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Four veteran Black female officers allege a pattern of discrimination and mistreatment inside Baltimore Police department

Attorney Dionna Maria Lewis, center, speaks at a news conference Friday outside City Hall. Behind her, left to right, are Welai Grant, Jasmin Rowlett, Danika Yampierre, and Tashawna Gaines, current and former Baltimore City police officers who have sued the department over race and sex discrimination.
Attorney Dionna Maria Lewis, center, speaks at a news conference Friday outside City Hall. Behind her, left to right, are Welai Grant, Jasmin Rowlett, Danika Yampierre, and Tashawna Gaines, current and former Baltimore City police officers who have sued the department over race and sex discrimination. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

One Black Baltimore Police officer said she had a fake rat left on her desk. Another said she was harassed by fellow officers while on maternity leave. After making a complaint against a white male officer, another female officer said she was involuntarily transferred and passed over for a promotion.

The claims are among those made by four officers who spoke out against a culture of discrimination, harassment and retaliation they say they face while working for the police department. All four women, speaking at a news conference Friday outside City Hall, have pending federal lawsuits against the department.

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Attorneys for the city have filed motions to dismiss all the claims.

Their attorney, Dionna Maria Lewis, organized the event to call attention to what she called the underlying culture of the department that mistreats minorities, especially Black women.

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“At what point will the BPD self-monitor against the department’s own known complicit, insidious and institutional culture of sex- and race-based discrimination and sexual harassment, and severe retaliation?” she said. “At what point will there be accountability and oversight?”

Baltimore Police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said department policy prevents her from commenting on pending litigation.

The allegations come as the department undergoes sweeping reforms mandated by a federal consent decree. The agreement was reached in 2017 after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found officers routinely violated citizens’ civil rights, especially in predominantly poor black neighborhoods.

“If leaders of the Baltimore Police Department cannot get justice, cannot get respect, cannot be treated in a way that honors their civil rights, then what do the rest of us here in Baltimore have to hope for,” said Kobi Little, president of the local NAACP, at Friday’s news conference.

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Little called on the monitoring team overseeing the consent decree to investigate the officers’ claims.

“When will the culture of corruption in the Baltimore Police Department finally change?” Little said. “There is still much work to be done.”

Little was joined by Major Sabrina Tapp-Harper of the Baltimore City Sherriff’s Office, who also serves as chair of the National Black Police Association.

Sgt. Danika Yampierre filed her lawsuit in May, alleging she was discriminated against and harassed while she oversaw the City Hall security unit, and that the harassment continued even as she was on maternity leave.

She said Friday that officers “colluded with the accused officers involved by tipping them off with confidential information pertaining to my complaint ... the moment I spoke out I became the black sheep” and targeted by frivolous internal affairs complaints.

“There are so many more Black women in the police department who are suffering in silence and terrified to speak out because of severe retaliation,” Yampierre said.

The city has filed a motion to dismiss her case last month, arguing that her complaint “essentially asks this Court to referee a workplace feud between her and a subordinate.”

Another officer suing the department, Jasmin Rowlett, said at the news conference how toy rats were placed on her desk in an effort to intimidate her, and she was called a bitch.

In her complaint, also filed in May, she said she was repeatedly sexually harassed by another officer who worked with her when she was assigned to the Northeastern District.

Rowlett said Friday that her complaints to internal affairs were closed without investigation.

Rowlett previously claimed in another lawsuit that she was unfairly accused of fraternizing with a male Hispanic officer and she received a $77,000 settlement from the city.

The city filed a motion to dismiss, arguing: “Plaintiff rehashes, reframes, and refashions prior allegations and the continuing action thereof and now demands relief through this second lawsuit.”

Welai Grant, another officer, said that in 2019 she reported a police major for misconduct for calling an applicant an n-word. Her suit, filed in August, said she reported the complaint to the Inspector General’s Office, and that Police Commissioner Michael Harrison pulled her into into a meeting in 2019 to discuss the complaint. After that, she said she was involuntarily transferred and passed over for promotion without valid reason.

Tashawna Gaines, a former sergeant, said she used to work for the police department and, in 2017, sought to be reinstated at her former rank of sergeant but was denied by then Commissioner Kevin Davis. She said the denial came at a time the force was severely understaffed.

In a motion to dismiss, city lawyers wrote that Gaines voluntarily resigned from the department when she sought secondary employment as a news reporter for WBAL, “a job far outside the scope of her employment with BPD ... Plaintiff elected to voluntarily resign in order to pursue a job as a reporter.”

But Gaines said Friday that she left in good standing and that white men were reinstated, while she was the only Black female seeking the reinstatement at the time.

“I wasn’t one of the boys,” she said. “Discrimination and retaliation is an ongoing issue within the Baltimore Police Department.”

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