Md. demands public access to police misconduct investigations

Brandon Scott, Will Jawando, March 13, 2019

Our constituents want effective constitutional policing that reduces violence in their communities. But they also want — and deserve — transparency and accountability. The communities officers are sworn to protect, and whose taxpayer dollars support law enforcement, deserve to know that their local police departments are investigating misconduct complaints diligently and equitably.

In Montgomery County, we are fighting for the Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act, which would require independent investigations of police-involved deaths. This is needed because there is a serious lack of confidence that law enforcement can police itself — especially when the stakes are the highest and a resident has lost his or her life.

In 2016, the ACLU of Maryland released a report showing that between 2010 and 2015, at least 130 people across our state — the vast majority of them black, and too many unarmed — died in police encounters. Eleven of those deaths were in Montgomery County, and 30 were in Baltimore City.

In the city, residents are fighting for a truly independent and effective Civilian Review Board that can thoroughly investigate the hundreds of police misconduct complaints lodged each year. Every day, residents are denied information about how the Baltimore Police Department investigates such complaints. In fact, the Department of Justice noted that “community members are unable to obtain information about BPD’s complaint and discipline systems at almost every step in the process.”

Other limits reach throughout the state. Currently, under the Maryland Public Information Act, police misconduct complaint files are considered protected “personnel records” that may never be disclosed under any circumstances. This means that if the police department fails to discipline an officer for misconduct, and the community calls for the department to explain its decision, the department is categorically barred from revealing anything in the complaint file.

We can fix this problem. We must fix this problem. The General Assembly is currently considering several bills to allow greater transparency in the way law enforcement handles allegations of misconduct. Regardless of what bill makes it through to final passage, we urge state lawmakers to honor the resounding and unambiguous demand we have heard from our communities: We must have access to investigations into all police misconduct.

This basic level of transparency is necessary for both individuals who file police misconduct complaints and the public, which needs to know what actions police take in their name. This transparency would help our communities know that their complaints of police brutality and misconduct are taken seriously by the officers sworn to protect them.

The basis for any healthy relationship is trust. Research consistently shows that communities of color have higher levels of distrust in law enforcement — often for good reason. A Pew Research poll, for example, found that only 14 percent of blacks had high confidence in police and 31 percent of Latinx people did.

Transparency would go a long way toward bridging this divide. It has been proven time and time again that crime reduction is tied to police departments’ ability to be transparent and open with residents, who are more willing to work with officers they trust.

Marylanders cannot continue to be denied the basic transparency that would allow them to hold their local departments accountable. It is time for Maryland to do better.

 

Brandon Scott, Will Jawando, March 13, 2019, baltimoresun.com, “Md. demands public access to police misconduct investigations”, https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-op-0314-police-transparency-20190313-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

Baltimore police officer accused of planting drugs in body camera footage says he was doing ‘documentation’

Jessica Anderson The Baltimore Sun, November 8, 2018,

A Baltimore police officer whose body camera showed him placing a soup can with drugs inside in a trash-strewn lot said the footage was intended to serve as a re-creation of how he first found the drugs for “documentation” purposes.

Officer Richard Pinheiro Jr., 30, said he forgot to turn on his body-worn camera when he first found the drugs in a lot in Southwest Baltimore in January 2017. He decided to return them to the area, activate his camera and then retrace his steps to show how he found the evidence.

Pinheiro was one of several officers who testified in his defense in his case Thursday in Baltimore Circuit Court. He is charged with fabricating evidence, a misdemeanor that carries up to three years’ imprisonment, and misconduct in office, for which the court is free to choose any penalty. Several colleagues, including his former partner, who is now an Anne Arundel County police officer, and the sergeant who supervises the Baltimore Police marine unit, where Pinheiro has worked as a diver, also testified to his integrity.

The footage was made public months after the incident by the public defender’s office, and drew national attention. The video was one of three raised in 2017 that defense attorneys said depicted questionable activity by officers.

Pinheiro described how he and other officers were searching for evidence after a drug transaction in the area. The group had already located a “pack” of drugs, which Pinheiro said was captured on their body cameras, but they continued to search the area for additional drugs. He said he followed tracks to the alleyway and found the soup can within an arm’s reach of where he was standing. He walked back to the group of officers who he said were about 30 feet away and told them what he had found but also realized he had made a mistake.

“Dang, I forgot to turn my camera on,” he said on the stand.

The footage shows him placing the can on the ground because the body-worn cameras automatically recorded before they are activated. After placing the can on the ground, Pinheiro walks to the street, and flips his camera on, and is then heard saying, “I’m gonna go check here.”

His attorney, Chaz R. Ball, asked him why Pinheiro then decided to re-create the footage, rather then notifying someone.

“For documentation purposes,” he said, adding that he did not want to face “repercussions from the agency.”

Ball asked him whether anything captured on the video he made was different from when he first discovered the drugs.

“Absolutely not,” Pinheiro responded.

Pinheiro said he was not the arresting officer in the case, did not write the statement of probable cause and did not file an incident report in the case. He said he had told the group of officers on the scene he was re-creating the video, and believed the arresting officer was present and therefore did not attempt to report the incident further.

“I could have sworn he was there,” Pinheiro said later during cross-examination. Pinheiro’s explanation of the footage, however, was not noted in the statement of probable cause or elsewhere.

“I didn’t honestly know that I had to” provide narration or notification about the “documentation, he told Assistant State’s Attorney Stacy Ann Llewellyn, who grilled him about why he never notified anyone of his actions, including the prosecutors in the drug case in which the video was first flagged by attorneys.

Pinheiro said he continued work on other cases and didn’t think much about the case until he received a call from the prosecutor in the defendant’s drug case.

Jay Malik, an assistant state’s attorney, testified the day before that Pinheiro “definitely confirmed that he did not plant anything.”

But Llewellyn argued that when her colleague called Pinheiro seeking an explanation, she asked him whether he was planting evidence or if it had been an attempt to re-create the discovery. She said the officer merely chose the less-serious option.

She made the arguments after Pinheiro’s attorneys made a motion for an acquittal, arguing the state lacked evidence for a criminal case.

Michael Belsky said his client maybe could’ve handled the situation better, but that the error did not rise to criminal charges. He said his client did not intend any wrongdoing, and immediately admitted to re-creating the video when asked about it by Malik. Judge Melissa Phinn denied the motion.

During his testimony, Pinheiro said officers are trained to document evidence, and in situations such as executing a search warrant, when drugs or guns are found, they will place the item in its original position to document it.

He also testified that his body-camera training was very brief, and mainly covered how to operate the camera and instructing the officers to turn the camera on when interacting with the community.

Sgt. Josh Rosenblatt, the police academy’s head of legal instruction, who has trained officers on policies regarding body-worn cameras, said officers were never instructed to re-create how they found evidence.

Rosenblatt, who also testified Thursday, said officers are instructed to document when a camera is off but should have been on, and that could include the officer speaking on the video, explaining the incident.

“You need to document it somehow,” he said.

Rosenblatt said the training and policies have been refined since the department began issuing body-worn cameras, but noted that training in 2016 was largely focused on “investigation and enforcement actions.”

“The policy was imperfect. … It didn’t cover all situations,” he said.

Closing arguments are expected to begin Friday morning.

Jessica Anderson The Baltimore Sun, November 8, 2018, “Baltimore police officer accused of planting drugs in body camera footage says he was doing ‘documentation'”, https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/bs-md-ci-pinheiro-day-two-20181108-story.html

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

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.