Carroll legislator calls for answers from Baltimore mayor on riot response

Carroll legislator calls for answers from Baltimore mayor on riot response
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With questions still lingering regarding the events leading up to and during the Baltimore unrest in April, several state legislators — including one Carroll County senator — are calling for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to appear before a special work group to explain the city's tactical response.

Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, which includes portions of Carroll and Frederick counties, along with Del. William Folden, R-Frederick, sent a letter to the co-chairs of the Public Safety and Policing Work Group requesting they call Rawlings-Blake to testify.


The work group, which was created by the General Assembly's presiding officers in the aftermath of April's riots, is intended to focus on police training, recruitment, hiring practices and community engagement policies across the state. Its goal is to craft effective legislation to correct perceived errors in law enforcement methods. The 20-member group — composed of 10 delegates and 10 state senators — first met June 8 and is expected to conclude Nov. 24 with its decisions and recommendations.

The work group's next meeting will take place 4-8 p.m. Thursday in the Joint Hearing Room of the Legislative Services Building in Annapolis. The topic of discussion will be a comprehensive look at law enforcement issues across the state.

While the focus of the work group is statewide reform, many issues stem from what took place in April, said Hough, one of five Republicans in the group.

"It's fine to talk about statewide issues; we can't forget the reason we are here is what happened in Baltimore City," Hough said.

Additional questions concerning Rawlings-Blake's actions were called into question with the release of an after action report by the union representing police officers in Baltimore earlier this month, he said.

Hough said he would like to know — and thinks the public deserves to know — why police were told to stand down and allow the destruction of private property; where the mayor was and why was there a delay in calling in the National Guard; why wasn't riot gear allowed and what is to stop riots from happening again; and just as important, if the officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray are acquitted, what is to stop this from happening again?

All of these questions and more can only be answered by Rawlings-Blake, Hough said.

"If some other incident comes up, how can we assure the city and its citizens are safe and we can't do that unless we figure out what happened?" Hough asked.

Baltimore Del. Curt Anderson — a Democrat who chairs the group along with Baltimore Sen. Catherine Pugh, also a Democrat — said he will not exclude the possibility of calling the city's Democratic mayor in front of the work group.

"I haven't talked to Sen. Pugh or our staff about it," Anderson said. "The group is about improving relationships between the police and the community, and I'm not sure how that fits. Once I review the letter and we discuss it, I'll have a better idea."

Pugh did not return multiple calls seeking comment for this article.

While many people are concerned with finding out precisely what led to rioting and looting in Baltimore, much of it was the result of tactical decisions, Anderson said.

"I won't be dealing with tactical decisions, with the possible exception of defining the use of lethal force," he said. "Obviously, that wasn't used during the riots."

He reiterated that any suggestion from other members of the work group will be considered.


"I'm not going to turn a deaf ear on the [work group] about ideas of who we need to talk to, but the whole point is to come up with a comprehensive legislative agenda, as opposed to the piecemeal approach last session," Anderson said. "I'll see Sen. Hough [Thursday], and maybe we'll get together and talk about it."

Folden, who represents Frederick County and is the only active police officer in the state legislature, said Rawlings-Blake needs to answer for what he believes was her lack of leadership leading up to, during and after the riots.

"I believe that if for no other reason that this work group was assembled and compiled as a result of what happened in Baltimore because they wanted to review police procedure and policy, and I think she needs to be held accountable," Folden said.

Folden said he is hopeful the work group will call Rawlings-Blake to testify but was unsure whether she would actually do so.

"I would like to think she would come forward and answer questions," he said. "I'm not sure if she's going to because — let's be honest — she didn't handle the riots very well. She was gone for hours on end while the city was burning, and she's going to have to put herself under more scrutiny when she hasn't had a good answer yet."

Hough is more optimistic.

"I don't see why she wouldn't," he said. "If we invited [Rawlings-Blake], I doubt she'd blow us off."

Without answers to questions regarding her actions during the riots, it will be impossible for the work group to adequately develop proper legislation that will actually be effective at solving problems of police accountability and community engagement, Folden said.

"It's about transparency at all levels," he said. "The policing of that city doesn't begin and end with the foot officers on the street. It goes all the way up to the office of the mayor as far as the direction of how that [police] department functions.

"While this is a statewide work group, it is glaringly obvious that a lot of the questions keep coming back to 'well, in Baltimore they did this and in Baltimore they did that,' so let's look at the leadership department and find out is it the officers doing this stuff wrong or is it they're not given proper direction, proper equipment, proper training — whatever it is. Let's get to the root of the problem and let's move forward.

"Transparency at all levels is paramount to the successful outcome and legitimate receptiveness of [the work group]," Folden said. "If we don't have that transparency at all levels it's all a facade."

Howard Libit, director of Strategic Planning and Policy for the Baltimore Mayor's Office, said in an email that he's "not going to respond to hypotheticals."

"If the Mayor is requested to appear, we will consider the request at that time," Libit wrote.

Hough is not the only Carroll legislator who thinks Rawlings-Blake should provide answers to these lingering questions. Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, said officers from various law enforcement agencies, including the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, participated in quelling the riots in April.

Still, about $20 million in property damage occurred, Shoemaker said.

"The $20 million price tag we had to bear will be borne by all of us — folks from Carroll [County], Frederick [County] and all over the state," he said. "So from that perspective, it makes sense to ask the mayor some questions about her role and her involvement and policing that took place before, during and after [the riots]. I think it makes perfect sense."