A Harford County judge ruled Thursday that the county sheriff must turn over all evidence from Saturday’s fatal police shooting of John Raymond Fauver to the Maryland attorney general’s office.
The ruling follows a prolonged dispute between the two offices, which began after the passage of state legislation requiring the attorney general’s office to investigate civilian deaths involving police officers.
After the shooting Saturday, Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler said his office would collect and maintain the evidence in the shooting, partially since he had a duty as sheriff to investigate any crimes that may have occurred prior.
But in the five days since, the attorney general’s office has not received all of the evidence it requested, including digital copies of officer body camera footage, dashboard camera footage and witness interviews, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said in court Thursday.
In a news conference after the judge’s ruling, Gahler said he intends to comply, and does not believe that his attorneys will appeal.
“I do not plan on fighting that,” the Republican sheriff said. “In fact, I think the body camera data transfer is taking place right now.”
In her ruling, Harford County Circuit Court Judge Yolanda Curtin said she felt the intention of the law passed by the General Assembly was clear: that the attorney general’s office’s Independent Investigations Division ought to be the primary investigator in police-involved fatalities, and that local law enforcement agencies must comply.
“It is a one-way cooperation requiring the local enforcement agency to cooperate,” she said.
Curtin also emphasized that the legislative history of the bill made it clear that lawmakers intended for the attorney general’s office to operate independently in its investigations. Additionally, an update to the law takes effect in July, and it clarifies further that the attorney general’s division is to be the primary investigator in deaths involving police.
After Thursday’s hearing, Frosh said that he hopes the ruling will deter future challenges to his office’s authority under the new state law.
“I think a reasonable litigant in these circumstances would say ‘Oh, we’re not going to win a case against a preliminary injunction,’” the Democrat said.
The shooting occurred at about 4 p.m. Saturday, about an hour after calls came in that Fauver was expressing thoughts of suicide and carrying a gun. Officers located Fauver behind a CVS store in Forest Hill, and ultimately two deputies fired their guns, killing him. The man’s family has said he suffered from chronic pain, which impacted his mental health.
Up until Thursday, the attorney general’s office had been permitted to view footage from the incident in the offices of the sheriff, but not to receive copies.
During Thursday’s hearing, David Wyand, an attorney brought on by the county’s law office, expressed concerns about the potential public release of the footage after it passed to the attorney general’s office, which has a policy of releasing such footage within two weeks whenever possible. He said the sheriff was operating on the orders of Harford County State’s Attorney Albert Peisinger not to release the footage.
“They’ve seen the videos. They still have an open invitation,” Wyand said at the hearing. “[State investigators] can have a room and watch it to their hearts’ content.”
Gahler declined to say what potential criminal conduct the sheriff’s office may be investigating in this case that would require his office to be in control of evidence.
But Frosh countered that without copies of the footage, his investigators could not use their in-house software to analyze it and splice together video from different officers taken at the same time. Frosh also said he felt that reviewing the video in the sheriff’s office did not offer his investigators sufficient privacy.
“We don’t think it’s appropriate for us to go to his office to investigate his deputies,” Frosh told the judge.
Frosh said that his office does not release the video until it has been reviewed and all witnesses have been interviewed in police-involved deaths.
Because there are “hours and hours” of footage from numerous police officers and vehicles from Saturday’s shooting, alongside videos from a few civilians, it likely will take the office more than a few weeks to release it, he said.
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“It’s highly unlikely that we would release these videos within 14 days,” he said.
Frosh also said his office needed an emergency order from the judge because the sheriff’s office had only sent over the identity of one witness to the incident, and there were “at least three,” based on the videos taken at the scene.
“This is an emergency because we need to talk to witnesses as soon as possible,” he said. “We know that memories fade. We know that people disappear.”
Frosh also took issue with the sheriff’s office retaining the physical evidence from Saturday’s shooting.
In a court filing Wednesday, Wyand wrote that the sheriff’s office recently began using the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office lab to process ballistic evidence, because it could get results in “less than a week” — as opposed to waiting as long as eight months for results from the Maryland State Police lab, which the attorney general’s office uses.
Frosh said his office’s cases are prioritized by the state police forensics team, and so they receive quicker turnaround times for results.
Baltimore Sun reporter Alex Mann contributed to this article.