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Some press barred from DOJ report press conference

Some press barred from DOJ report press conference
No one shall pass: Police at City Hall say they were told not to allow anyone to go to the "open press" conference without the express approval of the mayor's office. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

The logistics of a press conference are usually straightforward: You name a time and a place, you show up, the press shows up, you say your piece and take questions. But the City Hall presser announcing the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division's findings on the Baltimore Police was not simple.

Scheduled as an "open press" event in a small room in the mayor's office, it reportedly filled to capacity a half hour before the scheduled kickoff.

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I was at City Hall by 10:15 a.m.; two police officers stationed at the metal detector said I could not go up without clearing it with Anthony McCarthy, a mayoral spokesman. The woman who answered the phone in the mayor's office said McCarthy was in the other room, "I'll send him down." So I stood in the vestibule for 15 minutes waiting while others piled up there with me. No Anthony.

While I was waiting, two building maintenance guys appeared and asked the doorman about parking accommodations for Fireline, an alarm contractor. "We told them to come back next week," the doorman said.

"You shouldn't have done that," the maintenance guy said. "I took down the panel. The alarm can't sound." He noted that there was plenty of room in the lot out front for the Fireline truck. But for some reason those were off limits. "Park them in back and they'll get a ticket and towed."

A few minutes after this exchange, two minutes after the press conference was scheduled to start, I called the mayor's office again. This time the receptionist said the press conference was at capacity, and no one else would be allowed in. I asked if the Fire Marshal made that determination. "I don't know," she replied.

So I asked if she knew the building's fire alarm system was down. She said she did not.

Outside, City Council members Brandon Scott and Mary Pat Clarke were listening to Leo Burroughs, Jr. complain about the lack of access. "This is absurd," he said. When you schedule a press conference you pick a room with the capacity you'll need. You can't rightly bar the public and the press from something like this and pretend you're being open and transparent. At some point he used the word "Nazis." "This mayor personifies what we're talking about," Burroughs said.

Councilwoman Clarke said she was not aware of the fire alarm snafu. She went into the building at 10:35, heading up to the press conference.

Click here for more from Edward Ericson Jr. or email Edward at eericson@citypaper.com

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