Federal judge overseeing Baltimore police consent decree summons Pugh to court

Federal judge overseeing Baltimore Police consent decree summons Pugh to court.

The federal judge overseeing the Baltimore police consent decree has asked Mayor Catherine E. Pugh to appear at a hearing in U.S. District Court next week to discuss terms of the agreement.

Judge James K. Bredar said in a letter sent Wednesday that he wants Pugh to discuss the lack of specific cost projections in the agreement and how the expenses will be paid.

"The court wishes to confer with the Mayor, on the record, as to the implications of what is being undertaken," Bredar wrote.

Bredar also said that some of the benchmarks and timelines for determining the Police Department's compliance are too vague.

"Measuring compliance with a decree in which many requirements are aspirational, general, and lacking in deadlines, and where resources are unidentified, and where costs are not specified or known is a daunting prospect," Bredar wrote.

Bredar must accept the agreement for it to become binding, and he will oversee the monitor that will be selected to evaluate the city's progress. A spokesman for Pugh said the mayor was in Washington for the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and inaugural activities, and was being briefed by the city law department on the issue.

Bredar's letter, which appeared in the court file Thursday, includes questions about specific portions of the 292-page agreement.

For instance, he asks how conflicts between the consent decree and the police union's collective bargaining agreement will be resolved. He points to a portion of the agreement that requires "all sworn representatives of BPD who interact with the public" to participate in neighborhood meetings and community events, and asks whether that could conflict with the union agreement.

Bredar also asks for the parties' plan for complying with a provision that calls for civilian voting members on disciplinary trial boards. The General Assembly passed a law last year that allows civilians to join trial boards for the first time, but only if local police unions agree.

The judge highlighted passages in the consent decree that limit the situations in which police can stop people on the street. The consent decree says officers can't use a high-crime area as a basis for a stop or detention, or base a detention on someone's attempt to avoid contact with an officer.

Both circumstances were cited as justification for the 2015 arrest of Freddie Gray, which led to criminal charges against three of the officers involved in Gray's detention. The officers' attorneys pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court case of Illinois v. Wardlow, which allows police to chase and detain people who flee in a high-crime area. Two of the officers were found not guilty by a judge, and charges against the third were dropped.

Bredar asked in his letter if officials "intend to impose a standard on the BPD different from that set out in Illinois v. Wardlow."

Jonathan Smith, former chief of special litigation in the Justice Department's civil rights division, said every judge overseeing a consent decree takes a different approach, but Bredar's questions are reminiscent of how the judge in New Orleans first responded to the proposed consent decree there.

Smith said he was a little surprised — and concerned — by what he called Bredar's "outsized focus on cost."

It is the judge's job to determine whether the agreement is "fair, reasonable and adequate," Smith said, but based on whether it addresses the pattern of policing violations it is meant to solve.

Bredar should be considering whether it is fair to Baltimore residents and the officers tasked with implementing the changes, he said, and not whether it is affordable for the city. That was the city's job during negotiations, he said.

"Now is not the time to be saying, 'Well maybe we should be doing this for less,'" he said.

Asked whether calling the mayor to court was typical, Smith said, "There's no 'typical' in these things. Each judge does it the way that judge is going to do it."

Calling Pugh into court likely means the judge is trying to "be absolutely certain that he's dotted all his i's and crossed all his t's, so if there is ever any challenge later, he can say he did everything appropriately," Smith said. "The mayor speaks for the city."

The agreement between the Department of Justice and the city called for a hearing at which members of the public can share thoughts about the consent decree.

Bredar said Tuesday's hearing, however, will include discussion of "whether and when such a 'public hearing,' during which the public would be heard by the court, will be convened."

jfenton@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
50°