Panel on Gun Trace Task Force Reveals Little

Panel on Gun Trace Task Force Reveals Little

By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO


Any expectations a state panel convened in Annapolis to investigate the disgraced Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) unit would deliver dramatic moments or new revelations about corruption in the Baltimore Police Department(BPD) were quickly dashed Nov 13.
Instead of probing questions and demands for transparency, the newly constituted body was given a perfunctory overview on the command structure of the department. It was an hours long presentation that seemed more intent on preserving decorum then getting to the bottom of why the department failed to supervise the eight officers who pled guilty, or were convicted of dealing drugs, robbing residents and stealing overtime.

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Drew Vetter, Director, Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice and Andre Davis, Baltimore City Solicitor, testify before the Committee to Restore Trust in Policing, in Annapolis. (Photo: Taya Graham)

The Commission to Restore Truth in Policing was authorized through legislation earlier this year in response to the burgeoning GTTF scandal. The body is chaired by former judge Alex Williams, and plans to hold public hearings throughout the year in both Annapolis and Baltimore.
But, if the commissioners intend to unearth details of how a culture of corruption allowed the GTTF to engage in an unfettered crime spree, it will have to depart from the format that allowed top police officials to testify for hours without having to divulge any details about the breakdown in the chain of command, or the past histories of the GTTF members.
“This was a systemic failure of the criminal justice system,” said Andre Davis, Baltimore City Solicitor and a former federal judge told the commission.
Part of the problem Davis testified, are laws that govern personnel records of all state employees. In addition to the extra layer of protection for law enforcement officers in Maryland afforded by the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, Davis said both laws made it illegal for him to publicly discuss the personnel records of the GTTF members.
“Law enforcement officers in Maryland have super-duper protection,” he said.
“Secrecy and a lack of transparency has got to a be number one priority for change.”
Still, during the hearing bits and pieces of information emerged; including the fact that this year roughly 2,000 internal affairs complaints have been filed by residents. Witnesses also told the commission that there has been an exodus of officers from the BPD internal affairs division since lie detector tests were made mandatory.
Staffing also remains an ongoing problem, with only 2,500 of the 2,700 budgeted positions for sworn officers filled.
But, Davis continued to hammer on the theme of transparency throughout the hearing.
As an example, he singled out the department’s internal disciplinary process known as the trial board. The hearings are public, but Davis pointed out that other aspects are kept secret.
“Is the outcome of each trial board posted?” Davis said. “Nobody ever finds out about the outcome of a trial board,” he added. “The transcript is not public; if the verdict is not guilty, you never hear about the case again.”
In the BPD narrative of the GTTF, police officials tried to paint a picture of an initially effective unit sullied by a few bad actors. However, witnesses touted past statistics when the unit operated under the auspices of The Violent Impact Crimes Division during the tenure of former Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld.
“The task force was to suppress gun trafficking,” Daniel Beck, legal counsel for the BPD told the commission. “In 2008 they seized 268 guns and arrested 41-gun offenders.”
Sean Malone, an attorney and lobbyist who represented several of the officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray during their trial board hearings also praised the unit’s past performance.
“It was a pretty effective task force when it was a regional task force,” said Malone, who is part of the commission.
Davis also gave passionate testimony about the city’s sole form of civilian oversight, the Civilian Review Board (CRB). The board recently sued the city over a nondisclosure form that Davis demanded board members sign. The lawsuit alleges that since then records of citizen complaints have been withheld by the department.
But Davis said the primary problem with the board is the legislation that created it.
“It’s a paper tiger.” Davis said. “The need for legislative change is profound.”

Defend the Independence of Baltimore’s Civilian Review Board

Baltimore police oversight board sues city police department to obtain internal investigative files

Baltimore police oversight board sues city police department to obtain internal investigative files

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The Civilian Review Board and chairman Bridal Pearson, center in brown suit, are suing to force the city police department to turn over internal affairs records. (Ian Duncan / Baltimore Sun)

Ian Duncan Contact Reporter
The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Civilian Review Board, a panel charged with reviewing police brutality and abuse allegations, filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to force the city police department to turn over records, escalating a dispute between panel members and the city’s top lawyer.
The board is joined in the case by 15 members of the public who have filed complaints against the police, alleging beatings, wrongful arrest and harassment.

Board members said at a news conference at their office that they filed the case to strike back against the secrecy surrounding police discipline.
“This idea that police can act in secrecy is not democracy to me,” said George Buntin, a board member for the city’s Western police district.

In July, the members of the board refused to sign a confidentiality agreement proposed by City Solicitor Andre Davis. Since then, the board has been unable to access the official police internal affairs records its members say are essential to their work.
The situation is complicated because the board, as a city agency, is represented by Davis, who is also the police department’s lawyer. The board and the members of the public retained a private lawyer to bring the lawsuit, and the suit could become a major test of the board’s independence.
Even should the board prevail in court, the practical effect of a victory is unclear because state law bars government agencies from releasing almost all information about police internal affairs investigations.
Davis has said the confidentiality agreement would not interfere with the board’s work, but the ACLU of Maryland has said it goes beyond what is required in state law.
Bridal Pearson, the board’s chairman, said it was important for the board to be able to share its work publicly.
“We will never sign an agreement that keeps us from fulfilling that sacred trust,” Pearson said.
Mayor Catherine Pugh appointed the board’s eight members; a ninth seat is vacant. A spokesman for the mayor declined to comment on the case, saying the city’s lawyers would respond in court.
In August, the board voted to subpoena the police files, but members say the department hasn’t complied. The lawsuit seeks an order from a Baltimore Circuit Court judge directing police to share the records from about 60 cases.

Robin R. Cockey, the board’s lawyer, said its subpoenas are as “compulsory as any you’d get from a court.”
“The police have ignored the subpoenas,” he said in an interview.
Cockey said time is growing short in some of the misconduct cases — under the state law governing police discipline, commanders must file internal charges in most kinds of cases within a year of learning of the alleged wrongdoing.
“That’s kind of a timeliness problem for the citizens who are joining in this suit,” Cockey said.
Citizens can file complaints directly to the board and it also reviews investigations by police internal affairs. The board recommends discipline to the police commissioner but has no power to impose sanctions on officers.
While the dispute hinges on competing interpretations of the law, the members of the public who have joined the case said at the news conference that for them, it touched fundamental questions of fairness and accountability.
Cierra Whye, one of the plaintiffs, said that officers entered her home without a warrant earlier this year and illegally arrested her after she called police to report the theft of her car. She was jailed for more than 20 hours before a court commissioner ordered her release.
“The commissioner said, ‘You don’t have any charges. Why are you here?’ ” Whye said. Whye received a ticket for leaving a car running but was cleared of the infraction, court records show.

Cameron McCarthy, another plaintiff, said he was taking his great-aunt to St. Agnes Hospital with his mother and six-month-old baby when he was reported as an active shooter. Police in armored vehicles and a SWAT team arrived, McCarthy said, and grabbed him — an outcome he said he doubted would have happened if he had been white.
“We have to have transparency in our society today. That’s the only way that we’re going to get better as a society,” he said. “I should not have to have conversations about race in America with my 8-year-old child because things like this happen.”
Holding police accountable and increasing public confidence in the disciplinary process is central issue as the city seeks to comply with the terms of a federal consent decree imposed after the U.S. Justice Department found a pattern of civil rights abuses by Baltimore officers.
But there are competing visions for how to achieve that.
One option would be to strengthen the Civilian Review Board. However, the Community Oversight Task Force, a panel established as part of the consent decree process, has proposed abolishing the board and setting up a new agency with powers to investigate police misconduct and audit police training and policies. The new body would be staffed with investigators, and the task force recommended that if the police commissioner were to reject the new agency’s disciplinary recommendations, he or she should have to explain the reasons publicly.
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Baltimore Civilian Review Board — let's find a compromise on records

From the Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Civilian Review Board — let's find a compromise on records 

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Baltimore City's solicitor, Andre M. Davis, is a former United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

Members of the Baltimore Civilian Review Board recently felt compelled to file a lawsuit against the city to force police to turn over records the BPD — with an assist from the city solicitor — has wrongly kept out of their hands even in the face of a subpoena. Let that sink in for a minute. A panel whose job it is to investigate police brutality and other allegations of impropriety is so at-odds with city government that they had to go to court to try to settle the matter.
And so what has the city solicitor done about it? He’s warned the Civilian Review Board that they didn’t have authority to hire outside counsel and threatened the lawyer involved with sanctions if he persists.

This is so wrong in so many ways. We get that there’s always been a tension in police discipline cases between the desire to be transparent — which is almost always a good thing — with the need to protect sensitive information that, if released to the public, might compromise ongoing investigations or unfairly tarnish the innocent. Granted, it’s wrong to keep cases involving potential criminal behavior by officers out of the public’s view. That’s how police in this city lost credibility. That’s how the death of Freddie Gray escalated to violence and widespread protests so quickly. But it’s also wrong if information is leaked that causes innocent people to suffer or the guilty to go free.
This conflict over police records isn’t exactly new. Nor is it unique to Baltimore. But the city’s approach to resolving the matter seems especially misguided. Instead of sitting down and settling this, the two sides are escalating matters. When board members declined to sign confidentiality agreements because, they said, the agreements went well beyond what the law requires, City Solicitor Andre Davis denied them access to internal affairs records. Then the city started ignoring board subpoenas. And now, board members say, they can’t do their job at all.

Yet Mr. Davis also seems to understand how untenable the current situation is. In his letter to the board’s Eastern Shore-based attorney, Robin Cockey, the solicitor observed that while a lawsuit was unacceptable, Mr. Cockey’s third-party involvement — if it could help bring the two sides together — would be welcome. “It might be useful to have someone such as yourself, someone of sound judgment from outside the city who has no desire to foment pointless public outrage over a statutory regime that all agree needs revision, to serve as a truth-teller who can smooth out the edges of different points of view and bring closure to this ongoing debate,” Mr. Davis wrote.
So while Mr. Davis objects to the Civilian Review Board being represented by any lawyer other than himself, he acknowledges that his relationship with the board isn’t working. How could it, since he also represents the police? And the irony here is that Mr. Davis, a former federal appellate court judge, is no police department apologist. He took his current post strongly supporting the federal consent decree with the department and the cause of police reform. He has a reputation as a thoughtful jurist. Why is it so difficult to find common ground with the CRB? And why did this difference of opinion about whether the board will handle confidential information appropriately have to escalate into the current standoff?
The net effect of the impasse is to once again demonstrate to the world that Baltimore city government is dysfunctional. Mayor Catherine Pugh can’t be pleased. Baltimore’s homicide rate remains disturbingly high — the highest among major U.S. cities, according to a recent FBI report — yet the people who should be part of the solution are quibbling over process. Must the governor and state legislature intervene to clarify the authority of the Civilian Review Board? Or, conversely, does this really require a judge to straighten out city government?
The relationship between police and city residents is frayed enough these days that an impasse over how to review police misconduct — essentially how records are handled — is absurd and, frankly, a bit embarrassing to all involved. We would urge Mr. Davis and the board to sit down and negotiate a process that can satisfy all parties as soon as possible. If outside counsel is required to achieve this, that’s fine, too. Just get it done. The residents of this city deserve better.

Civilian Review Board Petition For Injunction

IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF MARYLAND FOR BALTIMORE CITY


The Baltimore City Citizen

Police Review Board Coalition

1620 North Appleton Street

Baltimore, Md. 21117-1114

 

Vs.                                                                                     Case Number 24-C-18-006000

The Baltimore City Solicitor's Office, et al

100 North Holliday Street, Suite 100

Baltimore, Maryland 21202

                                                                     

   

                PETITION FOR INJUNCTION

 

The Baltimore City Citizen Police Review Board Coalition, hereinafter the CPRBC, comes now by its members to humbly ask this Honorable Court to permanently enjoin The Mayor of the City of Baltimore from assigning staff from the Office of City Solicitor to the Civilian Review Board as well as enjoining The Baltimore City Solicitor's Office from representation of The City of Baltimore Civilian Review Board, hereinafter the CRB. The Citizen Police Review Board Coalition is without counsel and seeks to proceed pro-se'. The Citizen Police Review Board Coalition perceives that the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Maryland or another such office or other outside counsel would be better to represent The Civilian Review Board. Jurisdiction over this petition is granted by The Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, §1-1501, of The Maryland Annotated Code. The reasons for this petition include but are not limited to the following:

 

INTRODUCTION

 

  1. The Baltimore City Citizen Police Review Board Coalition was formed in 2015. The Coalition was formed for the purpose of strengthening The Baltimore Civilian Review Board (CRB.) The CPRBC was formed by Marvin L. Cheatham, Sr. as an unincorporated entity. The Coalition membership includes but is not limited to Marvin L. Cheatham, Sr., Richard M. Terry and, Roland N. Patterson, Jr. All members of the CPRBC are residents of the City of Baltimore who seek to improve and strengthen the efforts of the CRB.
  2. The City Solicitor's Office (CSO) was created by The Baltimore City Charter. The Charter establishes that the duties of The CSO include but are not limited to the advice and representation of The City through its several agencies, MOST IMPORTANTLY,

THE BALTIMORE CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT (BPD.). Also, The CSO serves on        The Baltimore City Board of Estimates. The Board of Estimates approves all of the city’s contracting, purchasing, capital budget requests and the payment of adverse judicial judgments and settlements.

  1. The Baltimore City Civilian Review Board (CRB) is established by The Public Local Laws (PLL) of Baltimore Title 16, Section 41 (§16-41) et seq.  The CRB has the power to consider all civilian complaints of excessive force, harassment, and/or abusive language as committed by the several police departments which are licensed by The State of Maryland to operate within The City of Baltimore. he CRB also considers the actions of The Internal Affairs Division (IAD) of any such police department from which an officer is subjected to a facially valid, relevant complaint. The CRB has the power to require further investigation by a covered IAD, PLL, Baltimore City, §16-46(c)(ii)(v);

 

ARGUMENT

 

  1. As stated above, The City Solicitor, The Honorable Andre' Davis, represents the BPD by virtue of the mandate of The Baltimore City Charter.                        
  1. The Baltimore City Solicitor is an attorney by definition. The Maryland Attorneys' Rules Professional Conduct §19-301.7, .8, define the term, 'conflict-of-interest.' That text says that a conflict-of-interest exists wherever representation of one client will adversely affect a second client; and where that conflict-of-interest has not been agreed to by both parties.
  1. PLL 16-41 et seq. dictates that The CRB shall consider whether the questioned actions of a covered police officer shall be recommended for discipline or exonerated. It is possible for CRB recommendations to ultimately result in litigation against The BPD.
  2. According to the provisions of §16-43 (f) (1) the Mayor of the City of Baltimore has the authority to assign staff from the Office of the City Solicitor to serve the CRB.
  3. The combined content of Items 1, 2, 3 & 4 above suggest strongly that there is a conflict-of-interest on the part of City Solicitor Davis as it relates to his concurrent representation and advice of and to The BPD and The CRB. The CRB does not consent to this conflict-of-interest.
  4. The petitioner is substantially likely to succeed if it chooses to proceed on an action at law such as Professional Malpractice.
  5. No injury would result to Respondent if this Petition for Injunction is granted.
  6. Respondent is prone to advise Petitioner contrary to the mandates of The Applicable Public Local Laws of Baltimore City as relate to The CRB because of his converse obligations to The Baltimore Police Department pursuant to The Baltimore City Charter. This likelihood of harm to the complaints properly considered by The CRB is a potential irreparable injury.
  7. The granting of this requested injunction will serve the public interest.

WHEREFORE, The Baltimore City Citizen Police Review Board Coalition respectfully requests that This Honorable Court ENJOIN The Office of The City Solicitor of Baltimore from either advising and/or representing The Baltimore City Civilian Review Board.

Respectfully submitted on this the _13th day of November, 2018

/s/

Marvin L. Cheatham, Sr.

Citizen Police Review Board Coalition




                       IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF MARYLAND FOR BALTIMORE CITY

 

The Baltimore City Citizen

Police Review Board Coalition

1620 North Appleton Street

Baltimore, Md. 21117-1114

 

Vs.                                                                                     Case Number ____________

 

The Baltimore City Solicitor's Office et al

100 North Holliday Street, Suite 100

Baltimore, Maryland 21202

                                                        ORDER

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED AND AFFIRMED THAT THE OFFICE of the MAYOR of BALTIMORE IS HEREBY ENJOINED FROM ASSIGNING STAFF FROM THE OFFICE OF CITY SOLICITOR TO THE CIVILIAN REVIEW BOARD; AND THAT THE OFFICE OF THE CITY SOLICITOR IS HEREBY ENJOINED FROM EITHER ADVISING AND/OR REPRESENTING THE CITY OF BALTIMORE CIVILIAN REVIEW BOARD.  THIS ORDER SHALL REMAIN IN EFFECT SO LONG AS THE OFFICE OF THE CITY SOLICITOR REPRESENTS THE BALTIMORE CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT.

ORDERED______ DENIED_______ on this the _______ day of ______________, _________

                                                        _____________________________

                                                                Associate Judge