While Vowing Police Reform, a Majority-Black County Has Spent $17.6 Million Fighting Officers Who Allege Racism

Joe Perez, left, Sonya Zollicoffer, and Lt. Thomas Boone are three plaintiffs in a discrimination lawsuit filed by Black and Latino police officers against the Prince George's County Police Department. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
Joe Perez, left, Sonya Zollicoffer, and Lt. Thomas Boone are three plaintiffs in a discrimination lawsuit filed by Black and Latino police officers against the Prince George’s County Police Department. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Angela D. Alsobrooks, the leader of one of the most powerful majority-Black communities in the country, has said that amid this national racial justice reckoning, she wants her county to be a model for police reform.

She hired a new chief, assembled a police reform work group, invested in mental health and paid a historic settlement of $20 million to the family of a man killed by an officer in the Prince George’s County Police Department.

But behind the scenes, her administration has been vigorously fighting an attempt by some of its own officers to hold that same police department accountable in court — and in the process authorized the spending of at least $17.6 million of taxpayer money, according to invoices obtained through a records request and reviewed by The Washington Post.

For 2½ years, the county has defended the department and three White police leaders who are named in a federal lawsuit brought by a group of Black and Latino officers alleging systemic discrimination on the force. Racism against officers of color, their complaint argues, has ultimately harmed the county’s residents — more than 80 percent of whom are Black and Latino.

Now, as the cost to defend the department continues to mount with no indication of when litigation will end, lawmakers and residents are increasingly pressing Alsobrooks to settle. They’re frustrated, saying that the cost, including millions of dollars in legal fees paid to Venable LLP, the private D.C. law firm the county hired, contradicts promises of change and undermines the ability to pay for reform.

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Source: Washington Post