Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks defended the county's $17 million fight against a discrimination lawsuit brought by some of its police officers of color.
The lawsuit — settled over the weekend — alleged a culture of racial discrimination and retaliation within the Prince George’s County Police Department.
“I don't think anybody is wrong to say this not how we wanted to spend taxpayer dollars," Alsobrooks said.
She said she is moving forward after a two-and-a-half-year legal battle.
“It was necessary that we do this right,” she said. “I was determined that we were going to do this the right way.”
The settlement includes $2.3 million for the plaintiffs and more than $5.8 million for their legal fees. The settlement also calls for some new policing polices, the department's new chief, Malik Aziz, says those changes are welcomed.
“This day puts us on a course and a path to be a better police department,” he said.
The officers who filed the federal lawsuit say they were forced to sue when superiors ignored their concerns for years.
"The whole intent was to highlight these problems so that we could fix them — and for free, no less,” said retired Capt. Joe Perez, president of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association. “We were willing to do it for free."
The county fought the litigation as it enacted police reform. Former Chief Hank Stawinski stepped down, as did the head of internal affairs and the director of public safety. All were named as defendants in the suit.
The county executive created a policing task force and accepted dozens of recommendations for improvement, and a new chief was hired from outside the department.
“We believe that we are moving in the right and a leadership change was necessary,” Alsobrooks said. “We’ve made the change as I promisded. I said it from the very beginning. When I saw whatever the issues were, I would address them, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
As part of the settlement, the department must implement a number of policy changes, including a new bias-free policing policy that changes how officers are disciplined for racist behavior.
The group of officers also filed a complaint with the Justice Department's civil rights division. That investigation is ongoing.