An attorney for a teenager who said his jaw was broken in an encounter with Baltimore police dismissed the city's civilian review board as a "proxy" for police after nearly three years have passed without a ruling on the case.
In July 2010, Yardell Henderson, then 16, filed a complaint with internal affairs in which he said he was beaten by police in Northwest Baltimore during an incident that did not result in his arrest or criminal charges.
He also contacted the civilian review board, a volunteer panel formed to great fanfare in the late 1990s, to provide a check on police.
After nearly a year, internal affairs told Henderson that "the available evidence did not meet the burden of proof necessary" to sustain his allegation, according to documents provided by his attorney.
The civilian review board acknowledged receiving his complaint and assigned an investigator, the documents say, but didn't determine whether it agreed with the police finding. The board does not have disciplinary power, but can make a recommendation to the police commissioner.
"They completely dropped the ball," said Henderson's attorney, Jarrod S. Sharp. "They are a proxy of the BPD. They absolutely refused to cooperate with us — ignored multiple calls and emails."
Alvin Gillard, who provides support to the board as head of the city's Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement, confirmed that the case remains open. But he said the case was an outlier.
"Routinely, the board investigates or reviews complaints and reaches a conclusion and notifies a complainant," Gillard said. "They won't be happy in many cases, but the board has done its job.
"In this case, it appears that the investigators were having difficulty getting information from internal affairs. It's an anomaly and not what routinely happens."
The nine-member civilian review board has four longstanding vacancies. Four of its sitting members have overstayed their term limits by years and want to leave, but the city has not appointed replacements.
Those members also complained that their recommendations, which are not public, are often ignored.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appointed three new members in 2011 who were never sworn in. She has called it "critically important" that the board be made whole again.
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts has said he wants to strengthen the board and make it more relevant, but hasn't presented any proposals.
In Henderson's case, his attorney said he waited for the process to play out only to be let down.
According to a copy of his initial handwritten complaint, Henderson, who is black, was urinating in a Northwest Baltimore alley when officers pulled up and began making racially charged comments.
He said he was fearful and ran. The officers, who are white, gave chase.
Henderson said the officers asked him if he had drugs or had tossed a gun as he fled, and put him in the back of a police cruiser but eventually let him go. He said he was treated at Franklin Square Hospital for a broken jaw.
Henderson filed a lawsuit this year against the officers, first in Circuit Court and later in U.S. District Court.
Sharp says Henderson was stopped under false pretenses, beaten and kicked, and taunted with racial slurs. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, does not name the civilian review board or its members.
A police spokesman said he could not comment on pending lawsuits. The incident occurred under a prior police commissioner, and the commander who now oversees internal affairs said he is committed to investigating citizen complaints.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun