2 black officers oppose race-based picks for trial


Two black police officers at the University of Maryland Baltimore County want a court order forbidding their chief's deliberate selection of black officers for their trial boards on administrative charges.

Cpl. Maurice Lee, with 19 1/2 years of service, and Pfc. George Washington Jr., a 15-year veteran, filed suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court recently alleging violations of the Constitution, Maryland law and the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

"It hurt them that in 1994 . . . a chief of police could still not see them only as a police officer, but rather saw them as black police officers," the lawsuit said.

"This is plain old discrimination," said the officers' attorney, Clarke F. Ahlers, whichever way race-based selection goes.

Named as defendants are UMBC Police Chief David T. Yohman and State Police Superintendent Larry W. Tolliver, who agreed to provide an African-American commander for Corporal Lee's trial board according to exchanged letters offered as exhibits.

Copies of letters from Chief Yohman that sought black trial board members from the police chiefs for Baltimore County and the University of Maryland at Baltimore also were included but no replies were attached. State Police spokesman Michael J. McKelvin declined comment on the lawsuit -- but wondered whether it would affect a new state police policy requiring that at least one female officer serve on sexual harassment cases.

Chief Yohman referred questions to Director of University Relations Louise White.

"We won't be able to say very much about the lawsuit," Ms. White said. But "a goal of the university is to assure as diverse a representation as possible in everything we do. . . . We work very hard to achieve that goal."

"It's quite an avenue of nations if you come here," she said. "On boards, search committees -- everything -- we try to achieve representation, and I think seen in that context, that will shed some light on this situation."

Mr. Ahlers, a former lawyer for the Howard County police, characterized the administrative charges against his clients as "petty."

Corporal Lee is charged with neglect of duty for failing to give first aid last May to someone with a day-old black eye, he said.

Mr. Ahlers said Officer Washington is accused of insubordination in October for refusing to transport cash -- on the same day a departmental order came down forbidding officers from transporting money and requiring that they instead transport the person responsible for the cash.

Mr. Ahlers said Chief Yohman's letters not only announce the officers' race, but imply that "if certain members must be African-American, certain members cannot be African-American. It's outrageous that in 1994, the chief isn't colorblind even with respect to his own officers."

The attorney also criticized the chief, who is white, for saying last fall, while they were discussing the cases of the two officers, that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was a personal hero.

"He is the quintessential petty police chief," Mr. Ahlers said. "These are petty charges, brought about to isolate these officers from the department."

Ms. White said Mr. Ahlers has "substantially mischaracterized Chief Yohman."

The lawsuit doesn't seek money damages. It asks the court to forbid race-based appointments to the three-member hearing boards, void any action that results from such a panel, and forbid retaliation against the two officers.

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