of Justice that the Maryland Department of State Police will cooperate fully with the investigation and assist investigators in any way possible."
After News4's original report on the issue, Jones presented solutions for improving the department in a meeting of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus in April 2021.
But some troopers questioned whether those changes, which included installing an equal-employment-opportunity-qualified office director and changing the board that disciplines officers, were enough.
Below is the full statement from Maryland State Superintendent Col. Jerry Jones:
"The Maryland Department of State Police remains steadfast in its commitment to providing the highest quality of law enforcement services to the people of Maryland, while ensuring fairness within our ranks and in the way public safety services are provided to our citizens. Significant actions have been taken and are continuing to address even the perception of racism or unfair treatment of any kind. I have been committed to addressing issues of diversity and inclusiveness throughout my tenure and work is continuing. Working with the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers, the Legislative Black Caucus, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, the Maryland State Police Office of Equity and Inclusion and other stakeholders, I have implemented new procedures and initiatives, opened new lines of communication and hired subject matter experts, all for the purpose of ensuring the Department addresses these issues and is a law enforcement leader in these matters. I am aware of the U.S. Department of Justice investigation, after receiving notification late this morning. I welcome this investigation. I have assured the Department of Justice that the Maryland Department of State Police will cooperate fully with the investigation and assist investigators in any way possible. In the interim, the dedicated troopers and civilian employees of the Department will continue to serve and protect the citizens of Maryland with the courage and selfless service they have been known for during the past 101 years."
The DOJ is asking for anyone with information that could be helpful in its investigation to contact them by emailing MDSPinvestigation@usdoj.gov.