- Staff Journalist
Banana Gate - Racism and Retaliation within the Maryland State Police
To say that we live in a country plagued by division and partisanship is no grand surprise to anyone. Long gone are the days of pragmatism and compromise, and instead, we live in an era of clear lines in the sand.
One of the dichotomies argued over at dining room tables and living rooms all over the nation is that of Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter; it’s become the heart of the 21st century civil rights movement.
However, what happens when the Blue Life is also a Black Life?
Matin Dunlap is a man of quiet intention. His drive is the result of both his thirst for knowledge and his willingness for experience, as well as innate integrity that guides every interaction and decision that he encounters. Born of a long line of police officers, he began his career with the Maryland State Police on July 1, 2013.
So, how could a man of that level of constitution, a state trooper with a stellar performance record, end up being charged with 60 years of assault charges for striking an assault suspect a few times in the stomach that resisted arrest and rammed a police car to the point of disabling it?
The Maryland State Police have quite a record of excessive force and retaliatory racism within its system. In March of 2014, Sgt. Edingel Torres and other troopers from the JFK barrack shot Rajsaun McCray over 40 times at the Maryland House Welcome Center for bumping a patrol car at 5 mph. Officers that shot McCray had been called after he had been reported for shoplifting from a local store. The internal findings in this case were similar to the October 26, 2015 shooting at a Frederick County gas station. In both instances, MSP claimed these low-speed contacts with patrol vehicles following pursuits were deadly force and put their Troopers lives at risk.
Ironically, this theory wasn’t employed when a patrol vehicle was rammed and disabled in Dunlap’s pursuit 4 days prior.
According to an anonymous source from the Maryland State Police, this isn’t anything new.
“This is a common issue in our agency for the number of minorities that are on the job and have been with this agency. [Minorities are not] treated equally when there are other troopers that are not minorities that get involved in the same situations and their punishment is much less severe, if they are punished at all.”
This same source feared using their name out of possible retaliation. “And all this will remain anonymous, right? When things like this get out, especially with my agency, I know there are people that would like to retaliate for bringing light on a situation [instead of] keeping it in house — but my years in law enforcement has shown me that the in-house way doesn’t work because we’re still in this same cycle that we shouldn’t be in.”
On August 17, 2015, Frederick County MSP troopers are seen on surveillance video tackling and restraining a suspect – two troopers held Bradley Martin down while a third, Trooper Whorton, punched him in the face (considered deadly force) 13 times. Bradley S. Martin was booked and transported to Meritus Medical Center for facial injuries, and then to R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore for facial reconstructive surgery.
Both situations ended with Internal Affairs concluding that the involved troopers used “reasonable force.”
Regarding Trooper Whorton, MSP doesn’t acknowledge the suspect to be “in custody” until he
was in handcuffs.
For Trooper Dunlap, however, MSP concluded that his suspect was considered in custody based on the physical presence of troopers on scene and charged that Dunlap’s suspect was already “in custody and
secured” before handcuffs were utilized.
Regarding retaliatory racism in the ranks of the Maryland State Police, statistics show that African Americans account for only 12% of the Maryland State Police, yet somehow makeup an exponentially larger percentage of Internal Affairs investigations.
Are black cops just that unruly? Or is there more at play here, like a systemic, oppressive plague and intentional effort to remove black men and women from MSP’s ranks?
According to now-retired LAPD Sergeant Cheryl Dorsey, it’s systemic.
“If you are connected to the right group, then things can be minimized and mitigated,” she says. “It sounds like there has been a concerted effort to go after this young man because he didn’t speak company code talk. It’s a tactic that police departments (or any big bureaucracy) play where they will charge you with [something], then charge you administratively, and then just wear you down, because most people don’t have the financial wherewithal to fight, withstand, and endure long periods of not earning an income, or perhaps not having the financial wherewithal to get proper legal representation.”
David Couper, a retired police chief of Madison, Wisconsin and activist for the ethical reform of policing, agrees. “To go against the internal code of policing — the code of silence and the code of going along — means in many cases putting your job in jeopardy, [as well as] your personal safety — your life — in jeopardy.” Retired Chief Couper went on to state that police officers that step out of line from that code of silence often are faced with situations where calls for back-up aren’t met and therefore, the officer’s life is now in danger because he or she chose to speak out.
As is the case for Trooper Dunlap, who has been tied up in a legal battle with the Maryland State Police for almost four years.
During Trooper Dunlap’s first week at the Golden Ring Barrack, a fellow trooper offered to give Trooper Dunlap a ride home. On the ride, his colleague told Dunlap that he should prepare himself for racist pranks, and said that “it’s not a matter of if it happens, it’s a matter of when,” and stated that it could be anything from white troopers putting KKK sheets on his patrol vehicle or placing a banana on his property.
Trooper Dunlap didn’t give it a lot of thought and went on doing his job.
Over the course of the following two years, he earned several awards, including four for DUI Trooper of the Month, one for Traffic Enforcement Trooper of the Month, and two for Trooper of the Month, as well as given an award in public safety for the Freddie Gray riots that happened in Baltimore. His professional development over those two years is just as impressive, with multiple courses and trainings completed in a variety of areas from NICS to Auto Theft to DWI Detection.
Further, Trooper Dunlap’s Job Observation Reports all comment on his “strong work ethic,” “motivation,” “professionalism,” and “outstanding work.”
It all changed on October 22, 2015.
Trooper Dunlap attempted to stop a vehicle. The attempted traffic stop turned into a traffic pursuit, covering 10 miles in 10 minutes. The suspect tried to ram Dunlap’s vehicle – which is considered deadly force – but Dunlap avoided impact and called for backup.
Moments later, backup arrived, and the suspect rammed the vehicle of a Corporal, who was assisting in the chase. The chase ended when the suspect’s tires were deflated from spike strips. Both the Corporal and the suspect’s vehicles were disabled. The suspect had to be forcefully removed from the vehicle by two other troopers.
Once out of vehicle, the suspect continued resisting arrest, flailing his arms and refusing to comply with verbal direction. Trooper Dunlap did as he was trained to do – he struck the suspect in the abdomen a few times to get pain compliance and get him in handcuffs. (According to several colleagues of Trooper Dunlap’s who wish to remain anonymous, striking a suspect in the abdomen is considered a “green” area, meaning that it’s generally considered minimal force – especially for someone who rammed a police car [considered deadly force against an officer] and resisted arrest.)
The other Troopers on scene placed the suspect in Trooper Dunlap's patrol vehicle, then they searched the suspect's car where they found prescription pills and a suicide note.
Trooper Dunlap brought the now-prisoner to the barracks to book him and took pictures of the suspect to record that there were no injuries, and then took the suspect to jail.
One of the troopers on the scene was Edingel Torres. Since the Maryland House incident he’s been the focus of other investigations, including one for ‘Impersonating a Police Officer’ while on medical leave by executing traffic stops in plain clothes without a badge in an unmarked agency pickup truck. He is known by others in the barrack to be one to do what he needs to do to please those in the higher ranks.
The following morning, Trooper Dunlap received a call on his cell phone from Sergeant Torres. Sergeant Torres relayed to Dunlap that Lieutenant Tim Mullin (the Barrack Commander) is “making” him file an excessive force complaint (one can only be filed by someone that was a witness to the events or a family member of the suspect).
Though he told Dunlap that he didn’t agree with doing so, Torres complied and filed a complaint. Trooper Dunlap was ordered to go to the barrack to turn in his badge, gun, and marked patrol car, and given an unmarked agency pick up. His schedule immediately changed from nights to 6 am to 2 pm.
Months later, while on desk duty, Trooper Dunlap left the barrack to pick up lunch at a rest stop for him, the dispatcher, and the sergeant on duty. While at Chesapeake House rest area, Trooper Dunlap encountered then-Corporal (now Assistant Barrack Commander) Jonathan Novack and four other troopers.
Dunlap picked up what was on his list, and the crew of troopers finished lunch about a minute before Dunlap left and headed out to their cars.
Dunlap walked out seconds later to find a banana on his agency pickup truck.
He picked it up and looked around to find Trooper Novack smiling at him and stating “I left you a banana”.
The four other troopers laughed.
Trooper Dunlap recalled what his colleague had told him back when he first started working for the Maryland State Police:
“It’s not a matter of ‘if’… it’s a matter of ‘when.’”
Weeks later, after taking the time to consider what transpired, Trooper Dunlap informed Lieutenant Tim Mullin that he wanted to file a Fair Practices complaint against then-Corporal Novack.
Lieutenant Mullin came up to Dunlap four times in a matter of two days and asked him if he really wanted to go through with complaint.
After repeatedly saying he was indeed going through with it, Trooper Dunlap was informed by that same Lieutenant that the complaint would be filed.
When an anonymous source was asked why they feel Lieutenant Mullin went to such lengths to ask Dunlap about reporting Novack, the source said, “Novack has always been every commander’s buddy because he is one of those who sucks up to get what he wants. He was a golden boy at the barrack for a long time.”
On December 24, 2015, Dunlap's First Sergeant Edward Luers, Lieutenant Tim Mullin, Captain Michael Wann and Internal Affairs Major Dave Kitzinger all agreed that in Dunlap's pursuit he used the "minimum amount of force" and not only was it not criminal but his actions even "conformed to Department policies.”
Once the investigation was closed, Dunlap was transferred to the Gun Licensing Division at MSP Headquarters in Pikesville.
On February 2, 2016, Major Kitzinger learned of Dunlap’s banana complaint and re-opened the administration investigation from October 2015.
An anonymous source within the barrack agreed that this was all part of retaliation related to the banana incident.
“This whole situation with the banana, it seemed like everything was retaliation against Dunlap. After that situation, it came down the chain of command about using state police vehicles while you’re in the suspended status, and then took [Dunlap’s] vehicle away from him. Troopers usually take care of their own and make sure that if one of us needs a ride, it is provided. Then the day came that it was Sergeant Torres’ group working, and Sergeant Torres instructed his people not to pick Dunlap up. Eventually, Dunlap called Golden Ring Barrack and got picked up by a trooper there. When he got there, he called Torres again and asked for a ride, and Torres said no one would come get him. His guys were between a rock and a hard place. Another person saw what was going on and went to go get him. I saw that situation as that particular group retaliating against Dunlap for the banana incident. That was straight retaliation.”
On March 16, the Offices of Fair Practices determined that there was “no evidence of record to support allegations of racial discrimination” regarding Trooper Novack’s placing a banana on Trooper Dunlap’s vehicle, but they documented that what Novack did was “wrong.”
If putting a banana on a black man’s car windshield isn’t racism, then why else would it be “wrong”?
The Criminal Enforcement Division and Internal Affairs re-interviewed the four troopers on the scene the night of October 22, 2015.
Via audio recordings, the CED and IA can be heard coaching the troopers along in their answers, which this time, were drastically different than the answers that were given now six months earlier.
This time, they included new allegations outside of the first allegation of excessive force used on the suspect – now, they added a second allegation for a "swollen finger" from Dunlap allegedly and inadvertently striking Trooper Joshua Kres, while Kres was reaching for the suspect. They then added a third charge stemming from Corporal Walter Rasinksi, who this time around added that "I think Dunlap bumped into me too, I don't remember Dunlap bumping me but that's what Sgt. Torres told me.”
And there you have it, Dunlap was now being investigated for "assaulting" a fellow trooper who wasn't even sure himself if Dunlap bumped into him while making the arrest.
Dunlap’s investigation was finally complete (for a second time). This time, instead of him being found to use “minimum force “ and “conforming to department policies” the agency now went to the opposite end of the spectrum and now charged him with criminal assault. On Wednesday, April 27, 2016 Maryland State Police changed Trooper Dunlap’s status to ‘Suspended Without Pay’ and charged him with sixty years worth of assault charges. The charges were 1st degree felony assault (15 years), 3 counts of 2nd degree misdemeanor assault (10 years) and 2 counts of misconduct.
However, if Dunlap was truly under investigation for criminal assault this entire time, why was he transferred to the Licensing Division and given more authority by being allowed to issue handgun permits and licenses?
Further, while on administrative duty and prior to being transferred to the Licensing Division, the State Police paid for him to be sent for gun licensing training with the FBI.
Odd supervisory decisions for someone being investigated for criminal assault.
One of Dunlap’s colleagues who wishes to remain anonymous stated, “I truly believe that Dunlap is going through [this] because of the Novack situation, because he made a complaint on Novack.”
That same colleague went on to say that “even if Trooper Kres was hit in the finger, there was no intent of harm there, so it wasn’t assault.” He explained that if a suspect rams a police car, then resists arrest, and in the process of subduing him, a trooper accidentally hits a colleague in the finger, it wasn’t done with intent and therefore “does not count as assault.”
Over the course of the next three years, Dunlap’s case was continuously postponed.
In February of 2018, Dunlap received a call from MSP stating that they are going to go forward with administrative charges – likely because they knew the criminal charges wouldn’t stick.
On April 1, 2019 the Harford County State’s Attorney's office advised MSP that they “will not be going forward with the charges against Mr. Dunlap”. Criminal Enforcement Divison D/Sgt Greg Hahn requested an explanation. The State’s Attorney’s office advised “going forward with a trial in this case is not in the best interest of MSP/would not look good for MSP”. The email listed many reasons not limited to contradictory information from Sgt Edingel Torres, Dunlap already being cleared administratively, and Dunlap’s force being found “reasonable” by two State Police Academy use of force experts.
April 2, 2019 Dunlap was advised by MSP that they will not yet put him back on regular duty. They notified his attorney that they will conduct a third investigation and will not use the original findings from 2015. In the meantime they agreed him to pay him backpay for the last 3 years. A deposit was placed in Dunlap’s account on April 30th and then taken out the next day on May 1st. There was unclear conversation between Human Resources and Internal Affairs. Dunlap was paid by Human Resources who stated “we thought we had to pay him” after the dismissal. Internal Affairs ordered the transaction be reversed pending the completion of the new administrative investigation. Dunlap was also interrogated by Internal Affairs on May 1, 2019 regarding the incident on October 22, 2015. The agency advised they will advise Dunlap’s legal team of the next steps. Unfortunately, they’ve already threatened him via email that they plan on terminating him and ultimately not paying him the 3 years of backpay.
To believe that Trooper Dunlap’s case has occurred in a vacuum is wishful thinking, and based on the testimony of those that have served in law enforcement, it’s clear we’ve got a new “Me Too, in Blue” movement on the horizon that will include officers of different backgrounds coming forward with their stories – unless that Blue Wall of Silence continues to cripple their truths from reaching the surface.
Further, LAPD retired-Sergeant Cheryl Dorsey shared of a time in her career when she was being sexually harassed by a command staff officer. When she went to report it, by the time she left to return to her division, her command staff already knew that she had done so. She went on to say that, ““There is a price to pay when you speak out, most people and officers are unwilling, particularly if you’re the head of the household. Are you going to risk this coveted assignment that you’ve been given? Or you’ve been working so hard and now you’re like a regular person and have a Monday through Friday job with weekends off, are you going to risk being reassigned to some undesirable assignment or shift because you speak out?”
How many more of those in Blue would share their stories if they weren’t signing their career away by doing so?
And where do we go from here?
According to Dorsey, the problem is top-down.
“It is police chief-down. When you understand that police chiefs have tremendous power — they make the rules, and they can break the rules. They are accountable to no one. It could change as progressive police chiefs start to run agencies, though there’s not a lot of them out there, but when you get a progressive police chief who’s willing to step outside of the norm and do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do, then officers will begin to see that it’s safe to speak and it’s safe to come out because right now there are too many ways that you can be touched whether it’s assignments, promotions, or more. And that’s why you have so many officers who go along to get along, because there is a price to pay when you don’t. Not everyone is willing to take being ostracized, being retaliated against, not getting the proper back-up because it’s an officer safety issue. Not everybody is built to take that kind of punishment.”
Retired-Chief David Couper will continue his advocacy for the ethical reform of policing, admitting, “I’m weary, but I remain hopeful.”
Sgt. Torres (on scene at Dunlap’s arrest) and other troopers fatally shot man for bumping a patrol car at 5 mph. Suspect shoplifted from a big box store.
Bradley Martin/ facial reconstructive surgery.