Baltimore police commander's lost surveillance emails have been found

Go figure: the Baltimore police commander's lost surveillance emails have been found.

Emails of a former Baltimore police commander about the department's aerial surveillance program that city officials said were "unable to be retrieved" have been retrieved.

The Police Department has released some to The Baltimore Sun. It has withheld others.

The emails relate to the city's agreement with Persistent Surveillance Systems, an Ohio-based private contractor, to fly a small Cessna airplane high above the city over the course of several months last year. The program collected more than 300 hours of surveillance footage of more than 32 square miles of the city at a time.

The pilot program, which police are now reviewing, was not initially disclosed to the public, then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the City Council, other elected officials, prosecutors or public defenders. Many criticized the department for the secrecy after the program was revealed in August.

Marcos Zarragoitia, former chief of the Police Department's Homeland Security Division, oversaw the program before he resigned in September.

The Sun filed a Public Information Act request in August for any emails to or from several top police officials, including Zarragoitia, that mentioned the program.

Brent D. Schubert, assistant solicitor in the Police Department's legal affairs division, provided about 16 pages of emails in December. They revealed little.

At the same time, he said he was withholding emails from legal affairs chief Glenn Marrow and "substantive documents and communications" related to several shootings and homicides in the city. He also said that the response did not include emails from Zarragoitia because Andrew Jaffee, the department's IT director, "could not access" those emails.

The Sun asked about the lack of access. Mayor Catherine Pugh's office stepped in, and said that Zarragoitia's email account had not been configured to archive his emails.

"We are very interested in drilling down to figure out exactly where this process went wrong," Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for the mayor, said at the time. "We will rely on our Law Department to assess the situation and advise the mayor on where we can close any loops in this regard."

Last week, Schubert sent another email, saying Jaffee, with the assistance of the Mayor's Office of Information Technology, "was able to correct the problem" and retrieve the emails. He did not explain the process by which they were found.

Schubert then forwarded five emails, four of which related to the department's reliance on the nonprofit Police Foundation to facilitate the transfer of funds from a private donor to Persistent Surveillance to pay for the pilot program.

A fifth email showed an exchange among Zarragoitia, other police officials and prosecutors from late July. A lieutenant in the Police Department's citywide shooting unit asked for a meeting to discuss use of the surveillance in seeking a search warrant in a non-fatal shooting investigation.

"If everyone is available, I would like to take you to meet with the company for a briefing on how their program works, and how it can be an asset to law enforcement," Lt. Billy Simmons wrote.

Zarragoitia's response: "Great."

Schubert said two other "communications" were withheld "under the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work-product doctrine" of the Public Information Act. He did not elaborate on the nature of the documents.

Zarragoitia was hired on Sept. 10, 2015, and resigned Sept. 28, 2016. He could not be reached for comment. Officials have declined to discuss his resignation.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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