The police chief of Prince George’s County resigned Thursday following the release of a scathing report alleging years of racial discrimination and harassment within the department.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced Thursday evening that she accepted the resignation of Chief of Police Hank Stawinski, effective immediately.
The resignation came as officers joined with police groups to call out what they called years of systemic racism within the department, and as the local NAACP group considered a no-confidence vote.
An explosive 94-page report filed in federal court Thursday alleges mistreatment of Black and brown officers, a failure to fairly investigate allegations and a failure to support whistleblowers. The report by a law enforcement veteran includes witness testimony, evidence naming officers and accounts of multiple incidents of harassment and discrimination. Many details were heavily redacted by the county.
“The report that was filed today 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.
The report says there were incidents Stawinski was aware of but failed to investigate.
Neither Stawinski nor the police department immediately addressed the public or released a statement.
Stawinski, the son of a county police officer, joined the department in 1992 and rose through the ranks. Former County Executive Rushern Baker named him chief in February 2016. He’s recognized as a local and national law enforcement leader and is involved with the Police Executive Research Forum, the National Police Foundation and the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association.
The now-former chief had a reputation for being honest and forthcoming with the public. But officers said that was not always the case internally.
Law enforcement leaders said it was time to fix the department.
“If we cannot resolve the racism among our ranks internally, we will never, never do it within the communities that we serve,” said Neill Franklin, executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership.
Former county police captain Joe Perez called Stawinski's resignation "a good first step." In 2018, Perez challenged the department’s efforts to demote him, claiming it occurred in retaliation for his complaints about unfair disciplinary practices within the department.
“It’s only a small percentage of officers, but if you continue covering for them, you know, and not taking definitive action in the beginning, it just festers and emboldens people to do more and more until you have a George Floyd,” he said.
Stawinski's resignation follows years of reports of mistreatment.
News4 exclusively interviewed a panel of PGPD officers alleging racial disparity in the department in 2018. The department enacted a mandatory implicit bias training course in conjunction with the University of Maryland to help address those issues. News4 exclusively reported on officers walking out of that class.
Today, the professor who helped create the class spoke out for the first time.
“We have one of the most innovative police decision-making programs in the United States based on our corporate sponsorships, and we gave that program to Prince George’s County, and they chose not to utilize it,” sociology professor Rashawn Ray said.
Many officers who participated in the press conference signed on to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the department.
Community activist Kema Harris questioned the county's response to that investigation.
“The county, period, pays more money to protect the chief against officers who are claiming discrimination when you would think they would protect the officers who are speaking up,” said Harris, cofounder of the Community Justice Coalition.
Officers said they hope the report will create changes that protect them and the community they serve.
“I’m speaking for officers who are afraid to speak up, that are intimidated,” Lt. Sonya Lancaster said.
Alsobrooks, the county executive, had been looking into the police department and Stawinski’s relationship with officers. She held meetings with police majors without the chief present, sources said.
An interim chief was expected to be announced within 24 hours. Assistant Chief Hector Velez is a likely choice, sources told News4. Then, a national search for a permanent replacement will start next week.