An Anne Arundel County judge has temporarily thrown into limbo the promotion of five minority Annapolis police officers to the rank of corporal.
Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. signed an injunction yesterday that temporarily bars the city from funding the five positions filled Nov. 18.
Thirteen officers who were higher on an expired corporal eligibility list than some or all of the minority patrolmen, but were passed over in favor of them, sued the city, the Police Department and other Annapolis officials on Monday in Anne Arundel Circuit Court. They are claiming that the promotions made by Police Chief Harold Robbins Jr. violate the city code, which provides for merit-based promotions.
"He was reaching down into the list, which was an illegal action," said Jane G. Michaelson, attorney for the 13 officers who sued.
Chief Robbins said at the promotions ceremony that he was taking the action because all 10 of the department's corporals were white men and minorities were not represented in supervisory ranks.
The three black men and two women promoted to the newly created corporal posts are eligible to take the sergeant's test, which was postponed to give them time to study for it, and could move up in rank again within months.
Yesterday's order has "no effect because funding won't be approved until Dec. 13," when the City Council meets, said Jonathan A. Hodgson, city attorney.
The judge's order is valid for 10 days, and could be subject to renewal if a hearing on the case is not held within that time. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.
At a meeting yesterday afternoon, Mr. Hodgson, Alderman John R. Hammond, R-1, who heads the finance committee, and Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins agreed that the promotions would remain valid, but the new corporals would not receive the pay raise pending the outcome of the case, Mr. Hopkins said.
"If it's approved by the court, they would receive their back pay," he said. He was unsure what would happen if the court rules the promotions were illegal.
A federal consent decree requiring the Police Department to hire and promote more minorities was satisfied last year, as the agency's racial makeup now mirrors that of the city, although minorities are underrepresented in supervisory roles.
City officials would not comment on the suit or its potential effect on the promotions exams for corporal and sergeant.
"It's unfortunate that the chief's actions resulted in these officers bringing a lawsuit. The chief should be commended for taking this action," said Alderman Carl Snowden, D-5.
Two of the patrol officers promoted to corporal are the bottom two on a 22-member eligibility list.
While promotions do not have to be made in the precise order of eligibility, skipping over so many people to reach deep into the list is unfair because it does not adequately consider the qualifications of the officers on the list, Ms. Michaelson said.
The rank of corporal is considered a stepping stone because a corporal acts as a supervisor in training, occasionally commanding small units. The department has 14 sergeants who run day-to-day activities and units of up to eight officers.