CUMBERLAND — An independent investigation into alleged racial bias against a Black woman by Cumberland police found no evidence of state law or department policy violations.

Krystal Williams, an attorney with Portland-based law firm Bernstein Shur, alleged she was the victim of racial bias during two traffic stops in early 2019 when she was a Cumberland resident.

“When I am stopped by a Cumberland police officer because – allegedly – the small light that illuminates my license plate is out on one side – it’s personal,” Williams wrote in a September 2020 article in Maine Bar Journal, where the allegations first came to light. “And when that same officer sees my ACLU and Maine Law tote bags in my back seat and ‘let’s’ me go only to follow me until I reach my house — it’s personal. When I am stopped on my way to the gym by a Cumberland police officer who approaches my car yelling, ‘Do you have a gun?!’ – it’s personal.”

The officers’ identities are considered confidential under state law regarding personnel issues involving municipal employees unless disciplinary action is taken.

Police Chief Charles Rumsey said in a Nov. 24 statement that he immediately reported the allegations to the Maine Attorney General’s Office of Investigation when he became aware of them. He also called for the Augusta Police Department to conduct an independent investigation of Williams’ accounts. 

In interviews with an Augusta police detective, whose identity is also protected under state law regarding personnel issues, the two officers who pulled Williams over individually on separate occasions said they didn’t recall their interactions with her.

Both officers said inquiring about weapons is a routine part of traffic stops.

Williams said she assumed video and audio from the officers’ dash cams would be available to provide an objective perspective. However, that was not the case. In her one interview with the investigator, she was told recordings from both stops had been deleted. Erasing the recordings is a customary part of the department’s record retention policy, the details of which the detective said he did not know. He instead offered the reasoning that data storage was expensive.

“I did construe the investigator’s explanation of why the recordings were not retained longer as being favorable biased toward the police,” Williams said. She noted there is no statute of limitations for filing a complaint that corresponds with the department’s record retention policy.

According to Rumsey’s statement, Rumsey and Young reviewed the investigative report provided by the Augusta police and concluded it contains no evidence of violations of department policy or state law. After the investigation was complete, the report was reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office, which found the investigation to have been thorough and complete, Rumney said in the release.

No disciplinary action will be taken against the officers in question.

The investigative report by Augusta Police is also confidential under state law because it pertains to personnel records.

In light of the investigation, Rumney said his department is working towards extending its record retention policy to 24 months.

“The Cumberland Police Department is engaged at the state and local level in working to ensure that our policies, training, and conduct are fair, constitutional, and free from bias,” Rumney said.

Every member of the department has been trained in human bias and cultural awareness, he said, and the department will continue to conduct yearly training on those topics.

“We encourage any individual who feels he or she has had an interaction with a member of the Cumberland Police Department where inappropriate, unprofessional, or illegal conduct occurred to contact us as soon as possible,” Rumsey said. “Timely reports increase the likelihood that vital information and evidence will be available to investigators.”

Although there is insufficient evidence to support Williams’ allegations, she said the public manner of the investigation shed some light on a prevalent social matter and motivated the Cumberland Police Department to review and improve their policies and procedures.

“The challenge of this type of investigation is that it presumes that context doesn’t matter when, as humans, as social beings, we instinctively know that the tone in which you say something and the manner in which you act can change descriptively neutral behavior into situationally negative behavior,” Williams said.

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