3:48 PM EDT, September 7, 2013
Of the many words from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in the matter of Meredith Cross v. Baltimore City Police Department, I like these best: "Costs to be paid by appellant." That's double-good news for city taxpayers: We're on the hook for neither the back salary of a police officer who married a convicted murderer nor for the costs of bringing an audacious appeal of her firing to court.
What we have here is formal affirmation that a woman has a right to marry anyone she wishes, including a gangster, but not a right to be a Baltimore cop.
That was pretty much the court's conclusion Tuesday in the Cross case, echoing Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. from late-19th-century Massachusetts.
In 1892, a New Bedford cop who had been canned for political activity sued the city for reinstatement, arguing that his rights of free expression had been infringed. But the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, of which Holmes was a member, found that the cop had violated an explicit prohibition against officers soliciting political donations.
In the majority opinion, Holmes wrote that "there is nothing in the constitution to prevent the city from attaching obedience to this rule as a condition to the office of policeman," and famously: "The petitioner may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be a policeman."
The cop lost the case; he did not return to his beat. (Maybe he went into whale blubber rendering, I dunno.) Holmes went on to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the rest is legal history.
Which is why I scratch my head about the case of Cross, a Baltimore police officer who believed her rights were violated when superiors discovered that she had married a bad guy and kicked her off the force.
Call me old-fashioned, but if a cop in 1892 couldn't get his job back because he solicited campaign contributions, a cop in 2013 certainly shouldn't expect to return to duty after marrying the reputed "supreme commander" of Dead Man Inc.
We only know the details of this case because of the recent ruling by the Court of Special Appeals. And the Court of Special Appeals only knows about it because Cross appealed there after losing her suit against the city in Baltimore Circuit Court. People sue all the time over all kinds of dubious injustices. But sometimes I'm awed by the audacity.
Cross, who was a police officer from 2004 to 2010, argued that her superiors had no business dismissing her because of the guy she married. Here's some of the back story, according to last week's court ruling:
In 2002, when Cross was a financial adviser for American Express in New York, a friend convinced her to start writing letters to one Carlito Cabana, a member of the Dead Man Inc. prison gang (formerly of a gang called Natural Born Killers). He was incarcerated in Maryland for second-degree murder. His gang was once a subsidiary of the infamous Black Guerrilla Family.
(Irresistible side note: BGF, of course, is the gang to which Tavon "Bulldog" White belongs, according to federal prosecutors. Tavon is that busy fellow who allegedly impregnated four Maryland corrections officers — one of them twice — at the Baltimore City Detention Center. White has since pleaded guilty to racketeering and attempted murder, and has been shipped to an institution that will undoubtedly end his libertine ways.)
A "serious relationship" blossomed between Cross and Cabana, and she moved to Baltimore to be closer to him. In 2004, she applied to be a city cop. When she was asked if she knew anyone in prison, she described Cabana as a "friend."
But it wasn't long before Cross and Cabana were married in a "spiritual ceremony" in Patuxent Institution in Jessup. She visited him numerous times, identifying herself as his wife, telephoned him frequently and sent him money orders.
In 2009, she and Cabana were officially married. That same spring, officials at the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland alerted Baltimore police that Cross had been making frequent visits to see a confirmed gang leader there. That's what triggered the investigation that led to Cross' dismissal. She was found to have violated department rules by associating with a known gang member — a person of "questionable character" — and by not disclosing the full nature of their relationship.
Cross had the audacity to appeal, arguing that her constitutional rights to free and intimate association had been violated.
Oh, puh-leez, officer!
Thankfully, sanity reigned. Two courts have now ruled against her, saying that the Police Department needs to maintain trust in the community and safety and discipline within its ranks. Neither the department's rules nor Cross' dismissal offend the Constitution.
Her superiors did not prohibit Cross from marrying Cabana nor require that she divorce him. So she has every right to be the wife of a gangster; she just can't be a police officer at the same time.
Please see the clerk to pay court costs on your way out.
Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.
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