Protect and Serve? When Protectors Become Predators

Baltimore police officers have shown themselves to be pretty darn petty.

And vindictive.

Two cases that recently came before the Civilian Review Board (CRB) exemplify the real risk citizens face when after they “see something” they actually “say something”.

The scenarios couldn’t have been more different.  One happened in the summer of 2017, when a woman was arrested in front of her home on her way from work.  CRB reported on the results of its two-month investigation and sustained her claims of harassment, false arrest and false imprisonment.

“This is the sort of policing you don’t want to see… I thought it was awful,”

—     Dr. Mel Currie CRB’s southwestern district representative.

The other is from summer 2019, when a 28-year old man while walking by officers who were engaged in a stop, was chased, knocked to the ground and arrested himself. At its regular monthly meeting on September 19, the CRB agreed to initiate an investigation into his harassment complaint, separate from the department’s internal investigation, which may take a year.

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It’s no anomaly when Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) officials retaliate against citizens who challenge their authority, speak negatively about the department or in this one case illuminate someone’s shortcomings.

In Baltimore, the “snitches get stitches” mentality also applies to those who dare complain about excessive force or police intimidation tactics.

What happened to the claimant could have easily happened to anyone in Baltimore at a four way stop sign – blindsided when a car blows through. She avoided certain catastrophe by mere seconds at no fault of her own.

The woman did what most prudent people do, she glared at the reckless driver and kept it moving.

Things should have ended there, but it didn’t.  The other car, just so happens, was a BPD squad car.  It was driven by a veteran patrol officer of over 27 years.  The CRB without access to personnel records is unable to determine if this was his first or fiftieth complaint, a constant irritant as the members struggle with recommending a suitable discipline.

“[The police officer] escalated the confrontation by … following her, going to her house and then towing her husband’s car,” said Betty Robinson, CRB northeastern district representative.

CRB Members Experiences Bring Unique Perspectives

Insight into the mindset of the officer was offered by CRB member Fred Jackson, retired from the Baltimore Sheriff’s department.  He enumerated the series of the department’s problematic decisions in the traffic stop.

First, the officer was likely upset about the “near miss” at the intersection and likely put off by the woman’s perturbed response.

Second, the “stop” required he put both his lights and sirens and he had to have a reason to stop her.  She was not given a ticket for any traffic violation. (He didn’t show up for court, thusly dismissing the case).

Finally, BPD towed the car that legally parked at her home:

“That was spiteful,” said Jackson, northwestern district representative.

In a perfect example of justice delayed is justice denied, the CRB sustained the woman’s allegations against the officer, using relying upon evidence just recently provided by BPD in violation of state statute.

BPD is required to turn over IAD files on complaints within 90 days.  The internal affairs department held this case for over a year. CRB has done little to push back against the departments habitual nose thumbing of their obligation in the citizen review process.

Once investigators got the file, BWC footage shows the subject officer being “very agitated, very confrontational” said Bridal Pearson, northern district.  The former CRB chair cited IAD’s reprimand of the veteran officer for “conduct unbecoming an officer” in his rationale for sustaining the woman’s complaint.

Although the woman and her husband have moved fearing BPD retaliation, this is the kind of case that keeps city solicitor Andre Davis working overtime. Davis, a mayoral appointee, has succeeded in both thwarting investigations into BPD misconduct, as well as silencing its critics.

However, now that the CRB has validated the woman’s claims, it opens the door for civil litigation.

Already victims have difficulty recovering seized property and reimbursement of costs wrongfully incurred (in this case towing), said board member Amy Cruice representing the ACLU.  The victim could have used the board’s finding to assist in being made whole financially, but the year deadline for tort claim remedy also expired, she said.

Ultimately both BPD’s internal investigation and the one conducted independently by the CRB arrived at the very same conclusion: the cop was all kinds of wrong.

The officer said he had his lights and sirens on when he went through the stop signs (He didn’t).  The charge against her was eluding an officer (She wasn’t).

Once she arrived and parked at her house, the victim herself had to request the officer to activate his Body Worn Camera (BWC), CRB found in its investigation.   The internal investigators dinged him for that as well.

City Solicitor Abandons Citizens To Favor Shielding Bad Cops

Even though CRB was unanimous in its decision to sustain the allegation, they could not move to the next phase of recommending discipline because the case had expired by the time BPD handed over its file that permitted CRB to review evidence.

CRB has been criticized for being a paper tiger, with no real authority to implement its recommended discipline (which is reserved for the police commissioner).  Seeking independence, the board rankled the law department sufficiently enough that solicitor Andre Davis backed down from ordering BPD to withhold all case files for four months as a lawsuit pended.

Allowing life-altering citizen complaints to expire is a known practice by the internal affairs division (IAD) renamed this summer Public Integrity Bureau (PIB). Major Stephanie Lansey-Delgado sent an email in April 2018 to supervisors that the department had “not been aggressive” getting cases investigated before the one year expiration date, as continuing story from Kevin Rector, reporter for Baltimore Sun.

In its public meetings, officers’ names are confidential per departmental policy regarding personnel matters and CRB does not disclose complainants’ identification.

As for the complaint CRB accepted regarding an independent investigation into the retaliatory arrest, the 28-year old man who was arrested after he commented to an officer,  was arrested again- mere hours after his release. His CRB complaint claims the retaliatory arrest was harassment for bringing to light abusive behavior.

Although the parties’ identities were not disclosed at the meeting, it is pretty safe to presume the case involved 24-year veteran Sgt Ethan Newberg who told Lee Dotson to “take his charges like a man” when Newberg arrested Dotson for commenting on police activity as he passed by.

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Police Commissioner Michael Harrison in a late night June 2019 presser along with State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced the officer’s arrest on second degree assault charges. He also released BWC footage showing officers chasing and tackling Dotson.

Newberg was released from custoday and is awaiting trial.

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