An administrative hearing board for an Anne Arundel County police detective facing termination was postponed after County Executive Steuart Pittman posted Facebook comments that drew concerns about the officer’s due process.
Detective Daniel Reynolds’ three-day hearing board, sometimes called a police trial board, was postponed after Pittman mentioned Reynolds’ alleged misconduct in a Facebook post that also referenced the ongoing criminal trial for Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin was charged with murder for George Floyd’s death in his custody.
The social media post placed a “spotlight on how politics and rhetoric can unjustly interfere with fair judicial proceedings,” Fraternal Order of Police President O’Brien Atkinson said in a statement Wednesday, adding that Pittman had “clearly pre-judged our public servant without hearing all the evidence or having any clear understanding of the circumstances.”
Pittman said Tuesday night that his comments online did not veer from previous comments he made when he first saw the video of the arrest that he described as disturbing.
“I’m not a party to this. It’s curious they would think my comments on the issue of the day, that everyone knows is going on, would somehow influence the outcome of the hearing,” Pittman said.
In a now-deleted Facebook post on Tuesday, the day before the hearing was scheduled to begin, Pittman wrote. “You may not agree with the people who will demand that this officer be fired, but at least listen to them. They are justified in not wanting themselves or their own family member to end up in the same position after a traffic stop.”
Reynolds was suspended in July 2020 when a video surfaced showing him kneeling on Daniel Jarrells during a traffic stop. The video came to light when Jarrells filed a civil lawsuit against Anne Arundel County, Reynolds, Brian Ranck and a Joshua Shapiro.
Reynolds, who’s worked at the county police department for nine years, is facing termination for the incident. He planned to challenge the punishment in a public hearing board in February. The hearing board was postponed that month because Jarrells was not available to testify, Atkinson said.
Whether Reynolds knelt on Jarrells’ neck or a different body part would have been debated at the hearing. Atkinson said in July, when the video surfaced, that Reynolds leaned on Jarrells’ shoulder, not his neck.
Atkinson said Wednesday Pittman’s comments were “wildly inappropriate” and violated Reynolds’ due process rights since it read “like a direct message to the members of the board and the at-will Police Chief.”
Reynolds’ administrative hearing would have included a board of three Anne Arundel County officers of varying ranks who hear testimony and review evidence from Reynolds’ defense attorney and the department’s prosecution.
“An Administrative Trial Board starts Wednesday to determine the consequences of a police action that to my untrained eye observing an onlookers’ video appears to be excessive force. The front-page photo of the incident showed the white officer’s knee on or near the neck of a handcuffed Black man lying on the ground,” Pittman wrote in reference to Reynolds’ hearing. Pittman also wrote both Black residents and police officers were rocked by Chauvin’s use of force in Minneapolis.
Chauvin is currently on a nationally televised trial for Floyd’s killing after he kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. A host of Minneapolis officers have condemned Chauvin’s use of force as untrained and not within the department’s ethics.
“Detective Reynolds deserves a fair and impartial hearing. This is a fundamental right of every person in our country,” Atkinson wrote. “But County Executive Pittman’s continued public statements on the matter have made clear that he desires a particular outcome in this case.”
The rescheduled date of the hearing has not been determined as of Wednesday. There is also a question of whether the hearing will move venues to another county.
Police are subject to departmental violations, criminal offenses and civil lawsuits for misconduct on the job. And contesting disciplinary action offered by internal affairs investigators is rare. Officers typically bring their case to a hearing board if they are facing termination or feel unfairly targeted by management with excessive or unwarranted punishment.
Reynolds’ hearing board is not a criminal proceeding. It could have been the final hearing board held under rules established by the Maryland Law Enforcement Bill of Rights, a 1974 law that was the first of its kind in the nation. State lawmakers in Annapolis overrode a governor veto on Saturday to replace it.
At a meeting of civil rights leaders on Tuesday, the Caucus of African American Leaders pressed Pittman to adopt police reforms in the county similar to those passed by the Maryland General Assembly over the weekend and the ordinance Annapolis AldermanRob Savidge, D-Ward 7, introduced on Monday. Savidge’s extensive police reform bill would ban chokeholds, limit “stop and frisk” searches, restrict “no-knock” warrants and create numerous other police standards.
Pittman said the county will follow the Maryland Police Accountability Act, which will overhaul the disciplinary process for officers accused of misconduct, allow public scrutiny of complaints and internal affairs files, and create a new legal standard requiring that police use only “necessary” and “proportional” force.
“We have state law now that we’re required to follow, and we will follow, and we need to implement,” Pittman said. “In order to do that, we don’t need council legislation. But if the council wants to weigh in, they can.”
The state bill will also task police departments with handling complaints against officers through panels largely controlled by civilians. Police chiefs will have the final say in punishment, but it can’t be more lenient than the committee’s recommendation.
Pittman added that the county will create a task force to guide the formation of the panel that will eventually replace the trial board.
In July 2020, during heightened attention on policing and race in America, Jarrells filed a civil lawsuit against Anne Arundel County. He claimed Reynolds, Ranck and Shapiro violated his rights by using excessive force, battery, falsely arresting him and restraining his airway when Reynolds allegedly knelt on his neck during a February 2019 traffic stop in front of his mother’s home in Gambrills.
Parts of the arrest were captured on video and depicted Reynolds removing Jarrells, who was handcuffed, from the front seat of an unmarked SUV and taking him to the ground. The clip shows Reynolds kneel on Jarrells’ neck area as Jarrells yells that he cannot breathe. Jarrells and Reynolds exchanged expletives. Ranck is later seen on video kneeling on Jarrells’ legs, according to the lawsuit.
Jarrells, now 28, was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting or interfering with arrest and drug possession. County prosecutors dropped all of the charges in July of 2019. Prosecutors said in July 2020 they saw video clips of the 2019 arrest but did not see enough information to file a complaint with the police.
The excessive force lawsuit prompted the department in August 2020 to increase scrutiny of chokeholds by reclassifying them as deadly force only to be used in defense of human life. County police are trained to avoid using neck and head restraints, according to an FAQ released by the department after Floyd was killed.
A motions hearing in the civil lawsuit set for Monday was rescheduled because of Reynolds’ administrative hearing board originally set for Wednesday. Motions hearings in the lawsuit were rescheduled for June.