Baltimore City Councilmen voice concerns over city’s handling of civilian police oversight board

Luke Broadwater The Baltimore Sun, August 21, 2018

Two Baltimore city councilmen on Monday sent a letter to city solicitor Andre Davis voicing concerns over his management of the Civilian Review Board, which investigates police abuse and misconduct allegations.

In the letter, Councilmen Brandon Scott and Ryan Dorsey, who are chairman and vice chairman of the Public Safety Committee, respectively, said they are concerned Davis — whose Law Department recently began managing the board — is limiting the panel’s work.

“We believe a conflict of interest may exist in the Law Department both overseeing the Board, who has the duty to render an opinion as to whether an officer has acted inappropriately, and representing the Police Department, whose employees are the object of the Board’s opinions,” the councilmen wrote.

The Civilian Review Board has not received any completed cases from the Police Department’s internal affairs division since July 19, when board members refused to sign a confidentiality agreement. Members voted unanimously to subpoena about 19 case files from the department.

The councilmen asked Davis whether he has taken actions to curb the board’s independence, including asking members not to communicate with the Department of Justice; not send letters of their investigative findings to victims of police abuse; and sign a new confidentiality agreement.

In a response to the letter, Davis said he saw no issue with the Law Department managing the Civilian Review Board or in asking board members to sign a confidentiality agreement. He said the agreement is merely asking members to abide by state law governing personnel issues. He argued he has not stood in the way of the board issuing subpoenas or conducting investigations.

“I wish to state in no uncertain terms that we are every bit as determined as the members of the City Council, as well as the members of the CRB, the consent decree monitors, and citizens of Baltimore to root out ‘bad cops’ and to bring an end to practices and approaches that undermine the Mayor’s commitment to creating a new era of community-based, constitutional policing for the citizens of Baltimore,” Davis wrote.

Davis, a former federal appellate judge, emphasized his commitment to cracking down on police misconduct.

“When I voluntarily retired from my lifetime appointment as a federal judge a year ago to join Mayor Pugh’s administration, a principal motivation for doing so was to join in the City’s effort to reform, indeed, ‘clean-up,’ the Baltimore City Police Department,” he wrote.

Tension between the city’s Law Department and Civilian Review Board arose in April over the case of Keith Davis Jr., the man who has been charged in the shooting death of a Pimlico security guard — and was shot by officers prior to his arrest. Davis has maintained his innocence, and his latest trial was declared a mistrial in June. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is considering trying him a fourth time.

The Law Department says the Civilian Review Board released findings in its investigation of the case that should have been redacted. The board found officers used excessive force and recommended two be terminated and two others receive a 30-day suspension.

In his written response to the councilmen, Davis wrote that conflict between the Law Department and the Civilian Review Board is overblown.

“What we have required, in accordance with our interpretation of Maryland law, is that confidential information not be included in such letters,” the former judge wrote. “This contentiousness should stop, and it should stop now. The members of the CRB should sign the Confidentiality Agreement and get on with its important work.”

Dorsey said he believes Davis’ logic is “reasonable for somebody in his position, but the fact remains that the board is statutorily entitled to receive documents that are presently being withheld by the police department, at the request of the City Solicitor.”

“His sense of duty has clearly led him to a creative attempt to make up new rules, which are now inhibiting the Board’s execution of its duties,” Dorsey wrote in an email. “I’m interested in what might be possible if the same creative energy might be applied to finding the way to provide the Board the independent counsel it should have, rather than simply invoking barriers to it.”

Luke Broadwater The Baltimore Sun, August 21, 2018, “Baltimore City Councilmen voice concerns over city’s handling of civilian police oversight board”, https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bs-md-ci-crb-letter-20180821-story.html

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Baltimore police expunged officer’s internal affairs files; public defender’s office calls for investigation

Jessica Anderson The Baltimore Sun, December 26, 2018

The Baltimore Police Department had a widespread practice of wrongly expunging internal affairs files of officers accused of misconduct, the public defender’s office alleges, and it’s calling for an investigation into the department’s practices.

The issue came to light as defense attorneys have sought information on police officers while representing clients in criminal cases. Officers’ internal affairs files are largely withheld from the public, and attorneys must make the case to a judge that such information is relevant to introduce the evidence at trial. But in some cases, attorneys say, they found files were expunged even though they had not been eligible for expungement.

The Public Defender’s Office is asking for the issue to be taken up as part of the federal consent decree reforms. The decree was reached last year between the city and the U.S. Justice Department after a federal investigation that found widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing in Baltimore.

“This widespread practice of expunging [Internal Affairs Division] files that are ripe for impeachment makes us question the extent to which the BPD is willing to promote transparency, as required by the Consent Decree,” wrote Kristen Getty Downs, the district public defender for Baltimore, and Deborah Katz Levi, the head of the office’s special litigation unit, in a letter to the consent decree’s monitoring team in October. The Baltimore Sun obtained the letter as part of a Maryland Public Information Act request.

Downs and Levi also complained that the Police Department lacked protocols to provide defense attorneys with sufficient access to internal affairs records.

“We continue to aggressively litigate access to withheld lAD files every day in Baltimore City Circuit Court,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, however, what we now know is that the BPD lacks a system to adequately identify and disclose discoverable material.”

The Police Department’s practices “are in direct contravention to state law and undercut the integrity of the entire system and the transparency and accountability tenets of the Consent Decree,” they wrote.

Many community leaders have stressed the need for greater transparency from the Police Department and the city about officer misconduct following the federal racketeering convictions of members of the Gun Trace Task Force and new mandates under the consent decree, which include more civilian oversight into officer misconduct.

City Solicitor Andre Davis, who oversees the department’s legal section, agreed that it needs improvements in how it handles misconduct investigations.

“Anybody who’s been paying attention in the consent decree knows these are the kinds of problems the department has every day,” such as management and supervision, he said.

Lawyers from the Police Department have been working to rewrite policies for internal affairs investigations as part of the consent decree. This summer, the monitoring team overseeing the reform process said the office “suffers from organizational deficiencies that impede its work,” before requesting deadline extensions.

“We are working on it. It’s very frustrating,” Davis said of the improvements.

The public defender’s office wrote the letter after Levi represented Clayton D. Colkley, a 42-year-old Baltimore man, at his fourth trial in October. He is charged with second-degree murder and other offenses in what prosecutors have described as a contract killing of James “Buck” Bowens on May 28, 2003. A second man was also injured in the shooting.

As part of Colkley’s defense, his attorneys have sought to impeach the credibility of the detectives who investigated the case, Kerry Snead and Darryl Massey, by questioning them before jurors about internal misconduct charges accusing them of overtime theft. Internal affairs investigators followed the detectives, finding them at home or running errands at a time when they would later say they were working overtime.

Levi has argued in court that she should be able to question detectives given the credibility issues raised in the internal affairs case. The detectives were called to testify in the prior Colkley trials about the shooting investigation.

In a 2013 victory for the defense, the state Court of Appeals found the officers’ internal affairs files had been improperly withheld from the defense and they weren’t able to question the officers about the case. Colkley’s earlier conviction was vacated and his case was sent back to Circuit Court for trial.

But before Colkley’s latest trial in October, his attorneys found that Snead’s misconduct cases had been expunged.

“Our client never got a fair trial because he couldn’t ask the officers about this theft ring that they engaged in and were found to have committed together. For the Police Department to then expunge those when the case comes back for reversal isn’t just fundamentally unfair, it’s not legal,” Levi said.

”Mr. Colkley has been siting in jail for 15 years without a fair trial, and he’s most recently been denied a bail review hearing,” Levi said.

More concerning, Levi said, is that the practice of wrongly expunging officers’ records appears to have occurred in dozens of other cases, and possibly more, following a hearing questioning BPD personnel about the practice.

“We asked the Police Department and the state’s attorney’s office to come forward and explain how this expungement could happen and what they brought were documents showing at least 27 cases where they changed a finding to administratively closed, which gave them the inappropriate pathway to expungement,” Levi said.

When an officer is accused of wrongdoing, he or she is investigated by officers from internal affairs, who might find a complaint sustained or not sustained. When cases are sustained, the internal affairs investigators will recommend discipline. Officers can accept the finding and any discipline or elect to go before a trial board, which is made up of three police officers. The trial board can recommend discipline, including dismissal, but the police commissioner ultimately has the final say.

Officers can seek to have cases expunged when cases are not sustained by internal affairs investigators, or when they are acquitted by a trial board. They cannot get a sustained case expunged, Levi said.

At pre-trial hearings in the Colkley case, Levi, prosecutors and attorneys for the Police Department sparred over whether Snead’s case should have been expunged. Prosecutors and attorneys for the police department have said Snead’s sustained complaints, which were not heard by a trial board, were later “administratively closed.”

Levi said state law does not recognize the “administratively closed” designation.

Lawyers for the department conceded that expungement polices have not always been clear, and expungements have not been extensively documented.

Daniel C. Beck, the chief of the Police Department’s legal affairs section, attempted to explain the practice at a hearing before Colkley’s trial in front of Baltimore Circuit Judge Althea Handy.

“The department clearly, in its historic practices, treated ‘administratively closed’ as an ‘unsustained’ finding, and therefore believed that that is subject to expungement,” Beck said, according to a recording of the hearing.

During an earlier hearing in the case, Patrick Seidel, who is prosecuting Colkley, argued that the designation of “administratively closed” meant the end of action. But Handy said, “then that should be in the statute.”

Colkley’s trial in October ended in a mistrial. Later that month, Levi and Downs submitted the letter to the consent decree monitoring team, asking them to evaluate the disclosure and expungement issues.

Ken Thompson, the head of the court-appointed consent decree monitoring team, would not comment on the Colkley case, but he said, “We are revisiting a number of internal affairs cases in connection with the overall assessments of the consent decree.”

Next year, the U.S. Justice Department, the Police Department and the city are expected to take up what’s known as the “Brady/Giglio protocol,” which refers to U.S. Supreme Court rulings that require prosecutors to disclose information that could benefit the defense — including any evidence that might exonerate the defendant or information that might impeach the credibility of the state’s witness, such as a police officer.

The consent decree requires the BPD to “eliminate policies that authorize the expungement of records where an employee accepts discipline,” and prohibits the use of “administratively closed” findings.

Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office, declined to comment on Colkley’s case, citing the ongoing case, and said that the office is not involved in the expungement process.

“The policy for expunging BPD internal affairs files is an administrative process developed by BPD and the Baltimore City Solicitor. Our agency has no involvement in this internal procedure, which does not impact discovery in criminal cases.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Levi and Downs this month also addressed the state commission created to evaluate the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, asking the panel to recommend measures that would improve transparency surrounding officer misconduct. They noted other jurisdictions around the country that have made internal affairs files more accessible to defense attorneys. Levi spoke of the Colkley case, and the “illegal expungement process.”

Colkley has another trial date scheduled for January.

Jessica Anderson The Baltimore Sun, December 26, 2018, “Baltimore police expunged officer’s internal affairs files; public defender’s office calls for investigation”, https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/bs-md-ci-internal-affairs-files-expunged-20181015-story.html

Cop charged with assault in beatdown caught on video

A Baltimore police officer who was caught on camera pummeling a suspect in the street has been charged with assault in connection with the beatdown, officials said Tuesday.

Officer Arthur Williams was hit with charges of misconduct in addition to both first and second-degree assault for Saturday’s beating, according to Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

“It is important that the community knows there is one standard of justice, no matter your sex, race religion, or occupation,” Mosby said in a statement.

“Police Officers are sworn to protect and serve and when that oath is taken for granted and an abuse of that power is evident, we will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

In the video posted online, the cop can be seen pushing and then wailing on a suspect who doesn’t appear to fight back.

A lawyer for the man who was beaten said the individual had faced charges of assaulting an officer from an incident in June.

“He is charged with assaulting that officer then, and so here this officer now is like, you know, going after him,” said the lawyer, Warren Brown.

Joe Tacopino, August 14, 2018, NYPost, “Cop charged with assault in beatdown caught on video”, https://nypost.com/2018/08/14/cop-charged-with-assault-in-beatdown-caught-on-video/

Baltimore cop quits after video surfaces of him beating down suspect

A Baltimore police officer quit Sunday after a video of him repeatedly slugging a suspect in the face went viral, cops said.

In the video posted online Saturday, an unidentified officer can be seen pushing and then wailing on a suspect who doesn’t appear to fight back.

The officer had originally been suspended over the incident.

“I’m deeply disturbed by the video that surfaced online,” interim Police Commissioner Garry Tuggle said in a statement Saturday.

“The officer involved has been suspended while we investigate the totality of this incident. Part of our investigation will be reviewing body worn camera footage.”

On Sunday, Baltimore police said the officer had resigned.

“The officer involved in yesterday’s incident is no longer with the Baltimore Police Department. Interim Commissioner Tuggle has accepted his resignation,” the statement said.

A lawyer for the man who was beaten said the suspect faces charges of assaulting an officer from an incident in June.

“He is charged with assaulting that officer then, and so here this officer now is like, you know, going after him,” said the lawyer, Warren Brown.

Joe Tacopino August 13, 2018 , NY Post, “Baltimore cop quits after video surfaces of him beating down suspect”, https://nypost.com/2018/08/13/baltimore-cop-quits-after-video-surfaces-of-him-beating-down-suspect/

Outrage after video of police officer’s brutal arrest of 13-year-old boy and his little sister goes viral ‘I’m about to send this kid to the hospital!’

Kia Morgan-Smith

A case between a 13-year-old boy who reportedly has a mental disability who was manhandled by an angry cop is under review by the Baltimore police after the incident went viral.

The boy Deontay, and his 11-year-old sister were reportedly looking for a cat in a neighbor’s yard when the police were called. A neighbor reported a potential burglary.

In a video of the interaction, the officer can be seen trying to handcuff the 13-year-old. In another video, Deontay’s mother Kimberly Townes is trying to prevent the officer from taking her son, Wbaltv reports.

“He told them get on the ground. I said, ‘No, they ain’t getting on no ground,” Deontay’s mother, Townes said. “She 11 and he’s 13. They not getting on the ground. So I told them, ‘come on.’ When I said that, he grabbed my son, like close armed him, hit him down, tried to get the handcuffs on him, then he started closed fisting my son.”

It’s a chaotic scene as the officer pulls Deontay to the ground and Townes is screaming and trying to stop one officer while another has her 11-year-old daughter trying to hold her back. The officer twists Deontay’s as he screams. The officer sais he was trying to pin Deontay because “he just tried to squeeze my testicles!”

In another clip the officer has Deontay pinned to a patrol car as he tries to kick his foot back and hit the officer.

The officer angrily pushes Deontay into the vehicle and slams the door. And yells “I’m about to send this kid to the (expletive) hospital.” Then he walks away and turns around and yells something about his face and then the officer can clearly be heard saying, “If I see him again I’m going to beat the (expletive) out of him!”

Townes admits that her son has a mental disability, and officers should have dealt with the situation better.

“I still can feel it — a little knot — and I got a black eye, my teeth and stuff,” Deontay said.

Police issued the following statement about the case late Wednesday afternoon:

“This was clearly a very hectic and chaotic scene that the officers were dispatched to. We take these matters very seriously and Commissioner Tuggle has demonstrated his commitment to transparency and accountability. This case is being reviewed by the Office of Professional Responsibility as we speak, and that would include the video clips taken by civilians and posted to social media, as well as the police officers body worn cameras, that we hope provide a more conclusive version of events from start to finish.”

Kia Morgan-Smith, , the grio.com, “Outrage after video of police officer’s brutal arrest of 13-year-old boy and his little sister goes viral ‘I’m about to send this kid to the hospital!’”, https://thegrio.com/2018/07/27/outrage-after-video-of-police-officers-brutal-arrest-of-13-year-old-boy-and-his-little-sister-goes-viral-im-about-to-send-this-kid-to-the-hospital/

Baltimore police officer charged with assault and misconduct

Christina Tkacik, July 3, 2018, The Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore police officer has been suspended without pay after being charged by the State’s Attorney’s office with first-degree assault and misconduct in office, according to police spokesman T.J. Smith.

Officer Carlos Rivera-Martinez was charged Wednesday for an alleged 2016 incident, according to online records.

“He is being moved to a suspended-without-pay status per the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights,” police spokesman T.J. Smith said.

In a statement, Melba Saunders, spokeswoman for the State’s Attorney, said the office is eager to restore the public’s faith in the criminal justice system. “Today’s indictment is indicative of that fact and a strong reminder that we will pursue justice fairly and equally no matter an individual’s race, gender, creed, or occupation,” she said.

Rivera-Martinez was also named as the officer involved in an unrelated shooting Jan. 22.

More details were not immediately available. No lawyer was listed for Rivera-Martinez.

 

Christina Tkacik, July 3, 2018, The Baltimore Sun, “Baltimore police officer charged with assault and misconduct”, https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/bs-md-ci-carlos-martinez-20180703-story.html

Baltimore OKs $9M settlement to man wrongly convicted of murder, sparking clash between council president, FOP

Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun, May 2, 2018

Baltimore’s spending panel approved a $9 million settlement on Wednesday with a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 20 years in prison before DNA evidence cleared his name a decade ago.

The amount agreed to be paid to James Owens is the largest settlement from the city in a case involving alleged police misconduct, officials said.

“Anyone who spends 21 years in jail unfairly deserves compensation,” said Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, who controls a majority of votes on the Board of Estimates, which voted unanimously for the payment.

At a news conference in downtown Baltimore, lawyers representing Owens passed out a statement that said the settlement “brings to a close a long and painful chapter in Mr. Owens’ life.”

Owens did not appear at the news conference and, through his lawyers, declined to comment, except to say that “no amount of money can give me back the time that I lost.”

The settlement sparked harsh words between City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and the city’s police union. In approving the funds, Young railed against the amount of money taxpayers are paying out over police lawsuits, and he suggested that the union should pick up some of the costs.

“I’m not happy about it,” Young said.

He cited the $6.4 million settlement in the death of Freddie Gray and argued that police are costing the city too much money.

“I’m not saying [Owens] shouldn’t get some money, but I do think FOP should be party to this settlement,” Young said. “That money should come out of their funds. I’m tired of all these funds coming out of the taxpayers of Baltimore City. Nine million dollars could go a long way toward rec centers, towards jobs for our youth. I’m tired of it.”

The Baltimore police union responded to Young’s comments Wednesday, criticizing him as someone who “does not support the work done by the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department.”

“While we agree with President Young that $9M is a lot of money, we have never been able to fathom why the City Board of Estimates continues to pay these exorbitant settlements,” the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 wrote on Twitter.

Owens was charged in the 1987 robbery, rape and murder of Colleen Williar, a 24-year-old phone company employee and college student, in her Southeast Baltimore home.

According to court records, Owens came under suspicion when a neighbor of Williar’s, James Thompson, told police he found a knife outside Williar’s apartment and retrieved it on behalf of Owens, a friend.

Police found no physical evidence to link Owens to the crime but charged him on the basis of Thompson’s statement. Owens, now 57, was convicted of murder in 1988 and had spent 21 years in custody before he was freed in 2008.

He sued the city three years later, alleging that investigators pressured a key witness and that police and prosecutors intentionally suppressed information that might have helped him defend himself.

Lawyers representing Owens alleged that the Baltimore Police Department homicide detectives who investigated the murder failed to disclose such so-called exculpatory evidence. The suit named as defendants the city, the police department and the State’s Attorney’s Office. It also named individual police officers Gary Dunnigan, Jay Landsman and Thomas Pellegrini and prosecutor Marvin Brave.

Thompson changed his story about the crime several times, and detectives continued to interrogate Thompson until he settled on a story that involved him watching Owens rape and murder Williar, according to Owens’ lawyers.

A sample of semen saved from the case was tested for DNA in 2006, winning Owens a new trial. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges against him.

“The American system of justice only works when police reveal all the evidence, even evidence that contradicts their belief regarding who committed a crime,” said Andrew D. Freeman, one of Owens’ lawyers. “This settlement should remind all law enforcement officers of the consequences of failing to turn over exculpatory information.”

City lawyers said that even though they were settling the case “the Baltimore City Police Department and the detectives who have been sued in this action dispute virtually all of the material facts alleged by Mr. Owens.”

Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun, May 2, 2018, “Baltimore OKs $9M settlement to man wrongly convicted of murder, sparking clash between council president, FOP”, https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-settlement-young-20180502-story.html

Paradigm Shift: City Now Forcing Bad Cops to Pay Victims Out of Their OWN POCKETS—Not Taxpayers

In cases where cops are proven to have acted with malice, the taxpayers will no longer be held liable. Instead, the criminal cops will have their wages garnished until they pay it all back.

One of the most corrupt policies in place to protect police officers who commit violence in the line of duty is the legal protection that comes when a victim files a lawsuit against an aggressive cop. When a victim of a police assault wins a lawsuit against the police department, the city’s taxpayers are usually on the hook for the restitution fees. However, a new policy change in Baltimore—which will set a revolutionary precedent—will finally have the guilty officers feeling the pain in their pockets for once.

In a memo sent out by police union president Gene Ryan this week, Baltimore City officers were warned about how they could be charged with punitive damage if a jury finds that they acted with malice during an attack on a citizen.

The email stated that:

Many of our officers are sued for monetary damages by individuals they have arrested or have come in contact with.  These lawsuits allege wrongdoing on the part of the officer and oftentimes allege that the officer acted with malice.  Malice means that the officer’s alleged actions were motivated by a personal hatred towards the individual suing him or her.  If the person suing the officer wins on the question of whether the officer committed a wrong, the Plaintiff can recover monetary damages to compensate him or her for any injury and/or expenses incurred resulting from the officer’s actions.  If a jury finds that the officer acted with malice, the jury has the option to award punitive damages which are designed to punish the officer and to serve as a deterrent to the officer not to repeat the alleged wrongful conduct found to have occurred by the jury.

Most times, the officer who is being sued will dispute the allegations made by a Plaintiff and successfully defend a claim for punitive damages. However, many juries award punitive damages despite the lack of evidence of malice even in cases where the police officer has not been charged criminally and been found to have acted within the scope of his/her duties consistent with the rules and regulations of the Baltimore Police Department. In the past, the City of Baltimore has generally supported the officers by paying punitive damages as well as the compensatory damages awarded for the actual injury.  Since Andre Davis has been named as our new City Solicitor, he has adopted a policy of not paying any punitive damages despite the fact that the Police Officer has been found to have acted appropriately by the office of the State’s Attorney as well as the Baltimore Police Department.

What this means is that police officers are now required to pay these punitive damage awards, which can amount to thousands of dollars, out of their own pockets.  Since punitive damages cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, the successful citizen can file an attachment against your wages taking 25% of your net bi-weekly paycheck until the amount of the punitive judgment is satisfied.

Please keep this in mind as you go about performing your duties.

The email was leaked to Baltimore crime journalist Justin Fenton for The Baltimore Sun, who posted the following tweet on Tuesday.

City Solicitor Andre M. Davis responded to the leaked email on Wednesday by saying that the union was lying and that this policy has been in place for decades.

Former City Solicitor George Nilson has confirmed this, saying “In the past, the city law department has appropriately refused to pay malice judgments.”

Davis pointed out that the Local Government Tort Claims Act doesn’t require local governments to pay punitive damages for police officers but most local bureaucrats go along doing so anyway without question.

“The statement was flatly wrong in several respects and deeply misleading in other respects. The statute reflects the ordinary common sense notion that if government employees are told that no matter how badly they misbehave, no matter how maliciously they inflict harm or injuries on their fellow citizens, their employer will pay for that harm, then we can expect an increase in such harm. Employees, including police officers who, no doubt have the most difficult job in government, are not privileged to inflict gratuitous injury on others without also incurring personal consequences.” Davis told WBAL.

Davis also took issue with the fact that the email stated that officers are charged without evidence, which is an obviously false claim considering that police are held to a much lower standard than average citizens in the US legal system.

“Instead of speaking out forcefully to encourage FOP members to police in a professional and constitutional manner, as the Commissioner-Designate [Darryl De Sousa] has promised will be his guiding light, and as the federal court consent decree mandates the Police Department to achieve, the FOP leadership’s message seems to be an attempt to dissuade officers from continuing to do their challenging jobs in good faith reliance on the City’s contractual and state law obligation to protect them from baseless lawsuits. This is unfortunate and troubling. Nevertheless, the Law Department will always stand with our officers and give them the legal defense, counsel, and such additional training as may be needed so that they remain on the constitutional side of urban policing in the twenty-first century at all times,” Davis said.

The Baltimore Sun reported that as many as nine Baltimore police officers could have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in damages for recent cases where they found guilty of attacking someone with malice. These cases are reportedly what provoked this recent tantrum from the police union.

What It Takes to Actually Convict Police of Misconduct

Officers involved in fatal incidents keep getting acquitted, but a team of Baltimore cops who stole from suspects and taxpayers alike during a years-long criminal spree are facing serious jail time.

A Baltimore Police car passes a mural of Freddie Gray.
A Baltimore Police car passes a mural of Freddie Gray. Steve Ruark / AP
 David A. Graham,
 

Something amazing happened over the course of a recent trial in Baltimore: Witnesses laid out the way that the city’s Gun Trace Task Force acted as a de facto criminal gang, but with the advantages of a police badge and the power of the state. Officers assigned to the unit robbed hundreds of thousands of dollars from drug dealers, pocketing the money. They targeted cars for searches based on makes and models, and stopped adult black men just for carrying backpacks. They drove at groups of men and detained anyone who ran. They bilked taxpayers by charging for fraudulent overtime.

On Monday, something even more amazing happened. Two officers were convicted of racketeering and robbery charges in federal court. They joined six others who had already pleaded guilty. Stories of police misconduct have become bracingly common in recent years, but convictions have remained rare. The failure to convict any Baltimore officer in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray is the obvious contrast, but similar cases all over the country, from Tamir Rice to Eric Garner to Daniel Shaver, have also ended without convictions.

What lessons do the convictions in Baltimore teach about policing the police? The glaring answer is that the American justice system sometimes puts property ahead of humanity. Steal a black life and you can get off in court; steal a couple hundred grand and the long arm of the law will come for you. It’s hard to argue with this explanation, but there are more complex takeaways as well.

One difference is that in the case of the Gun Trace Task Force, there was no plausible way for the defendants to argue that what they were doing was part of police work. When people are killed in incidents with officers, officers are rarely charged. When they are charged, they are rarely convicted. Juries and judges tend to grant police wide leeway in their actions, wary of second-guessing split-second decisions made while (ostensibly) guaranteeing public safety. If an officer says that he believed his life was in danger when he shot a suspect, prosecutors and courts have often been loath to conclude otherwise—even when many other people see a clear injustice. Police who are hauled up in court are also often able to claim they were following departmental mores. In the Gray case, for example, officers acknowledged not strapping Gray into a police van, but successfully convinced the court that this was standard operating procedure.

By contrast, it’s tough to construe taking fat stacks of cash out of safes and divvying them up (or in the case of one officer who pleaded guilty and testified against his colleagues, dumping it in the woods out of a guilty conscience) as somehow doing one’s job.

The prosecutor’s work was made easier by the six officers who pleaded guilty, but those pleas are also a sign of the strength of the case against them. Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, who were convicted Monday, will face up to 60 years in prison. The other six face maximum sentences ranging from 20 to 40 years.

Even though the Gun Trace Task Force convictions represent a victory for police accountability where the Gray convictions ended in failure, there is a connection between the two cases. Gray’s death, and the massive, stunning Department of Justice report that followed it, illuminated a pattern of egregious civil-rights violations by the Baltimore Police Department. The Gun Trace Task Force case does the same, showing how the group targeted black men in particular and violated constitutional processes for detention and arrest. The history of rough rides in Baltimore and the task-force racket both stem from the same lack of accountability, lawlessness, and systemic racism, and they both result in the same broken relationship between police and people that plagues Baltimore, as well as many other cities.

Monday’s convictions don’t produce justice for Gray, but they do strike at some of the same root problems. Notably, the convictions came out of a federal prosecution, in contrast to the Gray case, which was handled by the city prosecutor. “Beyond the guilty verdict and prior guilty pleas in this case, it’s time to talk about what comes next for the city of Baltimore,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement. “This corruption went on unabated for nearly 10 years and was only brought to light as a result of a federal investigation.”

From the Justice Department report to the Gun Trace Task Force convictions, the federal government has proved an important force in police reform. But under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the department has switched its focus, pulling back from accountability efforts and offering local law enforcement a more sympathetic hand. That probably isn’t a good omen for future cases. If the police in the United States are to be reformed, the question of what crimes produce convictions is important, but so is the question of who is prosecuting the cases.

 

David A. Graham, “What It Takes to Actually Convict Police of Misconduct”, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/what-it-takes-to-actually-convict-police-of-misconduct/553163/

Jury deliberates in Baltimore police corruption case

In this October 2016 photo released by the Baltimore police, officers, Det. Evodio Hendrix, Det. Marcus Taylor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, Det. Jemell Rayam, Det. Maurice Ward, from left, are seen in Baltimore. Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys are set to make their…

BALTIMORE (AP) — Jurors started deliberating Thursday in a case involving one of the worst U.S. police corruption scandals in recent memory after hearing nearly three weeks of testimony from drug dealers, a crooked bail bondsman and disgraced Baltimore detectives who detailed astonishing levels of police misconduct.

The two detectives on trial face robbery, extortion and racketeering charges that could land them up to life in prison if convicted. The trial in a federal courthouse has been dominated by testimony of four ex-detectives who worked alongside the defendants in an elite unit known as the Gun Trace Task Force.

Those former detectives pleaded guilty to corruption charges about their time on the squad, which was once praised as a group of hard-charging officers chipping away at the tide of illegal guns on city streets. They testified on behalf of the government in the hopes of shaving years off their prison sentences.

The former law enforcers testified that the unit was actually made up of thugs with badges who broke into homes, stole cash, resold looted narcotics and lied under oath to cover their tracks. Wearing lockup jumpsuits, the ex-detectives admitted to everything from armed home invasions to staging fictitious crime scenes and routinely defrauding their department with bogus overtime claims.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise described the two detectives on trial as “hunters” who “preyed upon the weak and the vulnerable” when their rogue police unit wasn’t scouring the city trying to find large-scale drug dealers to rob. He said the evidence, which included calls recorded by the FBI that captured their voices, was “overwhelming.”

Defense attorney Jenifer Wicks delivered a fiery closing argument on behalf of Detective Marcus Taylor. She told jurors the government went to the “depths of the criminal underworld” to find a parade of “professional liars” as witnesses.

“It’s deplorable and it’s nauseating,” Wicks said, asserting there was insufficient evidence to convict Taylor of anything.

In a rebuttal, Wise said investigators did indeed tour the unsavory depths of Baltimore’s underworld – and it was there they found Taylor and Detective Daniel Hersl.

Hersl’s lead attorney, William Purpura, did not deny that his 48-year-old client took money — an act that “embarrassed” the city and the detective’s family — but that didn’t rise to charges of robbery or extortion.

He attacked the veracity of the four disgraced detectives, noting that they’ve admitted to lying for years to juries, judges, colleagues and their families.

“They want that ‘get out of jail free’ card,” Purpura said during his closing arguments.

The detectives on trial did not testify.

The out-of-control unit’s onetime supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, also did not testify. Jenkins was portrayed as a wildly corrupt officer leading his unit on a tireless quest to shake down citizens and locate “monsters” – bigtime drug dealers with lots of loot to rob.

His subordinates testified that he occasionally posed as a federal agent, encouraged his officers to keep BB guns to plant as weapons, and kept duffel bags in his police car with grappling hooks, ski masks even a machete to ramp up their illegal activities.

In mid-November, a Philadelphia police officer became the ninth law enforcement agent indicted in the federal investigation. Prosecutors allege he conspired with task force member Jemell Rayam to sell heroin and cocaine seized in Baltimore.

It’s not clear when the ex-detectives who pleaded guilty will be sentenced by a federal judge.

The ongoing federal investigation speaks to a dark side of police authority in Baltimore at a delicate time for the beleaguered department.

A monitoring team is overseeing court-ordered reforms as part of a federal consent decree reached between Baltimore and the U.S. Justice Department due to discriminatory and unconstitutional policing. The mid-Atlantic city is also fresh off a new annual per-capita homicide record as the starkly divided city had 343 killings in 2017, roughly 56 killings per 100,000 people.

Even public defenders, who routinely question police testimony, were shocked by the sordid revelations exposed at the trial, saying there could be a few thousand tainted cases stretching back to 2008. So far, roughly 125 cases involving the eight indicted Baltimore law enforcers have been dropped.

“This was an ongoing criminal enterprise for many years,” said Debbie Katz Levi, head of special litigation for Baltimore’s Office of the Public Defender. “We don’t believe that that this was merely a rogue unit, but rather a symbol of a flawed culture in need of serious reform.”

The jury asked two questions Thursday but did not reach a decision. They will return Monday.