Officers seek to file class-action race discrimination suit against Md. State Police

October 26th, 2022

Three officers with the Maryland State Police have filed a proposed class-action lawsuit over what they describe as widespread racial discrimination within the department.

The complaint alleges MSP routinely disciplines officers of color more harshly than white officers, denies promotions to officers of color and retaliates against those who speak up about their treatment.

MSP is already under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is probing whether the department’s hiring and promotion practices are racially discriminatory.

The new federal lawsuit proposes a class made up of officers of color who were disciplined, denied promotions or otherwise faced discrimination from October 2019 to the present day. A judge would have to approve the group before the lawsuit could move forward as a class action.

The 36-page complaint was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. It claims that MSP maintains “centralized disciplinary policies and procedures that disparately treat officers of color” compared to their white colleagues on the force.

The plaintiffs are Byron Tribue and Matin Dunlap, Black men who are currently officers with MSP, and Analisse Diaz, a Black Puerto Rican woman who was terminated from MSP in 2019.

In a statement, MSP said the complaint is currently under legal review and the department cannot share information about the allegations in the lawsuit.

“The Maryland Department of State Police remains committed to providing the highest quality of law enforcement services to the people of Maryland, while ensuring the fair and equitable treatment of all employees,” the department said in the statement. “Significant actions have been taken and are continuing to address even the perception of racism or unfair treatment of any kind.”

The complaint alleges that Tribue was suspended for 301 days while he was investigated for leaving work one hour early to make up for attending a meeting on one of his days off. This was a common practice at MSP, according to the complaint, but Tribue, who was known for raising concerns about racial discrimination, was treated harshly over the timecard issue.

The drawn-out investigation and discipline process meant Tribue was ineligible for a promotion that year despite ranking well on the sergeant promotion list. A trial board ultimately issued a 10-day suspension for the infraction, according to the complaint.

When Tribue eventually received the sergeant promotion, he was assigned to the Rockville Barrack, which was a significant commute from his home, instead of the Forestville Barrack, where he was stationed.

The complaint also claims that MSP officials retaliated against Dunlap after he complained that a white corporal placed a banana on Dunlap’s work vehicle. The corporal was not disciplined and has been repeatedly promoted, according to the complaint.

After Dunlap complained, MSP reopened an investigation into a complaint stemming from a traffic stop, suspended him for three years and charged him criminally in the incident. The Baltimore Sun reported in 2019 that prosecutors dropped assault charges against Dunlap, who had been accused of striking a man with a baton during the stop.

Dunlap remains an officer with MSP but has been denied opportunities to work in specialized units, which benefit officers seeking promotions, the suit contends.
Diaz alleges other racist incidents in the complaint, including being told by a sergeant that he did not think it was a “big deal” to say the “n-word.” On another occasion, Diaz claims, she was told MSP should hire her as cleaning staff, in an apparent reference to her being Hispanic.

Diaz performed well as an officer, and her fluency in Spanish and other skills were useful to MSP’s Drug Enforcement Unit, according to the complaint, but she was passed over when she applied to join the specialized unit. A supervisor began retaliating against Diaz when she was chosen for a prestigious training program, the complaint claims, and wrote her a poor performance review.

MSP’s Internal Affairs office investigated Diaz for nearly 18 months and ultimately proposed terminating her over what the complaint describes as “low level mistakes.” The complaint does not detail what accusations led to Diaz’s termination.

Caucasian officers have not been similarly disciplined for more serious infractions, the complaint claims. Some white officers have failed to report for duty because they were under the influence of alcohol or got into vehicle crashes outside their assigned work areas while on duty, but were not charged with offenses, according to the complaint.

Other white officers engaged in excessive force or, in one case, left a gun in a convenience store, and were not terminated, the complaint claims.

The complaint also references previously reported incidents, including the use of a paper shooting target that depicts a cartoonish person of color at a gun range in Western Maryland and a commemorative coin that used the phrase “Make Waldorf Great Again” in reference to an anti-crime initiative.

According to the complaint, some other MSP employees have filed discrimination charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and will be added to the lawsuit after they receive notice of the right to sue from the agency.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Michal Shinnar, of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, P.A., did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.

In a statement, MSP said the complaint is currently under legal review and the department cannot share information about the allegations in the lawsuit.

“The Maryland Department of State Police remains committed to providing the highest quality of law enforcement services to the people of Maryland, while ensuring the fair and equitable treatment of all employees,” the department said in the statement. “Significant actions have been taken and are continuing to address even the perception of racism or unfair treatment of any kind.”

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