ANNAPOLIS – Maryland finally approved the settlement of a 10-year-old racial profiling lawsuit against the State Police that mandates new training for troopers and closer monitoring of traffic stops.
With a 2-1 vote Wednesday, the Board of Public Works, responsible for state spending, signed off on the $325,000 settlement. Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp constitute the board.
“After 10 years, there has been far too much litigation and far too much politics,” Ehrlich said. “We’re going to put this behind us today.”
The agreement has been on hold since early January at the request of incoming Gov. Ehrlich so that he and the new State Police Superintendent, Col. Edward T. Norris, could review it. In the meantime, some lawmakers and civil rights groups pressured board members to have it put back on the board’s agenda for approval.
Ehrlich was agitated that the facts of profiling had been “misreported.”
“The issue is about searches, not stops,” he said.
Kopp, who always favored the decree, acknowledged there was a problem, but still pledged her support to State Police.
“I am second to no one in my respect for our troopers,” she said. “I find it impossible to believe that we can’t do our job without profiling.”
Norris said he refused to sign the settlement when he first took office because he was unfamiliar with the document.
“I didn’t feel comfortable doing it . . . and there were things I didn’t like,” Norris said. “I’m happy it’s signed and we can move forward.”
The decree outlined conditions for police behavior, including retraining State Police, installing audio-visual equipment, and handing out informational brochures.
“I agreed to sign this because there is a lot in it that protects police,” he said.
Schaefer voted against the settlement, but only because he opposed paying legal fees. He said he actually favored the rest of the settlement.
“I’m against profiling, that shouldn’t happen,” he said. “If I were State Police I would not stop anyone on I-95 from now on because it would jeopardize any promotion.”
Schaefer cracked that the state was getting a bargain and only the State Police will pay and added, “I was one of the motivators for holding this up because it was wrong.”
It was the appropriate time to end racial profiling, said Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, D-Baltimore, a major proponent of the decree who continued to push the issue onto the board’s agenda.
“We’ve come to a great day and it’s appropriate,” she said. “I feel as if the struggle will continue and that this doesn’t put an end to profiling. But the governor is putting race in front of the camera and that is a good thing.”
Gary Rodwell, formerly of Baltimore and one of the original litigants in the case, made the trek down from Philadelphia to watch the board.
“This is a historic moment,” he said. “We’re hoping that what we do here in Maryland stands as a model for other states.”
For one lawmaker, the victory was bittersweet.
“This should have been done a long time ago,” said Sen. Nathaniel Exum, D- Prince George’s. “Why should I be jumping up and down for something that they shouldn’t be doing?”
The suit was prompted by a 1992 incident in which State Police pulled over black defense lawyer Robert L. Wilkins. Wilkins, who refused a search of his car while driving in Cumberland with his family, filed the initial suit, igniting the 10-year legal battle.
At the time Wilkins was pulled over, a “confidential” police document instructed troopers to target black drivers on Interstate 95 because they were suspected “dealers and couriers” of crack cocaine.
While Wilkins won his initial suit in 1995, its provisions were never enforced, prompting more litigation that resulted in Wednesday’s settlement. “I am happy about it but this is the second time I have been through this lawsuit,” Wilkins said. “I am not happy that I have to spend my time and my money on this issue.”