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Lawsuit: Md. park police exchanged racist, extremist text messages

A Black police officer with the Maryland-National Capital Park Police was subjected to racist and abusive messages sent in a group text with fellow officers, some of whom made references to a “race war” and far-right extremist groups, a new lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, alleges that a supervisor and other officers texted about killing Black Lives Matter protesters and made references to the Holocaust.

The plaintiff, Mark Miles, is a police officer with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in the park police division, according to the complaint. The M-NCPPC is a bi-county agency that administers parks and planning in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

“The case centers around really egregious racist comments, homophobic comments, misogynistic comments, in these chat rooms and text messages that supervisors have created,” said Jay Holland, one the lawyers representing Miles.

Miles was the only Black officer on Shift 5, which primarily operated in Montgomery County, according to the complaint. He joined the squad around April 2020 and was soon added to a text messaging group that the shift members used to communicate about assignments and other issues.

The complaint alleges that Miles’ supervisor in Shift 5, Sgt. Stephanie Harvey, told Miles that other officers in the squad were “worried they couldn’t trust” him because of his race. Harvey told Miles that she’d informed the other officers that he was “half white and half Black,” the complaint claims.

Miles’ race quickly became a factor in the text messages he received in the group chat, according to the complaint. As soon as he was added to the group, Harvey allegedly sent a photo of a Black child that said “Well hello motherf—er.” On another occasion, Harvey texted the group, “They want a race war…ok lets go. Miles ur on our side … at least half of u is!” according to the complaint.

The complaint claims that Harvey and other officers in the group text also made offensive comments about members of other racial groups and the LGBT community.

Harvey also commented in one text that she was racist, misogynist, and “maybe a homophobe. … I check all the boxes,” she wrote, according to the complaint.

On another occasion, Harvey wrote, “Joke, don’t turn these texts over to (Internal Affairs) and get me fired for hate speech!,” the complaint claims.

She also made comments that it was “time to start killing” Black Lives Matter protesters and that a civil war was “getting ready to kick off,” according to the complaint. Another officer responded “Boogaloo is coming,” making reference to a far-right extremist militia movement, the complaint claims.

When one officer sent a photograph of an albino squirrel to the group chat, according to the complaint, Harvey replied, “Squirrels gotta Nazi too.”

The lawsuit claims that Miles was subjected to other offensive conduct, including Harvey mocking unconscious bias trainings and arguing that racism was “made up.” Harvey was also dismissive when Miles was sent to handle an incident involving graffiti that referenced the Ku Klux Klan, according to the complaint.

At one point, the complaint claims, Harvey referred to Miles as “the only half-colored on the squad.”

Miles then reported the conduct to another supervisor, but was quickly subjected to retaliation, including being removed from the group text and excluded from work events, the complaint says.

The complaint also claims that in May 2021 Miles responded to a high-risk stop and called for backup, but did not receive immediate help from members of his shift, an act that he believes was retaliation for reporting the racism he witnessed. Miles was also transferred to a less-desirable night shift in November, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit raises claims of a hostile work environment, race discrimination and retaliation. It asks a judge to prohibit M-NCPPC from discriminating against employees, to require a three-year monitoring program of employment complaints, and to order Harvey’s termination. The complaint claims that she “may have been suspended from her position” in March 2021.

Update: After press time, the Maryland-National Capital Park Police provided a statement.

“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 agency said. “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.”