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Baltimore police union, prosecutors dispute post-shooting events

Baltimore's police union president sharply criticized prosecutors for asking that officers involved in Thursday's fatal shooting of a father and son be read their Miranda rights, and accused them of lying when they said it was a common practice.

Baltimore's police union president sharply criticized prosecutors Saturday, saying they had directed that officers involved in Thursday's fatal shooting of a father and son be read their Miranda rights on video after they declined to answer questions. The union also accused prosecutors of lying when they said it was a common practice in police shooting investigations.

Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said Saturday that the statement from the state's attorney's office was "so completely inaccurate that it should be labeled an outright lie."

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"It is unclear what motivated prosecutors from State's Attorney [Marilyn J.] Mosby's office to require such an exploitation of their limited powers in this investigation," Ryan said in a statement. "We contend that once again Mrs. Mosby and her underlings find it necessary to continually flaunt what they believe to be their prowess, despite the fact that time and time again the incompetency of their actions [bears] no resemblance to reality."

Prosecutors had said Friday that the practice was common and nothing new. But on Saturday, after the union issued Ryan's statement, a spokeswoman said it was the Police Department — not prosecutors — who made the call to read the officers their Miranda rights.

"At no point did the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office require or instruct anyone to provide Miranda warnings to the officers," spokeswoman Rochelle Ritchie said in a statement. "It was a decision made wholly by the Baltimore Police Department in an abundance of caution."

In a statement attributed to Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, police said they would "not offer any additional comments at the moment, and will instead work through any issues of interpretation directly with all involved parties."

"Collectively, we are all grateful for the bravery and dedication of our police officers," the statement said.

The volley between the prosecutors and police was the sharpest since six officers were charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray last April. At the time, the police union called the decision to file charges a "rush to judgment," but relations between prosecutors and police on other issues in the months since then have publicly been cordial.

The officers involved in Thursday's shooting fired 56 shots at Matthew V. Wood Jr., 43, and his son Kimani Johnson, 18, in East Baltimore. Police said the pair were armed with a pistol and a semiautomatic rifle, and were ready to open fire on other people.

The police union said that the officers, on advice from a union attorney, declined to make statements, and that prosecutors directed investigators to formally read the officers their Miranda rights on videotape.

Police union attorney Michael Davey said he had never before seen prosecutors make such a request and likened it to treating the officers like "criminals."

Prosecutors said late Friday that it was a "standard" and "common" practice to give a Miranda warning to officers.

"It has always been a standard practice for all police-involved shootings to give Miranda and [the Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights]," Ritchie had said Friday. "Mr. Davey's recollection is not consistent with the common practice to record interviews and provide Miranda."

All police-involved shootings are investigated first as criminal matters. Police officers can invoke their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent while under criminal investigation. The Police Department can force them to make statements, but those statements may be used only in administrative proceedings.

Union officials said investigators seek to interview officers through their attorneys, who typically decline, particularly in the immediate aftermath of an incident. Davey said such incidents are traumatic, and he advises officers not to talk.

He said such discussions about whether officers will waive their Miranda rights and give a statement take place between investigators and attorneys. He said asking that officers be formally read their rights and be videotaped declining to participate is a new approach from prosecutors.

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"These guys should get a medal for what they did, instead of being treated like criminals by the state's attorney's office," Davey said.

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