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Montgomery executive gives personal account of racial profiling

Montgomery Co. Executive Ike Leggett voiced support for Attorney General Brian Frosh's guidelines for police departments regarding racial profiling.  Leggett related his own experience of being arbitrarily stopped by Montgomery County park police outside a polling place last November. (Michael Dresser/Baltimore Sun)

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, endorsing guidelines issued Tuesday by Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh directing police to avoid racial profiling, told reporters the problem is real.

The top elected official in Montgomery County, who is African American, said he was harassed by a police officer in Silver Spring as recently as November.

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Leggett appeared with Frosh and others Tuesday at a news conference in Annapolis to introduce the guidelines developed by Frosh to end discriminatory policing.

On the night before Election Day, Leggett said, he went out alone, in jeans, baseball cap and a sweater to put up lawn signs around a polling place. The third-term county executive said he was confronted by a white Montgomery County Park Police officer who demanded to know why he was there.

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"He began to yell at me and to use profanity in a very, very aggressive way," Leggett said.

Leggett said a female park police officer then approached and recognized him. He said the woman told the other officer who he was and calmed him down.

"That should not have mattered," Leggett said. "I was just another black face."

Leggett, 70, said the "humiliating" encounter could have become more dangerous if he had been an African-American teenager who did not have the maturity to react calmly.

The officers were not county employees, but were employed by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Antonio DeVaul, chief of the Montgomery park police, said officers would have approached any civilian they saw parked in the lot where the incident occurred because it was closed to the public at that hour. But he did not challenge Leggett's account of how he was treated. He said the officer involved was a recent police academy graduate who was undergoing field training under a senior officer's supervision.

"On no occasion should an officer use profanity," DeVaul said. He said his department has a strict policy forbidding profiling.

DeVaul said the incident was resolved internally as a job performance matter. He did not disclose details.

DeVaul said his department will enthusiastically adopt the guidelines Frosh rolled out Tuesday. As an African-American man, he said, "I know all too well the impact of being racially profiled."

Frosh does not have the authority to require police agencies around the state to follow his advice. But he warned that departments that fail to do so could open themselves up to lawsuits and heightened public mistrust.

A spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan said his office received a copy of Frosh's guidelines Tuesday morning and will review it.

"Currently, all state law enforcement, including the Maryland State Police, receive training and operate under procedures and policies designed to prevent biased policing of all kinds," spokesman Doug Mayer said.

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