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NAACP asks Laurel police to halt own investigations

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The NAACP in Prince George's County is asking that an outside agency handle investigations within the Laurel Police Department after receiving a series of complaints about officers' conduct.

The organization's concerns come after a cellphone video surfaced that showed a handcuffed man being struck in the face by a Laurel officer. The department has kept the officer in the video -- against whom a $3 million lawsuit has been filed -- on active duty while the case is being reviewed.

"At this point, we're going to recommend that they no longer do their own investigations," said Bob Ross, president of the county's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In the past 18 months, Mr. Ross estimates the NAACP has been contacted for advice in at least 20 different cases involving allegations against Laurel police officers. The organization is investigating allegations of inappropriate or illegal action in two cases involving Laurel officers, he said.

"Most of them are routine traffic stops that turn into something else," Mr. Ross said of cases he's looked into.

Laurel police spokeswoman Carreen Koubek said that because of the pending litigation in the most recent videotaped case, the city would not comment and referred calls to an attorney representing the city. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The NAACP chapter plans to hold its monthly general meeting Thursday at the Laurel Boys and Girls Club to hear from others with concerns about the police department.

One complaint, from an interaction in April, alleges that police searched a man's car without his consent or proper reason and destroyed his belongings during the search. The man was issued a ticket for not wearing a seat belt but no other criminal charge, according to documentation provided by the NAACP.

A second complaint states that a man was beaten and arrested after parking his car behind the Laurel library to sleep.

In both instances, Mr. Ross said the men who complained had to go into the police department to retrieve a form to officially file a complaint against police and had to have the documents notarized for police to accept them.

"That discourages you from having to file a complaint. Even if it's a couple dollars, you shouldn't have to pay to file a complaint," Mr. Ross said of the fees charged for notarization.

The Prince George's County state's attorney is reviewing the allegations made in the case involving the cellphone video to see if criminal charges could be filed against the officer, spokesman John Erzen said.

In the civil lawsuit filed in that case, D'Ante Williams, 27, said he was struck in the face three times by Officer J. Diaz-Chavarria while he was in handcuffs. Mr. Williams was arrested Aug. 5 and charged with second-degree assault and other related crimes after a fight outside the Laurel Station Bar and Grill.

Court documents filed in Prince George's County District Court, which were written by Officer Diaz-Chavarria, say Mr. Williams and another man were arrested outside the bar after assaulting a security officer and then tried to spit at the officer while being arrested.

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