Crime Scenes: Baltimore Officer Sues, Says He Was Forced To Shave In Front Of Colleagues

… Officer says he was humiliated, retired …

By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

6:29 PM EST, January 26, 2011

The president-elect was coming to Baltimore, and police officers had their orders.

They had to keep the crowds orderly, keep Barack Obama safe and look presentable. Officers needed to be “clean-shaven.”

That was a problem for Anthony L. Brown, an 18-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department. He says he has been diagnosed with pseudofolliculitis barbae, a skin condition nicknamed “razor bumps” that can cause infection and scarring “as a consequence of shaving.”

That didn’t stop the department from enforcing its orders for officers on the presidential detail, according to a $17 million lawsuit that Brown, who is now retired, filed in Baltimore Circuit Court this month. It names the city, Police Department and supervisors as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit alleges that Sgt. Allen Adkins and Lt. John Windle forced Brown, 51, to shave in front of his colleagues at a roll call hours before Obama arrived Jan. 17, 2009. The suit says the supervisors “provided Brown with a yellow plastic Bic razor and a small bottle of shaving cream, and ordered Detective Brown to shave right there and then in front of everyone without the use of water and/or a mirror.”

Brown, who was a member of the Warrant Apprehension Task Force, says he wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom, and that the incident caused him to suffer “tremendous humiliation, embarrassment and mental anguish,” as well as aggravating his skin condition, resulting in “tremendous physical pain, discomfort and disfigurement.”

The officer alleges that his complaints resulted in poor performance evaluations and loss of overtime opportunities. His lawsuit also alleges police officials discriminated against him because of his medical condition.

Baltimore police declined to comment, as is their practice with pending lawsuits. City Solicitor George N. Nilson also refused to comment on the litigation.

The condition for which Brown suffers is common in black men, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, which describes the ailment as curved hair growing back into the skin. The group’s Internet site recommends letting the beard grow and then shaving every other day, at most. Even then, the site does not recommend shaving closely.

In the suit, Brown says his ailment has been known to city police throughout his career. The officer says he had never been asked to shave until Obama came to Baltimore, as he made his way to Washington by train to be sworn into office.

Brown says that on Jan. 13, a sergeant ordered him to do something about his “shaving profile.” The next day, Brown brought in a letter from his dermatologist, Dr. Larry H. Gaston, which stated: “In my professional opinion he should be exempted permanently from any type of shaving requirement.”

On Jan. 16, Brown says, Windle addressed officers and ordered that they all be “clean-shaven” for the Obama visit. Brown says he raised his hand and was rebuffed. The next day, the lawsuit says, Brown “shaved to the best of his ability” and reported to work on time.

That’s when he says he was ordered to shave.

Over the next several months, Brown alleges that he was denied assignments that included overtime, causing a reduction in pay, and was given poor evaluations. He retired — his lawsuit says “reluctantly” — on Aug. 13, 2009.

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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