Officers said they hoped Black Lives Matter protesters would die, suit says
By Michael Levenson
In a series of text messages, a white supervisor and other police officers in Montgomery County, Maryland, talked about preparing for a “race war,” and expressed hope that Black Lives Matter protesters would be killed, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week by a Black colleague.
The officer, Mark Miles of the Maryland-National Capital Park Police, said in the lawsuit that his supervisor and other officers repeatedly made racist, hateful and offensive comments on a group text chain that was used to discuss work assignments and other business.
The officers sent the texts, which were excerpted in the lawsuit, as protests set off by the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020 swept across the United States, increasing scrutiny of police brutality and racism.
At the time, Miles, who was hired in October 2019, was the only Black officer in his squad, known as “Shift 5,” which he joined in March or April 2020, and which operated primarily in Montgomery County, outside Washington. The department also polices parks in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
According to the lawsuit, the unit’s supervisor, Sgt. Stephanie Harvey, questioned whether Miles, who is multiracial and identifies as Black, would be “on our side” in a “race war.”
“At least half of u is!” she texted, according to the lawsuit.
Another time, she said she was “ready” for a “race war,” and added, “I need more ammo though,” the lawsuit states.
When discussing Black Lives Matter protesters, she texted: “Well they got the Army out there sooooo ... hopefully they will get to kill some people,” and, “Kill em all,” the lawsuit states. When an officer sent a photo of an albino squirrel, Harvey replied: “Squirrels gotta Nazi too,” the lawsuit states.
During roll call Aug. 4, 2020, Harvey referred to a squad meeting about two weeks earlier during which she had told the chief that the department should not support Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
“Why didn’t you speak up?” Harvey asked Miles, according to the lawsuit. “You’re the only half-colored on the squad.” The other officers laughed at the comment, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, accuses the department of harassment, discrimination and retaliation. It seeks economic and compensatory damages, the termination of Harvey’s employment and the appointment of an independent monitor to ensure fairness in the department, among other actions.
“Fundamentally, he wants to see things in the department change,” Erika Jacobsen White, Miles’ lawyer, said Wednesday. “The fact that this kind of overt racist behavior has gone on unchecked inside the Police Department is just tremendously egregious, and it affects not only Officer Miles but the citizens they are charged to protect.”
Martin Oliverio, a lawyer who represents Harvey, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
In a statement, the Maryland-National Capital Park Police said: “When a series of secret text messages among a group of park police officers came to the attention of our management, we promptly initiated an investigation and took appropriate action based on the findings of that inquiry.”
The statement adds, “In accordance with the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, several officers were suspended and referred to the disciplinary process for termination.”
“While we cannot disclose the details of individual personnel actions or pending disciplinary proceedings, the suggestion that park police management ignored allegations of misconduct by this group of officers is simply incorrect, and we will make the results of the trial board process public at the appropriate time,” the statement says.
The department’s leadership team “does not tolerate racism or harassment in the workplace and will not hesitate to put a stop to any such behavior whenever it arises,” the statement says.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 30, which represents officers in the department, declined to comment on the lawsuit while the trial board was still deliberating.
But the organization said in a statement that it “works tirelessly to see that all members are treated fairly, have the best possible work environment and are afforded their due process rights as defined by law.”
The lawsuit says that while Harvey may have been suspended in March 2021, she and other officers who engaged in “racist vitriol” are still employed by the department, and several of those who made racist comments have been promoted to supervisory roles.
Miles, however, was ostracized by the department after he complained about the harassment to a captain, to a lieutenant in Internal Affairs and to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the lawsuit states.
He was removed from the Shift 5 text message group, stopped getting invitations to group dinners and was pressured to transfer out of the unit, the lawsuit states. Although he wanted to remain in the squad, the lawsuit states that, in November, he was “involuntarily transferred” to a less desirable night shift.