Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier faced a revolt by some black officers and calls for his ouster yesterday after he suspended the department's highest-ranking black police commander and accused him of insubordination.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke intervened late last night and persuaded Frazier to rescind the suspension of Col. Ronald L. Daniel, said the mayor's spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman.
But Daniel still could face disciplinary action, Frazier said. The mayor, commissioner and Daniel are scheduled to meet tomorrow.
Schmoke and Frazier contradicted each other on whether the commissioner informed the mayor in advance that Daniel was to be suspended.
Coleman said the mayor had been told over the weekend by Frazier only about an investigation into Daniel's alleged insubordination.
"I think that the mayor was more than a little troubled," Coleman said, adding that the investigation will continue.
Schmoke's dramatic late-night intervention was the climax of an afternoon, evening and night of frantic meetings and telephone calls involving Frazier, Daniel and angry members of a black police group who demanded that Daniel immediately be reinstated.
Frazier insisted last night that he told Schmoke in advance of Daniel's suspension. He said he was not ordered to rescind it, but this marks the first time that the mayor has publicly pressured his chief to reverse a major decision.
"I think it's premature to characterize [Frazier's] job as being in jeopardy," Coleman said. Frazier said he is "not at all" concerned and added: "I have the mayor's support."
Daniel's suspension occurred as a result of a meeting last week with fellow black officers in which he questioned the chief's commitment to ending racial disparity in the department and allegedly called for Frazier's removal.
Frazier was told of Daniel's comments and is accusing him of insubordination and violating several departmental rules, including one that prohibits officers from participating in a "seditious, rebellious or reactionary movement."
But Daniel's suspension triggered a rebellion as 13 members of the Vanguard Justice Society -- including high-ranking Majors Wendell M. France and Barry Powell -- who asked Schmoke during a two-hour meeting last night to fire the chief.
Schmoke, who recently called Frazier "the best police commissioner in the country," initially said last night through his spokesman, Coleman, "I am extremely concerned and more than troubled by the current situation." Coleman later called The Sun to say the suspension had been rescinded.
Daniel said it was premature to speak publicly about his matter.
Frazier denied last night that he took action against Daniel because of his criticism on racial issues.
"I was contacted over the weekend by African-American commanders who alleged that [Daniel] had questioned my ethics and motives and advocated my removal from office," Frazier said. "I see that commentary as disruptive to the efficient operation of the department and our ability to fight crime."
The commissioner said the alleged comments by Daniel get "in the way of fighting crime, and I won't tolerate it."
A top police commander who supports Frazier said last night that there was an organized "coup attempt" by a small group of high-ranking officers "to overthrow the police commissioner." The source quoted a black commander who told the chief: "It sickens me to my stomach to hear talk of an uprising."
Sgt. Teresa E. Cunningham, president of Vanguard, which represents about 600 of the force's 1,100 black officers, said Frazier is sending an ominous message to black officers -- that if they say anything that he perceives to undermine him, "he will literally whack your head off."
At the same time Frazier moved against Daniel, Frazier promoted a black major to colonel, named a female major to head the homicide unit and moved another black commander, Col. Robert Smith, to temporarily fill Daniel's position.
But critics termed the changes a smoke screen to blunt criticism of Daniel's suspension. Cunningham called the changes "bogus promotions."
Daniel, who is chief of the Field Operations Bureau and in charge of 2,500 of the department's 3,200 officers, initially was placed on administrative leave with pay. Frazier declined to talk about specifics of the probe into Daniel's comments, which the department's Internal Investigation Division is conducting. He said it would be over in "a matter of days."
Possible disciplinary action includes demotion or termination.
Daniel's police powers were to remain intact during the 12-hour suspension, but he was stripped of his departmental car and ordered to stay away from his office at police headquarters until the matter was resolved.
At a news conference attended by Vanguard and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, France -- who heads the National Black Officers Association -- called the action against Daniel a "very egregious act.
"This is probably one of the most popular commanders in this agency, for most whites and blacks," said France, who commands the Eastern District station. "And to single him out to silence the rest of us commanders I think takes us way way back in time."
France said "the city deserves a little better than what we've gotten here, and I think that I'm somewhat unnerved that the senior commander, the black commander of this department, is summarily dismissed for sharing his comments with a group of African-American commanders. I think that in itself speaks volumes for where we are."
Daniel, 47, is a 23-year veteran who rose from patrol to command the highest and most politically sensitive areas of the department. The action against him comes as Frazier tries to answer complaints that internal discipline is marred by racism.
Frazier said last night that he has implemented more than a dozen reforms recommended in November by the Community Relations Commission, a group appointed by the mayor to resolve discrimination complaints.
The report substantiated allegations of discrimination.
In December, Frazier replaced three high-ranking white officers -- who were in charge of internal investigations, hiring and training -- with black commanders.
But he forced Daniel to share his job with a white commander and divided those they supervised along racial lines. It was widely seen then as a public rebuke of Daniel.
Alvin O. Gillard, chairman of the commission, said Frazier's suspension of Daniel hampers the chief's promise to improve race relations.
"It certainly undermines anything and everything the commissioner has said in trying to resolve and make right the problems," Gillard said. "It's kind of difficult to accept that we are moving in the right direction if things are not aboveboard with this action against Daniel."
Sgt. Robert Gibson, vice president of Vanguard, said he is worried that France and Powell -- who attended the meeting at which Daniel made his comments -- are being targeted by Frazier for similar disciplinary action.
Sources say that Daniel raised complaints during an April 17 meeting of seven top Vanguard officials and 11 black police commanders with the rank of major or above and that his comments were leaked to Frazier.
A source said several of the commanders, including Daniel, voiced displeasure with how Frazier has dealt with the race problem.
The complaints included that Daniel was ordered to attend City Hall hearings on racism and to accompany Frazier to Annapolis to meet with the Legislative Black Caucus. Daniel complained that he was being used as window dressing in dealing with black officials, according to sources who attended the meeting.
Vanguard officials accused Frazier of spying on the meeting Daniel attended. Frazier denied that and said a black commander volunteered Daniel's comments.
At a City Hall hearing last month, Frazier said it was an "error in judgment" for a lieutenant to order a member of the Criminal Intelligence Unit to attend meetings of Gillard's commission and Vanguard.
"We don't engage in domestic spying," he said then.
Disciplinary rule: "Any member of the department, who being present at or having cognizance of any mutinous, seditious, rebellious or reactionary movement within the department, must used the utmost effort to suppress the same, or ... give information thereof to that member's Commanding Officer."
Section 11 of Police Department Rule and Regulations
Pub Date: 4/24/97
Sun staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.