Mayor suspends contractor amid allegations of rushed police psych evaluations

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake suspended the contract of a Lutherville psychology firm Friday amid allegations that its employees rushed mental health screenings of aspiring Baltimore police officers.

The mayor said the city would no longer refer its police, firefighters or their family members to Psychology Consultants Associated while the firm is under investigation by the city's inspector general. The company has a $730,000, two-year contract with the city to evaluate applicants for public safety jobs and provide services to current police officers and firefighters as needed.


Rawlings-Blake suspended the contract after reports that PCA allegedly conducted evaluations of prospective police officers in as little as 15 minutes, instead of the hour required under the contract to clear them for service.

A lawyer for PCA's president, Kenneth Sachs, has denied those allegations. He did not return calls Friday.


Psychology Consultants Associated is also being sued by the family of an officer who killed herself last year. Officer Angeline Todman shot herself with her service weapon in February 2014 after a long battle with bipolar disorder and depression.

Her family says in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in June that Psychology Consultants Associated and Sachs are partly to blame for Todman's suicide because they told the department she was fit to return to work in Southeast Baltimore despite erratic behavior and pleas from the family that she not be given access to her department-issued handgun.

"Through ongoing litigation, additional information has come to the Mayor's attention which makes it necessary to temporarily suspend our contract with PCA until further notice," Kevin Harris, the mayor's spokesman, said in a statement Friday. "The Mayor will make a final determination on the status of PCA's contract at the conclusion of the open investigations to determine if PCA has satisfactorily met the terms of their contract with the city."

In the meantime, the city's mental health evaluations will be provided through Atlantic OccuPsych in Towson, operated by principal psychologist Steve Curran, the mayor's office said.

Baltimore school officials said Friday that they, too, planned to stop using the company. The school system has employed PCA on an as-needed basis to evaluate school police officers. Since 2001, the school system has paid PCA $665,000, officials said.

"Moving forward, we will explore our options for providing this service for our officers," said schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster. "They will not be one of our options."

In the interim, school officials said, they would work with the city's new vendor. School officials also said they would also seek competitive bids on a contract for the services.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said Friday he would seek subpoena powers to investigate the company.

"We owe the taxpaying citizens of Baltimore a full accounting of its current multi-year, $730,000 contract with the health care provider in question," Young said. "Along with the mayor, and my colleagues on the City Council, we're all extremely concerned and alarmed by recent allegations."

Young said he would introduce legislation at the council's next meeting on Aug. 17 calling for the investigative hearing.

PCA, which has provided evaluations for more than a dozen law enforcement agencies across the state, became the city's sole contractor in 2005. The city investigation follows another by Maryland State Police that found PCA conducted evaluations of aspiring troopers too quickly, violating its contract, according to state officials.

State police continue to retained PCA under a "probationary status."


Beyond screening prospective city police officers, PCA counsels officers involved in violent or traumatic incidents, including police shootings, as well as those with other issues such as alcoholism, anger management, domestic problems and violent tendencies. The force has about 3,000 officers.

The investigations began after psychologist Tali Shokek brought concerns about an email she said she received from Sachs in April to various state and city officials, including the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the state attorney general's office, the Maryland State Police, the Baltimore Police Department, and the mayor's administration.

In an April 8 email Shokek provided to The Baltimore Sun, Sachs wrote, "Tali, Are you licensed as a psychologist? If so, we have a bunch of brief evals to do for selection of police officers. It is a structured interview and you [will] have some scored psych tests. You can see 5-10 per day and perhaps more. It takes me 15-20 minutes to interview and dictate a boilerplate report. You'll see 3-4 per hour and get paid $50 each. Give me a call if interested. Ken."

Richard G. Berger, an attorney for Sachs, said earlier this week that Sachs denies "all allegations" against him and his firm.

Baltimore Sun reporter Erica L. Green contributed to this article.


Recommended on Baltimore Sun