The Department of Justice issued a rebuke of the Baltimore Police Department Wednesday, releasing a 163-page report that accuses the department of discrimination, excessive use of force, and other violations of federal law.
Below are headers and excerpts from that report.
Racial Disparities in BPD's Enforcement
BPD's data show that these stops are concentrated on a small segment of the City's population. From 2010–2014, BPD officers in the Western and Central Districts recorded more than 111,500 stops—roughly 44 percent of the total stops for which officers recorded a district location. Yet these are the two least populated police districts in Baltimore, with a combined population of only 75,000, or 12 percent of City residents. These districts include the City's central business district and several poor, urban neighborhoods with mostly African-American residents. In these districts, police recorded nearly 1.5 stops per resident over a four-year period. This data reveals that certain Baltimore residents have repeated encounters with the police on public streets and sidewalks. Indeed, the data show that one African-American man was stopped 34 times during this period in the Central and Western Districts alone, and several hundred residents were stopped at least 10 times. Countless individuals—including Freddie Gray—were stopped multiple times in the same week without being charged with a crime.
In some cases, unconstitutional stops result from supervisory officers' explicit instructions. During a ride-along with Justice Department officials, a BPD sergeant instructed a patrol officer to stop a group of young African-American males on a street corner, question them, and order them to disperse. When the patrol officer protested that he had no valid reason to stop the group, the sergeant replied "Then make something up."
BPD Makes Unconstitutional Stops, Searches, and Arrests
Nevertheless, our investigation found that BPD officers frequently ignore these requirements and strip-search individuals prior to arrest, in public view, or both. Numerous Baltimore residents interviewed by the Justice Department recounted stories of BPD officers "jumping out" of police vehicles and strip-searching individuals on public streets. BPD has long been on notice of such allegations: in the last five years BPD has faced multiple lawsuits and more than 60 complaints alleging unlawful strip searches. In one of these incidents— memorialized in a complaint that the Department sustained—officers in BPD's Eastern District publicly strip-searched a woman following a routine traffic stop for a missing headlight. Officers ordered the woman to exit her vehicle, remove her clothes, and stand on the sidewalk to be searched. The woman asked the male officer in charge "I really gotta take all my clothes off?" The male officer replied "yeah" and ordered a female officer to strip search the woman. The female officer then put on purple latex gloves, pulled up the woman's shirt and searched around her bra. Finding no weapons or contraband around the woman's chest, the officer then pulled down the woman's underwear and searched her anal cavity. This search again found no evidence of wrongdoing and the officers released the woman without charges. Indeed, the woman received only a repair order for her headlight. The search occurred in full view of the street, although the supervising male officer claimed he "turned away" and did not watch the woman disrobe. After the woman filed a complaint, BPD investigators corroborated the woman's story with testimony from several witnesses and by recovering the female officer's latex gloves from the search location. Officers conducted this highly invasive search despite lacking any indication that the woman had committed a criminal offense or possessed concealed contraband. The male officer who ordered the search received only a "simple reprimand" and an instruction that he could not serve as an officer in charge until he was "properly trained."
BPD Uses Unreasonable Force
For example, in a 2014 incident, an officer informed a young man, Matthew, that he could not smoke inside a public market and asked him to leave. Matthew left and the officer followed him outside. Once outside, the officer asked him for identification to issue a civil citation. According to the Department's use of force report, the Matthew "became agitated and started to argue" with the officer, attracting a crowd. The young man refused to provide identification and moved backward. The officer grabbed the young man by his jacket, at which point he pulled away and fled. Two officers pursued Matthew for blocks and when they eventually caught up with him, "used arrest and control techniques" to tackle him and "stop him from further fleeing." "While trying to control him on the ground and place him in handcuffs," he "sustained abrasions to the left and right side of his face and a cut to his upper lip," requiring two stitches. The officer arrested Matthew for being "disorderly," but according to the arrest database that BPD provided, the State's Attorney's Office declined to formally charge the young man.
BPD Uses Unreasonable Force Against Juveniles
In another incident, in 2010, two officers approached a group of individuals who were standing on a sidewalk in a residential neighborhood and "verbally warned this small crowd to disperse." A juvenile, Brian, and his sister walked onto the steps of their home, remaining outside. When one of the officers approached Brian's sister to "warn her about loitering," she informed the officers, yelling and cursing, that she lived in the house. The officers did not appear to dispute her claim that she lived in the house. Their reports do not show that any effort was made to confirm whether it was her home. Nevertheless, the officers continued to "warn" her to leave and "cease causing a disturbance." They eventually attempted to arrest her for "non-compliance." One of the officers walked up the steps of the siblings' stoop to attempt to make the arrest. Brian attempted to block the officer, and the officer began to "struggle" with the juvenile. According to civilian witness statements that are summarized in the Department's reports, the officer punched Brian in the face. The officer also used oleoresin capsicum, or "OC" spray, against both siblings and arrested them for loitering, resisting arrest and assault on a police officer. All of the officer's uses of force against the siblings, who were standing on or in front of their own property, were unreasonable. These individuals were placed into the criminal justice system for standing on their own steps.
BPD Uses Unreasonable Force Against Individuals with a Mental Health Disability and Those in Crisis
In one such incident, in 2010, several officers responded to a call from the father of a man, "James," in mental health crisis. The father informed the officers that James was the subject of an emergency petition, had a history of mental illness and hospitalization, and was unarmed. The petition itself indicated that James was not taking his medication, wearing a winter coat in hot weather, and yelling at people on the street and his father. When they could not convince James to open the door, officers attempted to pry the door open with a crowbar, then sprayed two bursts of mace in an attempt to force him out of the apartment. Once inside, a lieutenant deployed his taser in probe mode, striking James, when he resisted being handcuffed. Despite the fact that James had committed no crime and there is no indication in the force report that he was a threat himself or the officers other than resisting handcuffing, the officers resorted to a high-level of force to detain the man.
BPD's Unconstitutional Stops, Searches, and Arrests Result in Part from Its 'Zero Tolerance' Enforcement Strategy
Indeed, many BPD supervisors who were trained under the prior enforcement paradigm continue to encourage officers to prioritize short-term suppression, including aggressive use of stops, frisks, and misdemeanor arrests. A current BPD sergeant recently endorsed this approach to policing, posting on Facebook that the "solution to the murder rate is easy. Flex cuffs and a line at [Central Booking]. CJIS code 2-0055." CJIS 2-0055 is the offense code entered for loitering arrests. Similarly, a flyer celebrating loitering arrests was posted in several BPD districts. The flyer depicted three officers from one of BPD's specialized units known as Violent Crime Impact Division, or VCID, leading a handcuffed man wearing a hoodie along a city sidewalk towards a police transport van, with the text "VCID: Striking fear into loiters [sic] City-wide."
For example, BPD has used a helicopter unit known as "Foxtrot," which typically coordinates officers' response to shootings and other serious crimes, to enforce misdemeanor gambling offenses against African Americans. In early 2016, a Foxtrot unit alerted patrol officers that a group of young African-American men were playing dice on a street corner. Officers on the ground responded to this intelligence by confronting the group and arresting one of the men, who was charged solely with "playing dice."
Evidence of Gender Bias in BPD's Response to Sexual Assault
For instance, officers and detectives in BPD's Sex Offense Unit often question victims in a manner that puts the blame for the sexual assault on the victim's shoulders—for example, with questions suggesting the victims should feel personally responsible for the potential consequences of a criminal report on a suspect or for having engaged in behavior that invited the assault. In their interviews of women reporting sexual assault, for example, BPD detectives ask questions such as "Why are you messing that guy's life up?"
BPD Unlawfully Restricts Protected Speech
BPD officers also violate the First Amendment by arresting individuals who question the lawfulness of their actions. In one reported use of force, an officer described the arrest of a man who approached him during a traffic stop to ask why the officer had stopped his friend. The proffered justification for the arrest was that the man refused to leave the area when ordered to do so by the officer. Nothing in the officer's report indicates that the man physically interfered with the officer's duty or was otherwise committing a crime. He was arrested merely because he continued to stand "near" the officer.
BPD Lacks Adequate Systems to Investigate Complaints and Impose Discipline
These delays not only impede effective investigations, they communicate to the community that BPD does not take complaints seriously—even those alleging egregious officer behavior. For example, a man alleged in 2013 that two plainclothes officers punched him in the face, placed him in a chokehold, and spit in his face during an arrest. The man, whose arrest prosecutors declined to pursue, participated in a formal interview at IID during which he provided the investigator with the name of a witness to the incident, and the witness's wife, who could help investigators locate him. The investigator made no effort to follow up with the civilian witness until eight months after the incident occurred. At that time, the investigator went to the car wash where the witness's wife had been working at the time of the incident and was told by the owner that she was no longer employed there. The investigator then recommended to close the complaint as "not sustained" because "[w]ithout testimony from independent witnesses," along with the officers' denial, "there exists insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegations."
BPD Misclassifies Complaints of Racial Bias and Fails to Investigate Racial Bias Allegations
In another incident from 2010, an African-American man stated that he witnessed officers use excessive force during an arrest and punch a fourteen-year-old boy who attempted to film the arrest on his cell phone. The African-American man recounted that the officers used "the word 'n****r' frequently" and asked him if he "take[s] it up the ass by Allah." When the man went to the district headquarters to report the misconduct, he was met by the same officers who told him, "what brings your black ass back here?" and "you can take your black ass down to Kirk Avenue before the bus leaves because you know how you black people like the bus." Despite the seriousness of the allegations and the fact that the complaint identified two witnesses, BPD never investigated the incident's alleged racial motivation. Instead, detectives categorized the allegations as "misconduct," "excessive force," and "unwarranted action," and administratively closed the case without conducting a single interview.