The Hyattsville Police Department is under increased scrutiny as a retired police lieutenant and a current officer have filed EEOC complaints alleging racism and sexism.

Ret. Lt. Gary Blakes and officer Barbara Smith both say they were punished for speaking out against the department’s wrongdoings.

Blake, who was subject to an internal affairs investigation, was suspended and said disciplinary action was taken because of comments he made in 2009. During a department meeting, Blakes said he complained about a video that showed a Hyattsville officer slamming a teenager into a car. Blakes retired amid the investigation, but his scheduled hearing date had not yet arrived.

The HPD said Blakes would have had ample opportunity to clear his name. “Mr. Gary Blakes was afforded his full state-mandated rights to have a three-person trial board of his peers, none of whom would have been employees of the City of Hyattsville, said Abby Sandel, communications manager for the City of Hyattsville, in a statement. “Rather than chose to defend his actions, Blakes opted to resign prior to the scheduled date.”

The Prince George’s chapter of the NAACP, who urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the HPD, said Smith was subject to multiple forms of discrimination. Officials from the chapter say Smith suffered unwarranted sexual advances, inappropriate comments and disparate treatment when she was ordered to see a psychiatrist. In addition, the NAACP claims Smith was not offered light-duty assignment when she, like a White female coworker, became pregnant, and received a number of written threats.

The HPD has not responded to all of the allegations Blakes, Smith and the NAACP have made, but deny claims that Smith was mistreated during her pregnancy. “In particular, female officers are always afforded the opportunity to be reassigned to light duty after they inform their supervisor of a pregnancy, contrary to the allegations made by Officer Barbara Smith,” Sandel said.

June White Dillard, president of the NAACP’s Prince George’s chapter, and Henry Hailstock, former president of the Montgomery County chapter, have met with city officials, but say they left the meeting disappointed. In a statement, Dillard said “there was an air of apathy and indifference to the condition of their African-American police officers under their police chief.”

The two sides don’t see eye-to-eye on the allegations and that’s why the DOJ was suggested by the NAACP and was accepted by the department. “The city firmly believes there is no factual basis for any of these allegations,” Sandel said. “The city is currently cooperating with the Department of Justice and is confident that any investigation will demonstrate that City has acted responsibly and appropriately.”

Sandel also said Hyattsville is exploring the possibility of hiring an equal opportunity officer to provide greater impartiality and objectivity in disciplining its employees.


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO