Breaking through a 'Stop Snitching' police culture

The Baltimore Sun
DOJ report exposes intimidation and retaliation against cops who report misconduct

In its report on the Baltimore Police Department, the Department of Justice describes an internal culture of intimidation and retaliation that conjures memories of the widely condemned "Stop Snitching" campaign that drug dealers launched a dozen years ago to intimidate potential police informants.

There's a big difference, of course: The drug dealers in the infamous "Stop Snitching" DVD of 2004 used threats of violence to chill anyone thinking of cooperating with cops. The Justice Department reports no such threats against whistleblowers within the BPD. But it describes menacing practices — one in particular — that would chill anyone to the bone.

Imagine being a cop who calls for backup in Baltimore — and backup doesn't come.

"Several officers told Justice Department investigators that they believe their fellow officers have retaliated against them for reporting misconduct or objecting to improper enforcement activities," Justice Department investigators concluded. "Other officers expressed fears that they would face such retaliation, and that BPD supervisors would not address any retaliation that occurs.

"Our review of BPD's internal affairs files underscores these concerns."

Investigators tell the story of a detective who considered reporting two fellow officers for brutally beating a suspect in 2011. When he asked a sergeant what he should do, he got the following warning: "If you're a rat, your career here is done."

The detective decided to do the right thing; his report about the incident ultimately led to the prosecution and conviction of the officers. But supervisors and colleagues made his life hell, and he no longer serves the citizens of Baltimore.

From the report: "Fellow officers frequently called him a 'rat.' A sergeant left pictures of cheese on the detective's desk. The detective also told us that a lieutenant denied his transfer request to a violent repeat offender squad because the detective 'snitched.'"

Worst of all, the detective could not get help from other officers when he needed assistance with suspects — once, after a foot chase. Think about that for a minute.

"On two occasions," the report says, "no one in the detective's unit responded to his calls for backup."

The report does not mention Officer Keven Leary, but I will, because the same thing happened to him.

Leary testified last month against Officer Wesley Cagle, winning praise from Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby for helping to convict Cagle of assault.

Cagle was accused of shooting an unarmed and wounded suspect in a December 2014 corner store burglary. The man already had been shot and eliminated as a threat by Leary and another officer.

Key testimony came from the victim and from Leary and the second officer, Isiah Smith.

But here's the thing: After Leary went back to work, he got the "Stop Snitching" treatment.

Within two weeks of returning to duty, Leary testified during the Cagle trial, he had been pulled off the street because "there were certain calls I wouldn't get backed up on."

It was just a brief comment, but the suggestion was chilling: A cop faces retribution — abandoned by his colleagues while on duty and in need of assistance — for having the integrity to cooperate with internal affairs investigators?

I asked the Police Department, the state's attorney's office and the Fraternal Order of Police for comment about Leary being unable to do his job safely, and whether the matter had been referred for investigation. If someone was on duty when Leary needed backup and refused to help, that someone should face disciplinary action. Otherwise, supervisors are abetting the department's own brand of "Stop Snitching."

And where is Leary today? What kind of assignment does he have?

I never heard back from the FOP. The press officer for Mosby responded with a terse order — "Contact BPD" — in an unsigned email. Davis' spokesman said he was working on getting answers to my questions Tuesday afternoon.

Then, of course, the Justice Department report showed up. Now the department and Davis face much bigger issues — reversing years of harm done by widespread civil rights violations — than one cop being shunned by men and women who should be working with him to build a better police force.

But Leary's brief testimony during the trial — "certain calls I wouldn't get backed up on" — described a longstanding practice foundational to what attorney Billy Murphy called "that blue wall of silence that prevents good cops from testifying against bad cops."

It provides a fresh example of the department's own kind of "Stop Snitching" culture.

"Resistance to internal accountability persists within BPD," the Justice Department investigators wrote. "The Department has failed to take adequate steps to ensure that officers feel comfortable reporting misconduct and make clear that it will not tolerate retaliation against officers who do so."

Breaking through that old blue wall, insisting that police officers report misconduct — Kevin Davis has a huge job on his hands.

drodricks@baltsun.com

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