Baltimore's Civilian Review Board votes to subpoena records withheld by police department

The civilian agency that investigates Baltimore police abuse and misconduct has voted to subpoena records that they say are being withheld by Baltimore police.

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, according to Bridal Pearson, the review board’s chair.

Board members voted unanimously Thursday night to subpoena about 19 case files from the department, saying they are concerned the cases could expire before the board can provide input. State law prohibits police departments from bringing administrative charges against officers more than one year after becoming aware of alleged misconduct, except in cases of criminal activity or excessive force.

The board reviews citizen complaints made directly to the board or to police internal affairs and sends discipline recommendations to the police commissioner.

Pearson said the subpoena is necessary because without receiving the case files, members “will be going to meetings having no cases to evaluate.”

The board has continued to receive direct complaints, but has said it has not received any case files from police since refusing City Solicitor Andre Davis’ request to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Davis made the request after a restructuring of city agencies placed the Baltimore Office of Civil Rights, which includes the review board, under the city’s law department led by Davis.

Board members have said that the Police Department is withholding the records at Davis’ request. The Police Department referred questions to Davis, who did not have a comment Friday.

Davis has said the board must sign the confidentiality agreement because the group’s work discussing police officer misconduct is subject to confidentiality laws. He said the agreement would in no way change the nature of the board’s work.

The ACLU of Maryland, which is a non-voting member of the board, has said the agreement exceeds what is required by law.

Board members also said the restructuring that placed them under the law department creates a conflict of interest for Davis and the law department which, among many functions, represents police officers, the Police Department and the city in lawsuits.

Pearson said Friday the subpoena creates another “dilemma of conflict of interest” for Davis.

“How can you take the subpoena from the [Civilian Review Board] and process it in court against the BPD, but then your job is to protect the city?” he said. "It's quite a quagmire; it really is. All we can really do is use all the powers we have and just continue to push and speak out and advocate."

The review board received five complaints directly from citizens since its July meeting, which Pearson said the panel has reviewed. But without the internal affairs case files from police, Pearson said, the board is not able to complete the majority of its work.

nbogelburroughs@baltsun.com

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