Baltimore City Council members see 'heavily redacted' background report on mayor's police commissioner nominee

Members of the Baltimore City Council have been allowed to review part of a background check report on police commissioner nominee Joel Fitzgerald, but two of those who have seen it described the document Wednesday as “heavily redacted.”

Councilman Ryan Dorsey is one of four members of the council who have publicly said they cannot support Fitzgerald without seeing extensive information about his background. He reviewed a version of the report with City Solicitor Andre Davis on Tuesday, but came away disappointed.

“This in no ways satisfies any interest in transparency,” Dorsey said. “There is essentially nothing of value to be gleaned from it.”

The city hired a firm of private investigators to review the personal and professional history of Fitzgerald, who is chief of police in Fort Worth, Texas. Access to the findings has become sticking point for some council members as they weigh whether to confirm him to the job.

Fitzgerald met with council members in late November when he came to Baltimore for the first time after being named as Mayor Catherine Pugh’s choice. He told one council member he was frustrated by how intensively he was being scrutinized and told the council member to file a Freedom of Information request if he wanted more information.

Since those meetings, Fitzgerald has been back in Texas, where he continues to run the Fort Worth department.

Greg Tucker, a spokesman for Pugh, said Wednesday that Fitzgerald is not expected to pay another visit to Baltimore until January.

“It is planned Commissioner-designate Fitzgerald will be meeting with a wide variety of community leaders and neighborhood groups early in the new year,” Tucker said.

A delegation of four council members returned Tuesday from Fort Worth after three days of interviews with people in that city to learn more about Fitzgerald’s three-year tenure there as chief. They are set to release a report on their findings before council hearings on the nomination begin Jan. 5 with a full day of testimony from the public.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said it was not yet clear whether Fitzgerald would attend that session or only be present to take questions from council members during a Jan. 7 hearing.

Councilman Brandon Scott, one of the delegation members, said he was scheduled to review the background report Thursday. Scott wrote to Pugh on Nov. 28, setting out in detail the information he wanted to know about Fitzgerald, including how he was selected and whether the veteran police officer ever committed misconduct in office.

“If the information I asked for in the letter is not included in the briefing tomorrow, without some legitimate reason for it not to be, it’s a huge problem,” said Scott, who is chairman of the council’s public safety committee. “If they want us to truly be a part of the process, they should share the information.”

Andre Davis said no information about any internal affairs records is included in what the council members can review.

The report does identify lawsuits in which Fitzgerald was named, records that are already publicly available. Fitzgerald was sued twice over actions he personally took, according to court records. One case was over his decision to fire an officer when he was chief in Missouri City, Texas. The other resulted from a Philadelphia drug raid he was involved in as a lieutenant. In neither case was Fitzgerald found liable for any wrongdoing.

Councilman Eric Costello said the report included a criminal background check, driving records and verification of Fitzgerald’s education.

“I didn’t see any red flags in the information that was provided,” he said.

Andre Davis said the report shows that Fitzgerald’s credit and other financial history is clean.

“He has no unpaid debts, nothing of the sort,” he said. “No judgments.”

Davis said the redactions were made to protect Fitzgerald’s privacy, even though some of the withheld information is a matter of public record. He said the results of interviews with references and other people the investigators contacted were withheld in their entirety, calling them “absolutely confidential.”

The Baltimore Sun filed a request for the background report under the Maryland Public Information Act, along with Fitzgerald’s application and other records the mayor used to weigh his candidacy. The city’s lawyers denied the request, saying the documents were legally protected personnel records or deliberative materials.

Dorsey, who also set out in writing an extensive list of conditions for considering Fitzgerald’s nomination, said he was frustrated at how little information was included in the background report he saw.

“It’s a small portion of the report, and even as a small portion of the report, it’s heavily redacted,” he said.

Councilman Zeke Cohen agreed with that assessment. Cohen also has conditioned his support for Fitzgerald on access to vetting materials. After reviewing the report, he said he still had “a number of questions.”

Cohen said he was doing research on Fitzgerald, talking to community leaders in the other cities where had worked and sources in law enforcement.

“My goal is to understand as much as I can about this candidate,” Cohen said.

After reviewing the report Wednesday, Councilman John Bullock said he is hoping to learn more from the delegation that went to Texas and at the January hearings.

“Frankly, it was not a very extensive report,” he said. “There wasn't a whole lot to comb through.”

iduncan@baltsun.com

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