Upper Marlboro, MD – A veteran Prince George’s County police officer was found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer and making a false representation for her actions related to a use-of-force investigation of two white police officers against a black driver.
Prince George’s County Police Lieutenant Sonya Lancaster said that she did nothing wrong and was being punished unfairly, WRC reported.
“I’m very disappointed but I do know this is nothing but retaliation,” Lt. Lancaster told reporters after the hearing. “I did my job, I spoke up, and as an officer that speaks up, this is what happens.”
The incident began when Lt. Lancaster was assigned to Internal Affairs at the Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD), WRC reported.
Lt. Lancaster – who has since married and changed her last name to Zollicoffer – was investigating a traffic stop for Internal Affairs.
She reviewed the dashcam video from the incident and charged two of her fellow officers with excessive force against a driver, WRC reported.
But before the charges against the officers could be adjudicated, Lt. Lancaster was promoted out of Internal Affairs and the case against the two officers was reassigned.
But Lt. Lancaster didn’t let go of it, WRC reported.
When she heard the charges against the officers had been downgraded, Lt. Lancaster decided she needed to know why.
She testified at her hearing that when she checked the video upon which she had based her use-of-force charges against the officers, seven minutes of it had gone missing, WRC reported.
PGPD Lieutenant Kathleen Mills had reinvestigated the case and ruled the officers’ use of force with the driver was justified.
Lt. Lancaster didn’t agree with Lt. Mills’ judgment so she set out to find out what had happened to the dashcam video and why the charges had been dropped, WRC reported.
That was what got the 20-year veteran of PGPD in trouble.
Lt. Lancaster was charged with misrepresenting herself and conduct unbecoming an officer for trying to re-involve herself in the case against the two officers, WRC reported.
The police department said that she had no right to work on her former cases after she had been promoted out of Internal Affairs.
The sergeant who took over the case against the officers claimed his captain didn’t want anybody to know Internal Affairs was reinvestigating the case, WRC reported.
He said his captain told him the investigation “should be done in confidentiality.”
Lt. Lancaster’s former Internal Affairs supervisor testified during the hearing that the lieutenant hadn’t done anything out of the norm, WRC reported.
“It was customary for officers to continue investigating their open cases after leaving IA,” the lieutenant’s former supervisor said.
But at the end of the administrative hearing, Lt. Lancaster was found guilty of making a false representation in connection with her attempt to investigate the dashcam video after she was no longer on the case, WRC reported.
She was also found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer.
“To terminate her for not following procedure, for requesting video, is draconian at best,” Lt. Lancaster’s attorneys complained after the verdict.
The trial board will make a recommendation to PGPD Acting Chief Hector Velez and he will determine what, if any, punishment Lt. Lancaster will face, WRC reported.
The attorney said he was concerned about Chief Velez determining Lt. Lancaster’s fate because she is a party to a lawsuit that names him as a defendant.
“A lot of times what happens is when you see them make examples out of us, no one wants to speak up,” PGPD Lieutenant Thomas Boone, the president of the United Black Police Officers Association, said. “People decide, hey, they don’t want to be a part of this, but this is why we have this lawsuit.”
Lt. Boone is also a party to the discrimination lawsuit against the police department, WRC reported.
An attorney for the police department explained that the hearing which may have ended her career had been held at Lt. Lancaster’s request, WRC reported.
“The administrative hearing was held because Lt. Lancaster did not accept the findings of an investigation into her case,” the attorney said.
Lt. Lancaster has said she will appeal the ruling of the trial board, WRC reported.