ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus is pushing to end the state’s decade-old racial profiling lawsuit after the state passed on settling it in early January.
Members of the caucus met in January with two members of the Board of Public Works, which approves state spending, to help draw attention to the $325,000 settlement between Maryland State Police and a coalition of civil rights activist organizations. The board deferred a decision on the suit during its first meeting of the year Jan. 8.
“The issue has gone unresolved for too long,” said Delegate Melony Griffith, D-Prince George’s. “It’s time to ratify that agreement and move forward. We won’t tolerate racial profiling.”
Griffith along with Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, Delegate Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, and Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, D-Baltimore sat down with Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, one of the three BPW members, to express their concerns about the settlement as well to petition the board to move forward.
Gladden and Griffith also joined Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D- Baltimore, for a meeting with Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, another BPW member, to do the same.
Caucus members are hoping to meet with Ehrlich, the final member of the board, early this week before Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting.
“All we need is two votes from the Board of Pubic Works to sign off on this, and we know (Kopp) is willing to sign,” said Nathan-Pulliam. “It’s not money going to any pockets, it’s money to pay for all of the legal fees.”
The board opted to defer voting on the settlement after Gov. Robert Ehrlich – who took office Jan. 15 – asked Schaefer and Kopp for more time to review the case.
It’s now time to proceed and get the settlement on Ehrlich’s docket, said Gladden, who said she understood the board’s decision to postpone the vote.
“This is the case . . . and I think the settlement could impose landmark changes on how the Maryland police operate,” said Gladden. “I didn’t have a problem the first time, but now, out of respect and consideration for the litigants, they need to sign.”
The settlement was in response to a 1992 incident in which State Police pulled over defense lawyer Robert L. Wilkins. Wilkins, who refused a police search while driving with his family, said last week that he is frustrated with the delay and hopes the board will review the settlement quickly.
“Unfortunately I have been fighting this battle for nearly 10 years,” Wilkins said. “Further delay or anything that jeopardizes a solution to this problem concerns me.”
The agreement had been in the works for nearly two years after litigation and discovery were put on hold, said Reginald Shuford, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union – the primary sponsor of the racial profiling legislation.
“There has been ample time to finish this,” said Shuford. “If everything was signed before Jan. 8 it could have been done.”
The chairman of the caucus was also displeased with the holdup.
“I don’t know why we have to keep waiting . . . this is an opportunity to bring closure,” said Delegate Obie Patterson, D-Prince George’s.
When police stopped Wilkins, a state police mandate on the books instructed officers to target blacks for drug searches.
“What I went through was a humiliating and degrading experience,” Wilkins said. “You shouldn’t have to feel like you are a target all the time. That’s what happens with these racial profiling experiences.”