By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer

Despite his best attempts at masking the troubles beneath the surface of his Department, former Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski couldn’t avoid the lack of confidence his community lost in him. Stawinski, abruptly resigned, June 18 after a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that detailed blatant forms of discrimination toward minority officers was released.

County Executive Angela N. Alsobrooks immediately accepted  Stawinski’s resignation when details began surfacing about incendiary images of African Americans (wearing afro wigs) that were placed on a training dummy and used as demonstration tools for police baton striking practice. There were also allegations of White officers making racist remarks and using discriminatory behavior that were not addressed by the Department after being reported. Meanwhile, officers of color allegedly faced retaliation for reporting the incidents and many had lost faith in Stawinski’s leadership.

Hank Stawinski (right) who is seen in this file photo with County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (left) and State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (center), announced he was resigning as chief of police of Prince George’s County on June 18.

“We have challenges very similar to those that are woven across police departments around the nation,” Alsobrooks said during her press conference. “Unfortunately these challenges — some of them are painfully familiar to me and others who grew up in this community that we all love so much. Although difficult and sometimes frustrating, I want you to know our challenges are not insurmountable.”

The ACLU’s report was developed following accusations by 13 former officers who tell a story of systematic racism in a department that is responsible for policing one of the most affluent African-American populations and whose ethnic diversity continues to grow while more Hispanics are purchasing homes throughout the County. 

There were accusations of more than 20 incidents where White officers made racist remarks or displayed racially insensitive behavior and faced no repercussions.

One of the glaring examples that came to light in the suit, details how a picture of an African-American face with an afro wig on a training dummy was used for police baton practice. A subsequent investigation was closed without any discipline or charges filed. That example seems to have magnified the Department’s failure to properly handle cases of racial discrimination and prejudice among officers. It also was key to the County’s chapter of the NAACP to announce their “no confidence” in Stawinski’s leadership.

Four officers were criminally prosecuted for assault during Stawinski’s time as chief. The past year has been marked by several incidents involving practices by some officers, which have led to criminal charges and convictions. 

In May, three County police officers were suspended after a video showing one of them beating a man while trying to detain at a gas station in Langley Park went viral on social media after the George Floyd incident.  That case currently remains under investigation.

Last January, Officer Michael Owen, was indicted for manslaughter, assault, and misconduct in office in the fatal shooting of William Green, a resident of Southeast D.C., while he was in custody in a police cruiser outside a Popeye’s restaurant in Oxon Hill. Lieutenant Richard Tallant was also convicted of a second-degree sex offense for a 2017 assault that was stopped by two other officers in a Fraternal Order of Police restroom.

“As we reflect on the challenges and opportunities ahead of us we have a choice to make,” Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said during a press conference. “We have an opportunity to model a world-class justice system that promotes the safety and security of our communities while guaranteeing the constitutional and civil rights of our residents be protected.”

Alsobrooks announced that Assistant Police Chief Hector Velez, will serve as interim chief of the Department while the County begins a national search to replace Stawinski.