The state police are investigating whether high-level officers in the Maryland Natural Resources Police Department ignored complaints of racial discrimination and sexual harassment, officials said yesterday.
Cpl. Scott J. McCauley, a state police spokesman, confirmed the probe, first reported by the Capital in Annapolis, but he would not say when the investigation started, when it is expected to end or how many officers are involved.
He said results will be turned over to the DNR unless criminal charges are warranted, in which case the files will be given to the state's attorney's office in the appropriate county.
Neither Corporal McCauley nor Joyce Williams, a DNR spokeswoman, would detail the allegations. Ms. Williams said Torrey C. Brown, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, asked for the external probe six weeks ago.
"That's normal procedure for one police agency to ask another to investigate something like this," she said. "You can't investigate yourself."
The DNR police force patrols Maryland's waterways.
Mr. Brown, in what he described as an "unusual step," sent a two-page memo Wednesday to all DNR police employees acknowledging the investigation. The memo said his department has received two letters in the past several months "containing multiple complaints."
One letter alleged "numerous instances of racial discrimination" and the failure of officers to follow up on the complaints. The second letter alleged "numerous instances of sexual harassment female employees," the memo said.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer has taken an interest in the investigation. In a letter dated July 8, the governor wrote to a complainant: "Your charges are very serious, and it is important to me that they receive immediate attention."
The governor's letter was forwarded to the Equal Employment ** Opportunity Commission, Attorney General Joseph J. Curran Jr. and William Scobie, of the FBI's civil rights squad.
Police officials would not detail specific allegations in the case, but others, including an Annapolis lawyer and an attorney representing the American Civil Liberties Union, said the abuses are widespread and date back a number of years.
"A number of the complaints are about retaliation for complaints that the officers made about racial discrimination," said Deborah Jean, the ACLU lawyer. "Apparently the officers have gone to the Black Legislative Caucus with those complaints, and they say because they did that, they were unfairly treated."
Ms. Jean said about 15 to 20 employees have asked the ACLU to represent them in a civil lawsuit.
She said allegations include complaints from women who said they were given unfavorable work assignments and not treated the same as men. Some of the complainants were brought up on "bogus" departmental charges, she said, adding that the charges were either dropped or found at administrative hearings to be unwarranted.
Annapolis lawyer Joel L. Katz said he has represented "quite a few" minority officers and has testified before the Black Legislative Caucus. He would not name any of his clients but said many of the complaints predate the current DNR police bTC superintendent, Col. Franklin I. Wood.
"I don't know how widespread it is at the present time," Mr. Katz said. "It was pretty bad during the prior administration."
Mr. Katz said some of the allegations involving his clients are:
* A female cadet was nearly fired by superiors who charged her with being a poor officer. She was transferred to another district, where she has received superior reviews, but now must commute 90 miles to work.
* A female officer was charged with filing a false report, even though a male colleague also involved in the incident was not. Mr. Katz said his client was exonerated.
* A black officer was charged with filing a false report of alleged kickbacks received by a white officer, even though he was passing along information that he heard from someone else. He was later cleared.
A Department of Natural Resources source close to the investigation confirmed the latter allegation and said the officer was later turned down for a promotion to sergeant, even though he scored in the top three on his exam and there were 11 open positions.
The source also said the officer had been called a "coffee boy and chauffeur" by white officers.
The officer was promoted in February after taking a second test, the source said.
Additional charges, according to the source, include sexual harassment, such as lewd comments and men patting women on the buttocks and asking for dates.
Cases such as these are not new to the DNR police department, which has 217 officers -- 20 of whom are female and 33 of whom are minorities. The department only had four female and four minority officers on the 215-member force in 1985, said Ms. Williams, the DNR spokeswoman.
In 1985, a class-action suit by 10 black officers and job applicants was filed in federal court alleging racial discrimination in the department's hiring and promotion policies. At the time, only three of the 215 officers were black.
That suit was settled when the department agreed to sign a consent decree that required them to hire more blacks and women, said Annapolis Alderman Carl Snowden, who worked as a consultant on the case.