The Prince George’s County executive has named an interim chief of police following the resignation of Chief Hank Stawinski.
Hector Velez, the Prince George’s County Police Department’s assistant chief, will serve as interim chief, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced at a news conference Friday afternoon.
Velez is a 26-year veteran of the department and a leader in policing and civil rights, Alsbrooks said.
The county executive said she accepted Stawinski’s resignation after many months of conversations with members of the community and police department. She said the release on Thursday of a scathing report alleging years of racial discrimination and harassment within the department “did not have anything to do with” the announcement of Stawinski’s resignation hours later.
“It was time to move in a different direction as far as leadership,” she said.
Officers suing the county detailed mistreatment of Black and brown officers, a failure to fairly investigate allegations and a failure to support whistleblowers. The county redacted many details in the 94-page report filed in federal court.
Alsobrooks thanked Stawinski for 27 years of service to the department and praised accomplishments including reducing officers’ response times to calls. They worked together for a decade.
“He served our community well and served it with great integrity," Alsobrooks said.
The county executive said she was “under no illusion,” though, that there are not things that are “broken” within the department.
“Whatever we find that is broken, I assure you that I will fix it,” she said.
Velez said he is ready to listen to the community and “motivated to lead this police department into the future.” He joined the department in 1994 after serving in the Army as a military police officer and in the Howard County Police Department.
The report filed Thursday “proves that there are ingrained, widespread patterns of discrimination and racism that permeate the entire department,” said Joanna Wasik of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
Alsobrooks declined to comment on the report, saying she could not speak about pending litigation.
A national search for a permanent replacement for Stawinski will start next week. Velez may be considered for the job.
In remarks later in the day, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy called for greater transparency from the county and police department. She and speakers including District Public Defender Keith Lotridge and NAACP Branch President Bob Ross all struck a positive note.
“This is a new day in Prince George’s County,” Ross said a day after his group called for a no-confidence vote on Stawinski.
Lotridge, the public defender, said his office has regularly been blocked from getting records on internal investigations into officers. In some cases, these records could exonerate defendants, he said.
“I think there will be a huge effort to change that,” he said.