Prince George's County will pay a group of Black and Latino officers $2.3 million to settle their workplace discrimination lawsuit against the police department - a payout that is a fraction of the nearly $18 million officials spent fighting the case over 2½ years.
The agreement includes a host of policy reforms at the department and requires the county to pay $5.8 million in attorneys' fees and reimbursements to the Washington Lawyers Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and Arnold & Porter, which represented the plaintiffs. That money will fund future handling of cases pro bono, the lawyers said.
With legal fees, the settlement and other sums Prince George's has paid defending the case, the county's spending on the lawsuit totals nearly $26 million - exceeding the historic $20 million payout it made last year to the family of a man fatally shot by a Prince George's officer.
The agreement comes after weeks of mediation between the parties and increased pressure from lawmakers and community organizers on the county to settle the suit. Frustration over the costs mounted after The Washington Post reported last month that the county had spent at least $17.6 million defending itself in the lawsuit with funds from the police department's budget.
The Post also found that the county paid the private District of Columbia firm it retained as outside counsel, Venable LLC, at least $2 million more than was authorized in contracts - a mistake that officials in County Executive Angela Alsobrooks's administration have acknowledged, saying they did not have a firm handle on the bills in the expansive case.
Alsobrooks, a Democrat, has defended her decision to aggressively fight the suit that was filed during her second week in office, in December 2018, even though she had pledged to overhaul the police department.
She said in a statement Tuesday that she was "pleased that we have settled this lawsuit."
"With this settlement we can now continue to move forward," she said, "focusing on implementing the necessary reforms within our police department to ensure that it exemplifies best practices in policing, to include fairness and equity in how we interact with those we serve and how we address internal challenges within the department."
The county said Alsobrooks will hold a news conference Thursday to discuss the terms of the settlement.
The plaintiffs, who are members of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association (HNLEA) and the United Black Police Officers Association (UBPOA), accused the department and three White former leaders on the force of fostering an environment in which officers of color faced systemic racism in promotions and discipline. The lawsuit also alleged that the department retaliated against those who tried to expose wrongdoing.
The terms of the settlement will address those concerns with policy changes aimed at making the promotion process more fair; clearly state the possible punishments for those who engage in racist or discriminatory conduct; and prohibit officers from using race, ethnicity or national origin to make policing decisions. One revised policy will clarify the "severe discipline" to which supervisors are subject if they do not properly fulfill their duties during use-of-force reviews.
Additionally, a new equal employment opportunity policy that covers anti-discrimination, anti-retaliation and bias-free policing will address the timeliness and resolution of investigations into complaints and require additional training for officers and supervisors. These changes will be monitored by the department's new Office of Integrity and Compliance, which was formed as one of dozens of recommendations Alsobrooks accepted from a police reform work group she organized last year.
"This is an important step, but the work is not over," Lt. Thomas Boone, president of UBPOA and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement. "We have reached a place where things can be reset, and we will see if we can work better together with the County and the police department going forward."
News of the settlement spread late Tuesday morning after an announcement from the plaintiffs, which the county executive's office said came before Chief Administrative Officer Tara Jackson had signed the finalized agreement. Jackson said the County Council will be briefed Thursday ahead of Alsobrooks's news conference. She said they were not briefed Tuesday because the news was not then official.