In a tense traffic stop in East Baltimore last month, the chairman of a panel appointed to improve civilian oversight of the police department refused at least 60 requests for his license and registration. Marvin McKenstry, the chairman of the Civilian Oversight Task Force, argued the stop was unlawful.
The encounter, captured on police body-camera footage obtained by The Baltimore Sun this week through a Public Information Act request, drew at least four officers to the 200 block of Aisquith St. on the afternoon of April 13 — not long after McKenstry had left a downtown hearing on the city’s consent decree with the Justice Department in U.S. District Court.
McKenstry repeatedly asks fellow oversight panel member Danielle Kushner, whom he has just dropped off, to “call Ed,” and later addressed someone on the phone in the midst of the traffic stop as “Colonel.”
Police spokesman T.J. Smith confirmed that McKenstry reached out during the stop to Inspector General Ed Jackson, a former colonel who served on the oversight panel with McKenstry and Kushner before rejoining the police department in February to oversee its Office of Constitutional and Impartial Policing.
Smith said McKenstry’s outreach to Jackson “didn’t have any bearing on the outcome of the traffic stop.” McKenstry was given five citations totaling $500 in fines.
Those citations did not show up in online court records this week, but Smith said they had not been dropped. Thomas Wenz, a judiciary spokesman, said the court receives hand-written traffic citations from police in batches, and those related to McKenstry’s April 13 stop might not have been received yet.
McKenstry, an associate minister at the Victory House of Worship Church in West Baltimore appointed to the oversight panel by Mayor Catherine Pugh, said the traffic stop was “a misunderstanding that’s been resolved.”
He declined to explain how it had been resolved, or to comment on the circumstances surrounding the stop and his interactions with the sergeant who pulled him over.
“My focus is on the task force and completing that work for the City of Baltimore,” McKenstry said.
After The Sun published the footage online Friday, Pugh said the confrontation was “unfortunate” and “could easily have been avoided.” The union that represents city officers called on her to “reconsider” McKenstry’s appointment.
Kushner, the fellow task force member, did not respond to a request for comment.
The task force voted in March to approve a set of core “principles” outlining a vastly expanded role for members of the community, including full investigative and subpoena powers for a still-undefined civilian oversight body and civilian input into police policy and budget decisions. The panel is now gathering input from the community before submitting its recommendations. They are due by late June.
There is no sound for the first 30 seconds of the footage from Sgt. Terrence McGowan’s body camera. Officers’ cameras automatically capture 30 seconds of soundless footage prior to activation by an officer. McGowan, seated in the driver’s seat of a patrol vehicle, can be seen gesturing with his hand to McKenstry, who is stopped ahead of him.
“He was stopped in the middle of the roadway with his flashers on,” McGowan later explains to another officer. “That’s why I pulled him over. I actually hit the air horn several times.”
“Impeding?” the other officer asks.
“Yeah,” McGowan says. “And waved for him to move forward, and he shook his head no and waved his hand out the window and told me to go around him. So I hit the horn again. He wouldn’t go. Then she got out of the car, and I pulled him over, and it went downhill from there.”
The stop lasted more than 50 minutes. McGowan repeatedly asks McKenstry for his license and registration. McKenstry gets out of his vehicle, puts his hands on the roof and tells McGowan that he will have to arrest him.
At one point, another officer interjects: “You're making this a bigger issue than it has to be. All you have to do is show your license.”
"It doesn't have to be an issue at all, because I don't have to be unlawfully stopped by a sergeant in the Baltimore City Police Department after leaving Judge Bredar's courtroom,” McKenstry says. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar presided over the hearing that morning.
“License and registration, sir,” McGowan responds. “It’s not an unlawful stop.”
“You can't stop in the middle of the roadway,” the second officer says.
McKenstry argues repeatedly that stopping in the street with his flashers on for Kushner to get out was not sufficient reason for him to be pulled over. McGowan says repeatedly that it was.
McKenstry refuses repeatedly to provide his license and registration and tells McGowan he will have to arrest him.
After one request for his license and registration, McKenstry responds: “Or what?”
“Or you will be subject to arrest,” McGowan says.
“I asked you to go ahead and do that, so why haven't you done it?” McKenstry responds, getting louder.
“Because I think that you’re letting your emotion get the better of you sir,” McGowan responds.
“There's no emotion,” McKenstry says. “I sat in my car and spoke calmly to you. I was minding my business.”
“What you fail to realize, sir, is you don’t need to go to Central Booking for this, sir,” McGowan says. “Provide me with your license and registration.”
After McGowan’s 60th request for McKenstry’s license and registration, McKenstry hands over his license and tells McGowan that he doesn’t have his registration. McGowan then goes back to his vehicle to begin writing tickets.
“All this drama for being double parked,” McGowan says.
McGowan talks with another officer while in his car.
“I gave him two chances to drive off,” he says. “And then when I did conduct the traffic stop, I gave him multiple chances just to give me his license and registration so that he could have a contact receipt and that I could advise him of the offense that he committed and he could leave. He didn’t want to do any of that. He wants to instigate a problem.”
He notes that he heard McKenstry “screaming about” McGowan having “no idea who I am.”
“That's right,” McGowan says. “That actually goes in my favor, because that proves that I treat everybody the same. I have no idea who he is. Doesn't matter who he is."
McGowan writes McKenstry a $60 ticket for stopping in the middle of the street, a $50 ticket for refusing to give him his license, a $50 ticket for not having his registration, and a $290 ticket for “willfully disobeying a lawful order.”
When McKenstry refuses to sign those tickets, McGowan writes him another $50 fine for that.
“He’s never going to admit it, but he’s going to get home at some point and realize that this was all foolishness, when all he had to do was provide his license and registration,” McGowan says to another officer. “And if he disagrees, and believes that he’s been stopped unlawfully, that’s why we have a court system. He can go to court with his tickets and request to be heard by the judge.”
“Situations like this make me love the body camera,” the other officer says.
“Yep, because I’m not gonna even have to testify on this one,” McGowan says. “I’m just going to play the video.”
Police Commissioner Daryl De Sousa said McGowan “did a good job in a tough situation.”
“He didn’t want to make an arrest and he was very patient,” De Sousa said in a statement to The Sun. “This is a situation that officers encounter on a regular basis.
“We are working with Mr. McKenstry to continue to improve upon police and community relations. We hope that this encounter can be used as a positive training tool to help build relationships.”
Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, praised McGowan’s handling of the stop. He suggested McKenstry should be removed from his oversight position.
“Mr. McKenstry’s lack of cooperation with a lawful police order caused a lengthy confrontation that did not need to occur,” Ryan said in a statement. “What should have been a 10-minute traffic stop took almost an hour and caused several officers to leave their own posts and duties, endangering other civilians and officers.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.