When Maryland State Police honored Kashef Khan as its Trooper of the Year for performance “above and beyond” expectations, it called his work an example of the “highest standards” in law enforcement.
Khan led the Forestville barrack in Prince George’s County in DUI enforcement in 2019, according to the agency, arresting 132 “impaired” drivers. He earned the barrack’s Trooper of the Month recognition 11 of 12 times that year, then won the statewide award for 2019. The brass praised his “relentless pursuit” of traffic and criminal offenders.
But a seemingly routine DUI arrest the following year would spell trouble.
The early morning arrest in June 2020 caught the attention of the agency’s internal affairs investigators, then snowballed into a case that put Khan’s career on the line. An internal trial board recommended his termination for integrity violations, and three years after he was the department’s top performer, the state police superintendent fired him.
Khan alleges his termination was the result of retaliation and racial discrimination by the agency — and that two internal investigators on his misconduct case lied under oath.
“A decorated member of the Maryland State Police was falsely accused of corrupt behavior by men who have made false statements about matters material to the investigation,” one of Khan’s attorneys, Clarke Ahlers, wrote in September to Col. Roland Butler, the superintendent of state police.
In a written statement to The Baltimore Sun, state police said any form of retaliation for reporting discrimination, harassment or gender bias “will not be tolerated.” Acts of retaliation, it said, result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.
The allegations come as the agency faces a U.S. Department of Justice investigation and a federal lawsuit pertaining to alleged discrimination against troopers of color. Also, the force has made headlines recently for vulgar challenge coins and for its handling of a supervisor who circulated an offensive meme about George Floyd a week after Minneapolis police murdered him.
Khan, a Muslim American who grew up in Pakistan, says his case is another example of discriminatory treatment. His claims are among those seeking class-action status in the federal suit, and he wants those involved in his firing to face accountability.
“I want the ‘good ol’ boy’ system and systemic racism gone,” Khan told The Sun. “Unfortunately, it’s not ‘Maryland’s Finest’ these days, as it claims.”
When internal affairs investigators first talked with Khan in December 2020 about the problematic DUI arrest, the concern was that he’d mistakenly made the stop about seven-tenths of a mile into Washington, D.C. That’s beyond the jurisdiction of state police.
In March 2021, there was a second interrogation and matters took a more serious turn. Investigators alleged Khan knew he was in Washington during the arrest, and that he lied in a report and at the previous interrogation to cover up. An internal charge of making a “false report” carries possible punishments up to and including termination.
How the second interrogation was conducted and what investigators said about it at Khan’s trial board became central to Khan’s assertions of unfair treatment. Khan, who earned $126,000 in his last full year with the state police (including $51,000 in overtime), continues to appeal the trial board’s decision and recommendation to fire him.
Sgt. Kristopher Phillips, who led the investigation of Khan, and Sgt. Matthew Mann, who served as its “second chair,” described the interrogation as “contentious.” Phillips wrote in an investigative report that it “yielded very limited if any information.” Mann said during Khan’s trial board that it was the “most” contentious in his seven years and more than 60 cases.
In a subsequent internal affairs case related to the Khan investigation, they continued in a similar vein: Phillips said Khan “refused to answer the questions,” and that his then-attorney, John Doud, “would not let him answer the questions.” Mann said Khan “skirted around answers.”
That subsequent case arose because Khan’s investigators wrote in their final report about him that their second interrogation was recorded, but by the time of Khan’s trial board in early 2022, the recording couldn’t be found. During Khan’s trial board, Phillips said he didn’t test the recorder the day of the interrogation. And that, though he believed he’d used it successfully, “now we know that it did not [record].”
However, there was another recording, made by Khan, that he says contradicts Phillips’ and Mann’s descriptions. Namely, Doud did not instruct Khan not to answer questions. The interrogation did not appear contentious. Khan did not say he recalled little information.
Also, a beep can be heard in Khan’s recording. That, Ahlers wrote in a September letter to the state police superintendent, indicated investigators making their own recording “likely paused [it] during breaks.”
Ahlers shared Khan’s recording with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office and the state prosecutor. Khan said prosecutors told him the recording didn’t violate Maryland’s wiretap statute because the conversation was already being recorded.
The state prosecutor’s office conducted an investigation of Khan’s allegations that resulted in a referral to state police for a possible administrative case, according to an Oct. 3 report that The Sun obtained through a public records request.
It noted the office was “limited’ in its review, as two of the statements were “Garrity material.” A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Garrity v. New Jersey protects law enforcement officers from incriminating themselves in statements they are required to provide, such as those made during internal affairs interrogations.
The state police confirmed Oct. 19 that Phillips and Mann were under an administrative investigation. Both, the agency said, are on “full duty status,” meaning they have not been suspended. Neither responded to a request for comment sent by email.
Phillips, who was assigned to a barrack when he investigated Khan, now works in internal affairs. Mann, who was in internal affairs during the investigation, has been promoted to detective sergeant and is assigned to the Princess Anne barrack on the Eastern Shore.
At a September 2022 hearing in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, part of Khan’s appeal of the trial board’s ruling, Judge Cathleen M. Vitale questioned why a traffic stop across a state boundary would result in termination. The issue of jurisdiction first arose because a child protective services agency was part of the case, and there was a question about whether Maryland or D.C. CPS should be involved. Ultimately, Ahlers said, a judge set aside the driver’s charges.
“Retrain, retool and don’t fire the guy, but make sure he knows where the line is,” Vitale said. “Unless this had been the 12th or 15th time this has happened, and the guy is a cowboy and he is simply arresting people wherever he can arrest people, or he is looking to get his numbers up — which doesn’t sound to be the case based on his track record — I am trying to find why.”
Later, she added: “You know the expression ‘when it smells, it really stinks’? Well, that’s kind of where I am.”
Not addressed in the appeal hearing was the result of the internal affairs case looking into the missing recording. While it had concluded in March 2022 with a finding that Phillips made an inaccurate report and neglected his duty, Khan had to file a public records request to learn the outcome. It was not shared with his team prior to his appeal hearing, although it was completed about four months earlier.
To Khan, the underlying reason for what happened to him is retaliation and racial discrimination. Khan testified in his trial board hearing that a sergeant had told him he was not made 2020 Trooper of the Year because he didn’t have the “complexion for protection,” which he interpreted as a reference to his race and ethnicity.
“They didn’t want me to be [the] face of MSP for two straight years, so they put me in this mess,” Khan said in the trial board.
He also testified that a first sergeant had told Khan he would be “on the radar” for turning down an invitation in mid-2020 to apply for a specialized unit called SPIDRE, or State Police Impaired Driving Reduction Effort. He hoped instead to move to a barrack closer to where he lived. He said commanders didn’t appreciate his decision.
“Troop,” Khan testified the first sergeant told him, “You know that they don’t like when you say no to Lieutenant Colonel.” That lieutenant colonel, Butler, is now the agency’s superintendent.
Khan drafted a resignation letter in April 2021 and had a job lined up, in part because he said he was “sick and tired” of rumors circling about his misconduct case. But, he says, he was told not to resign until mid-May of that year. When that time came, he was suspended and charged with the more serious integrity violations.
In testimony at Khan’s trial board hearing, Butler confirmed that, through a sergeant, he warned against Khan resigning. Butler said he didn’t want Khan to throw away his career.
Vitale, the judge, pointed in the 2022 court hearing to the draft of Khan’s resignation letter, saying he “raises issues that could lead one to believe that because he is vocal about some things that are wrong, he is targeted.”
“How do they target him?” Vitale said. “I call it an ‘ah-ha’ moment. ‘Ah-ha, we finally got him. Now, let’s go back and look at everything he has ever done.’”
Vitale ultimately upheld the trial board’s decision and recommendation to fire Khan. In her ruling, she said the trial board found state police testimony more credible than Khan’s, and that credibility “is not an issue for the Court upon review.”
Khan has appealed to the Appellate Court of Maryland; oral arguments are expected in December.
The pending federal lawsuit — which was amended last month to add individual defendants, including Butler — alleges the state police impose “unfounded, unwarranted and overly severe and disparate penalties” for officers of color. It also alleges that the state police retaliate against officers of color who “complain about discrimination.”
When Khan wrote his resignation letter, the then-trooper accused Phillips of being motivated by seeking an internal affairs position “at the cost of my career.”
“Who can police [an] IA representative like him? Who can police IA blunders?” Khan wrote.