Baltimore officers cited for mistreatment of women in DoJ report

Secondary findings in Department of Justice report include hostility towards assault victims, public strip-searches and claims of sex in exchange for immunity

A scathing report released on Wednesday by the US Department of Justice found that Baltimore police officers regularly engage in unlawful, egregious conduct.

The primary findings of the report focused on widespread racial bias in the patterns or practices of Baltimore police department, but theres another strain of allegations: gender-based bias and mistreatment.

The justice department documented numerous instances in its report of hostility toward alleged sexual assault victims, callous treatment of female suspects, public strip-searches and even allegations of sex in exchange for immunity.

They treat us differently, they call us bitches, whores, prostitutes, tricks, one of the women who gave testimony to the DoJ but wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation said of treatment by police.

The DoJ, however, did not deem its findings widespread enough to find that the police department as a whole engaged in gender-biased policing in violation of federal law.

The DoJ cites a disturbing email between a police officer and a prosecutor in which they openly expressed their contempt for and disbelief of a woman who had reported a sexual assault: the prosecutor wrote that this case is crazy I am not excited about charging it. This victim seems like a conniving little whore. (pardon my language).; the BPD officer replied, Lmao! I feel the same.

Unfortunately, we were not made aware of these assertions and we do not know the author of this email, a spokesperson for the states attorneys office said. If we did, we would take appropriate action for such insensitivity. We denounce any survivor of sexual assault being referred to as a whore or any other derogatory term.

The report also notes that in their interviews of women reporting sexual assault, for example, BPD detectives ask questions such as Why are you messing this guys life up?

We were also troubled by statements of BPD detectives suggesting an undue skepticism of reports of sexual assault, the report reads, citing a statement made by a detective to police officers and victim advocates at a party. In homicide, there are real victims; all our cases are bullshit.

According to the report, gender bias may be affecting BPDs handling of sexual assault cases. Investigators found that BPD seriously and systematically under-investigates reports of sexual assault, and the sexual assault investigations it does conduct are marked by practices that significantly compromise the effectiveness and impartiality of its response to sexual assault.

Baltimore
Baltimore police commissioner Kevin Davis and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake during a press conference on the justice department report. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The report refers to a 2010 Baltimore Sun investigation that showed the department was dismissing rape complaints at five times the national average. The report notes that, though the number of cases considered unfounded have fallen, many more remain open, often indefinitely. This failure to remedy its procedures for collecting and reviewing data about sexual assault results in practices including interrogating rape victims, questioning women in the emergency room, threatening to hook up women reporting sexual assault to lie detectors, and not informing victims about the status of their cases, the report said.

BPDs response to reports of sexual assault is, overall, grossly inadequate, the report reads.

In some cases cited by the DoJ, the assault itself was performed by an officer. According to the report, one woman informed BPD investigators that she met with a certain officer and engaged in sexual activities in the officers patrol car once every other week in exchange for US currency or immunity from arrest.

The DoJ called the activity criminal and an abuse of power, but the department administratively closed the case without interviewing either the officer or witnesses. Then a Crime Stoppers tip reported that the same officer was having sex in a patrol vehicle with a woman involved in the sex trade and was eventually allowed to resign, without ever facing charges, when a neighboring police department made even more allegations against him and his phone records revealed sexually explicit text messages with other women who numbers were linked to online profiles for sex trade services.

The report mentions that gender bias is particularly strong against women with particular vulnerabilities, including those in the sex trade. The report does not elaborate on treatment of sex workers, but in hours of taped interviews with current or former sex workers submitted to the DoJ, women told similar stories of sexual coercion and alleged that officers discarded their complaints altogether. These women made the reports anonymously and the identities of the officers allegedly involved could not be confirmed.

They dont do their job its like were just trash, like something to be thrown away like whatever happens to us happens to us and they join in with the noise, said one African American woman not identified in the tapes, obtained by the Guardian. And thats how youre made to feel like the only way youre going to survive out there in the streets with the police is you just got to do what they want you to do or take the abuse and the neglect they give you to keep you from being locked up.

Several of these people said they did not make formal complaints to the city, because they did not want to give their name, although they felt safer providing information to the DoJ.

Its hard for the women to speak out because they fear retaliation, said Jacqueline Robarge, of Power Inside, who conducted the recorded interviews and provided them to the DoJ.

Robarge said the sex workers she deals with face both sex and race discrimination, exacerbating their experience with police.

If we put all of that together its not about sex work or rape reporting but how black women are treated when they have one social stigma standing in the way of proper treatment by police, she said.

Kalima Young, a lecturer at Towson University who researches race and gender-based trauma, said the report errs in not looking at gender and race together.

There seems to be a desire to put blinders on, she said. The way the report says they are disproportionately targeting African Americans acts as if by default those African Americans are black males and not black women and not trans women not LBT folks.

The report found that many of the civil rights violations against African Americans stemmed from the zero tolerance policies of the late 1990s and early 2000s, where officers were rewarded for clearing corners. African American women are even more vulnerable to charges like loitering, trespassing, and disorderly conduct, Robarge said.

For a woman to be at a bus stop in an area that may have some sort of prostitution or drug addiction just being at that bus stop makes you suspect. So they will come and accuse women of loitering…and they could get charged with prostitution from there. Its an additional way that women can be criminalized, she said.

If you look at the conversation [in the report] on transgendered women, just walking down the street as a transgendered woman means you can be stopped for any reason.

The report also found that transgender individuals deal with bias that is degrading and dehumanizing which makes them afraid to report crime to law enforcement.

One trans woman cited in the report told an officer that she identified as female and yet was repeatedly referred to as that by officers.

According to the DoJ, numerous residents, regardless of sex, gender, or age, complained of BPD officers jumping out of police vehicles and strip-searching individuals on public streets.

In one instance where a formal complaint to the department was sustained officers in BPDs Eastern District publicly strip-searched a woman following a routine traffic stop for a missing headlight. Officers ordered the woman to exit her vehicle, remove her clothes, and stand on the sidewalk to be searched. The woman asked the male officer in charge: I really gotta take all my clothes off? The male officer replied Yeah, according to the report. Finding no weapons or contraband around the womans chest, the [female] officer then pulled down the womans underwear and searched her anal cavity. This search again found no evidence of wrongdoing and the officers released the woman without charges.

The complaint resulted in a simple reprimand of the supervising officer. The DoJ concluded the conduct violates citizens civil rights and results in ineffective policing.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/11/baltimore-police-gender-bias-women-justice-department