A Baltimore circuit judge ruled Monday that Gov. Larry Hogan did not violate the Maryland Constitution when he ordered that hundreds of people arrested during last week's riots could be held longer than 24 hours before seeing a court commissioner.
Judge Charles J. Peters said the extended detentions were a result of a system "simply overwhelmed by the large number of arrests that occurred," and not a deliberate move to hold arrestees.
Hogan issued the order at the height of unrest over the April 19 death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained in police custody. About 500 people have been arrested during rioting last week and subsequent protests that often lasted beyond a 10 p.m. curfew implemented to bring calm to the city.
Defense attorneys had challenged Hogan's order and say the mass arrests have left a legal morass they are only beginning to sort through.
The protesters face a range of charges, including burglary stemming from alleged looting, assault and rioting — a charge that carries a sentence of up to life in prison. Many were held for days or remain detained on bails as high as $500,000.
The rioting and looting damaged more than 235 businesses, according to the Baltimore Development Corp., and some economists said the financial toll could last years.
Critics have noted that police officers charged in Gray's death posted bails of $250,000 or $350,000 and were released within a few hours.
"When accused murderers walk free because they have wealth, and a teen arrested for breaking a car window is stuck behind bars because of poverty, not risk, it undermines trust in our justice system," said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, an executive director of the Washington-based Pretrial Justice Institute who chaired a recent General Assembly task force on bail reform.
On Monday night, a dozen protesters interrupted the City Council meeting, unfurling a banner and chanting, "Drop the charges, drop the bail, protesters shouldn't go to jail."
Baltimore United for Change, a coalition of citizens and organizations that advocates on justice issues, launched a fundraising campaign for legal and bail fees for protesters on a CrowdRise website. Donors had contributed nearly $100,000 as of Monday afternoon.
Zina Makar, who worked with the public defender's office last week to write dozens of petitions challenging protesters' detention, said she has seen a great range in bail amounts for protesters, from $5,000 to $500,000.
She said many protesters without criminal records have been held on bail.
"It's extremely sad to see," said Makar, an Open Society Institute-Baltimore legal fellow focused on using habeas corpus petitions to help indigent defendants regain their freedom before trial. "I find a lot of these bail amounts to be arbitrary."
She also is concerned that probable-cause statements, which are filed with charging documents, are extremely vague in many cases against protesters. The statements, she said, often don't specify a suspect's actions, the location of the allegations and witnesses.
"Based on what I'm seeing from the probable-cause statements, it's very hard to verify these facts," she said.
Three defendents arrested during the rioting challenged Hogan's executive order last week.
The order allowed people to be jailed for up to two days without charges — twice as long as usually allowed — and came at the request of the city, which said police officers were having difficulty preparing paperwork while maintaining a presence on the street.
About half of the arrestees from that first night — more than 100 people — were released without charges because police were unable to sort out their cases. Police have said the cases were "lawful arrests," and they will continue to investigate and could still bring charges against them.
Hogan's order suspended court procedures, and Peters found that the move did violate court procedures. But he declined to grant any relief to the defendants, including their release.
"No one tried to hold them longer than they should've been held," Peters said.
Assistant Maryland Attorney General Julia Doyle Bernhardt said the jail had only eight court commissioners, not enough to process the arrestees within 24 hours, and argued there was a "rational basis" to hold the detainees under the state of emergency declared by Hogan.
But after the hearing, Terri Charles, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Judiciary, which oversees court commissioners, disputed the idea that they were understaffed. She said only 65 arrestees were presented to court commissioners last Tuesday, a number that jumped to 130 on Wednesday.
On an average Wednesday in 2014, 140 initial appearances were conducted at the facility, Charles said.
"There were eight commissioners on all shifts, which is the norm, and they were never overwhelmed. At no time did the commissioners need additional assistance," Charles said. She said they were "often waiting for work … because the police were delayed in getting charges for the defendants who were arrested."
One of the arrestees, 29-year-old Keefee Washington, was part of a group of men throwing rocks at officers and was Tasered by officers, according to court documents.
His attorney, Deborah Levi, said police were not too overwhelmed to file paperwork in her client's case. Arresting officers promptly filed charging paperwork at the jail after Washington was dropped off. But he sat for another 32 hours awaiting processing, she said.
Levi said that those arrested during the riots were held separate from other detainees at Central Booking, "crammed into cells" with overflowing toilets and without proper food or medical care. Another public defender last week described people using "bread as pillows."
"What the governor attempted to do was prolong detention for this class of people and strip them of their fundamental rights," Levi argued before Peters.
Natalie Finegar, the deputy public defender for Baltimore, said many of the problems cited in the cases of protesters are an "everyday occurrence in Baltimore."
She wasn't critical of the way the accused officers were processed. "I only wish my clients had received the same consideration," she said.
Legal observers working with the National Lawyers Guild were detained or arrested Friday and Saturday, according to the organization. Marques Banks, a law student at Catholic University who was one of the observers, said they wore green hats to distinguish themselves and stood away from protesters as they observed police practices.
Banks said legal observers arrested Saturday night were held for as long as 24 hours. "For me, it seemed an excessive time to keep people," he said.
One arrestee who has attracted considerable attention is Allen Bullock, 18, who was captured in photographs bashing the windows of a vehicle during an April 25 protest downtown. Bullock turned himself in, and he is now being held on $500,000 bond.
"I think that's crazy when the police are out. I think that's ridiculous that the police are out and he's still locked up," said Bullock's mother, Bobbie Smallwood, 43.
She said her son is guilty and must pay for what he's done, but feels he's been treated unfairly. Smallwood said she's talked to her son only once but said he's strong.
"I hope he's OK," she said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Alison Knezevich, Jessica Anderson and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.