OCEAN CITY – Harsh accusations by a 23-year-old resort woman were directed at the Ocean City Police Department this week, raising questions about how much a role the department should play in the personal lives of its officers.
Resident Brandie Plumb claims that her girlfriend, an 11-year veteran to the OCPD, was slapped with a “No Contact Order” by the department forbidding her to speak with Plumb this month in addition to a suspension with pay from the force that was reportedly instilled on the officer for a separate incident.
Plumb says that the “No Contact Order” was set in place by the department on the officer, who will not be named due to alleged pending litigious matters, as a result of her relationship with Plumb, who has a prior criminal record including a theft conviction in 2003 when she was 18.
The officer’s suspension, according to Plumb, was due to “a separate incident that took place in Delaware three weeks ago between she (the officer) and her ex-girlfriend, who claimed that she (the officer) pushed her down during a drunken altercation.” Plumb claims that the ex-girlfriend recanted the charges and signed a statement claiming she was “incredibly drunk and made up the whole thing to get back at the officer.”
Though some of Plumb’s story sounds like a lover’s quarrel turned ugly, Plumb said the department’s tactics toward her girlfriend have caused the officer to “file a complaint with the Maryland Department of Human Relations, speak to a discrimination lawyer, and file a grievance with the OCPD.”
The Maryland Department of Human Relations, in an email, and a separate phone call, told The Dispatch, “We can neither confirm nor deny whether a complaint has been filed. All complaints filed are confidential by law unless and until certified for public trial.”
While the officer weighs her options in light of the suspension, Plumb has gone public with the story to clear her girlfriend’s name.
“I just want her name to be cleared and for her to be able to get her job back. I know I messed up when I was a kid, taking a car for a joyride at 18, and I got caught,” she said. “I don’t want her to suffer professionally just because she is with me personally. I just want us to have a real shot at being together without anyone telling us we can or can’t.”
When contacted, police spokesman Mike Levy refused to talk specifics.
“This is a personnel matter and we can’t comment on personnel matters,” he said. “It appears that this is referring to some allegation of discrimination, and the only thing we can say is that we are a very professional organization and we don’t discriminate against anybody for any reason, whether it is race, creed, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else.”
Plumb went on to claim that the “No Contact Order” was a violation of the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, which prohibits the police department from passing down such orders on “household members or spouses.”
According to Family Law, a piece of legislation passed in Maryland in 1988, usually used in domestic violence cases, the term “household members” was expanded to define “unmarried persons who share the raising of a child, or people whom are living together and in a relationship.”
The issue, according to Plumb, is the department potentially trying to influence control the personal lives of their officers.
“I can’t even see her, or talk to her, or be near her, for mistakes that I made when I was a kid. I’m so sorry for those things, and it’s not fair that she should have to be punished because they don’t approve of my record,” she said. “She’s definitely not the only one on the force whose dated someone of questionable character.”
Discrimination charges are not new to the department. As recently as May of 2008, the department was involved in an age discrimination lawsuit in federal court. A consent decree passed by U.S. District Court on May 14, forced the town of Ocean City to pay $40,000 in back pay to two officers who filed an age discrimination lawsuit with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Also, as part of the consent decree, the City Council, city manager, the chief of police and her officers were forced to take mandatory discrimination training. In addition, the decree required the department to post clearly visible notices around the precinct and issue a memorandum stating the department’s commitment to abide by all federal laws prohibiting discrimination.
Sgt. Dale C. Marshall, 58, filed the complaint with the EEOC alleging he was bypassed for promotion by the department in favor of younger officers. Gerald S. Keil, director of the EEOC’s field office in Baltimore, ruled in his official and binding determination in the case that Marshall and others, namely Sgt. Kathy Braeuninger, were bypassed for the same promotion based on age and ordered the two parties to work toward an informal settlement on the issue that could include a promotion or monetary compensation or a combination of both.
The consent decree, which does not include any admission of guilt by the OCPD, required the training to be specifically geared toward age discrimination but did encompass other forms of discrimination. Sexual discrimination was not specifically named in the document.