A day after a list of 305 Baltimore police officers with credibility and integrity issues became public, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said he’s concerned the information will further erode the department’s relationship with the community and hurt officer morale.
Harrison said he had never seen the list before and was surprised to see some of the names, claiming the majority of the 177 officers listed who still work in the department did not have sustained complaints against them. The list includes several high-ranking officers within the department, including a former head of internal affairs and a former deputy chief of patrol.
“We would certainly hope there would be communication about the process of being added to any kind of list, instead of learning about it after the fact,” Harrison said in an interview Thursday.
However, a 2019 email from Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe to Dan Beck, the police department’s former chief of legal affairs, shows police leadership has had a copy of the list, and a justification for why each officer was on it, since its existence was made public.
“They’ve known why the officers were on the list,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby told The Baltimore Sun.
Mosby’s office released the list to the Baltimore Action Legal Team, a community nonprofit organization that is working to make the legal system more accessible to the public, after a judge ordered her office to do so.
The State’s Attorney’s Office regularly discloses officers’ internal affairs records to defense attorneys as part of an agreement with the police department, Mosby said. The reason for disclosure is to ensure defense attorneys are aware of any potential misconduct and to make it easier to argue before a judge whether the misconduct should be admissible in court.
“I can’t tell them what to do with their officers, but if they have repeated Fourth Amendment violations and repeated excessive force complaints, it could be relevant in a case pertaining to that officer,” Mosby said. “I think it’s relevant. I think it’s in the interest of justice.” The constitutional amendment guarantees people’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
This is not the first time the two agencies have struggled to communicate. Shortly after Harrison came to Baltimore in early 2019, he announced two new deputy commissioners. One of them, Michelle Wilson, had contradicted in a Facebook post and in a sworn affidavit Mosby’s account of a key issue in a lawsuit filed against her by a former city prosecutor.
Two days after Harrison announced Wilson’s hiring, the department announced that she would not join the agency. Wilson, who had worked as an assistant Maryland attorney general, was supposed to oversee police misconduct investigations.
The latest list is different from a “do not call” list of 91 mostly former officers that Mosby’s office released in October. Many of the people on that list were ex-cops, officers already known for their misdeeds, and some were even serving time in federal prison. Those officers couldn’t be trusted to testify in court, Mosby said at the time.
Mosby has repeatedly said some officers on the latest list may have unsubstantiated complaints, and that being on the list does not bar them from giving testimony. Rather, it means the allegation against the officer and an accompanying internal affairs record should be disclosed to lawyers representing people accused of crimes, she said.
The newly public list includes officers with previous allegations of excessive force, false arrest or imprisonment, sexual assault, conducting illegal searches, making false statements, planting evidence and other general corruption claims, Mosby said.
The department has strived to improve its reputation following a sweeping officer corruption scandal and scathing U.S. Department of Justice report in 2016. It found a pattern of unconstitutional policing and resulted in a consent decree in federal court to improve the department.
The newly revealed list of potential problem cops may set that work back, Harrison said.
“I have to make sure we have not lost all of the ground,” he said.
The newly public list dates to 2019. A newer, more up-to-date list exists, but a state’s attorney office spokesperson said that nothing about it — such as who is on it or how many people are included — could be released.
In Baltimore County, Democratic State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger compiles a similar list of officers who have integrity issues that must be disclosed to defense counsel.
Shellenberger’s list includes just 19 officers, and identifies those who “were sustained for an integrity violation” and are “available to testify after disclosure.” Other categories list officers who are “available to testify, but were not sustained with integrity issues where the state discloses information,” as well as officers with a “pending integrity violation.”
Neither Mosby nor Harrison wanted the city list to become public, and Mosby’s office, through Democratic state Attorney General Brian Frosh, fought its release in court.
Some community members are glad the list is public, saying they believe it will increase police accountability.
Tawanda Jones’ brother, Tyrone West, died in Baltimore Police custody in 2013. She said she was not surprised to learn the list includes officers involved in his death.
A criminal investigation was conducted, but prosecutors declined to charge the officers involved in a struggle with West, who died from a heart condition exacerbated by the struggle and hot weather, according to the state medical examiner. Police used batons, fists and pepper spray to subdue him following a traffic stop.
Jones was skeptical that the list represents a complete picture of police misconduct in Baltimore, saying she was surprised it wasn’t longer. The fact that many of the officers listed still work for the department — some even in high-ranking positions — and testify in court is “just ridiculous,” she said.
“Then they wonder why there’s this gap between the community and these officers who are supposed to protect and serve,” Jones said. “When you’ve got ticking time bombs still working the streets with no accountability, trust me when I say something bad is going to happen.”
The Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 expressed frustration Wednesday over the list on social media, with union leaders tweeting: “The vast majority of those Baltimore Police cops on the list are good, brave, and credible.” They also noted Mosby herself faces federal charges for perjury and making false statements involving her personal finances.
Many officers were despondent to learn they were on the list, Harrison said, and didn’t understand why prosecutors felt the need to flag them to defense attorneys. He said he has talked with Mosby “to ask for the criteria and process” and how they can be removed
“It’s a morale issue, a performance issue,” he said of the list.
Mosby’s political opponents in the July 19 Democratic primary latched onto the list’s release, with rivals Ivan Bates and Thiru Vignarajah criticizing her for different reasons.
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“As a leading criminal defense attorney, I, along with other attorneys pleaded with Ms. Mosby to release this list since 2018 because we always knew the truth — men such as Keith Davis and GTTF victims are behind bars because Ms. Mosby failed to act,” Bates said. “Enough is enough.”
Davis is a Baltimore man facing a fifth trial in the same homicide case; police shot him the day he was arrested and he has maintained his innocence. The GTTF refers to the police department’s Gun Trace Task Force; officers on the squad have been convicted in a federal case of robbery, drug dealing and other corruption.
Vignarajah said public knowledge of the list could further erode the relationship between the Baltimore Police Department and the State’s Attorney’s Office, and that officers who have only been accused of wrongdoing shouldn’t be on a list.
”What has happened here is clumsy at best and insulting to police at worst,” Vignarajah said. “If this was about the integrity of the testimony presented by police, there’s a nuanced approach. This seems more about adding gasoline to the already combustible relationship between police and prosecutors.”
Mosby pushed back, saying it’s the police commissioner’s job, not hers, to keep up morale.
“The reason we sent the list is because they needed to do what they needed to do with their officers,” Mosby said. “I can’t tell them what to do with their officers.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Darcy Costello, Alex Mann and Lea Skene contributed to this article.