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Howard State’s Attorney Rich Gibson, left, and John McCarthy, state’s attorney for Montgomery County, sign the memorandum of understanding April 23 reaffirming a commitment to investigate shootings involving police in each other's county.
Howard State’s Attorney Rich Gibson, left, and John McCarthy, state’s attorney for Montgomery County, sign the memorandum of understanding April 23 reaffirming a commitment to investigate shootings involving police in each other's county. (Jess Nocera / Howard County Times)

The state’s attorneys for Howard and Montgomery counties signed an agreement April 23 to reaffirm their commitment to a nearly four-year-old oral agreement to investigate shootings involving police in each other's county.

Howard State’s Attorney Rich Gibson and John McCarthy, state’s attorney for Montgomery County, signed a memorandum of understanding, outlining the specific roles and responsibilities of their respective counties at a press conference at the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office.

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Gibson, who assumed office in January after defeating former deputy state’s attorney Kim Yon Oldham, wanted to strengthen the terms of the agreement and have them be in writing instead of oral, he said.

“I agreed with it because it addressed the community’s fears related to potential bias when investigating these kind of cases in officer conduct,” Gibson added.

Howard has looked at six shootings involving police in Montgomery, five of which resulted in a fatality, and Montgomery has looked at two instances in Howard, according to McCarthy.

In summer 2015, McCarthy and Dario Broccolino, Howard’s former state’s attorney, established the agreement to investigate and prosecute cases involving police shootings in each other’s counties to avoid the perception of conflicts of interest.

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Dario Broccolino, the outgoing Howard County State's Attorney, is the second-longest-serving state’s attorney since World War II. He is retiring in January. His replacement was elected Tuesday.

“The community had allegations about the police and prosecutors being too closely associated with each other, and the community seemed to think we could not be impartial because of that strong working relationship,” Broccolino said in an interview in November.

McCarthy, who thanked Broccolino, said, “We are trying to build faith here in the community. We want to build that confidence.”

The agreement outlines steps taken in the investigation of each case, facts gathered during evidence analysis and the legal reasoning supporting the conclusions eached, Gibson said.

While each state’s attorney’s office will pay for the investigations themselves, each office will provide a liaison to assist with obtaining records, evidence, subpoenas and other resources “required for a proper and complete examination of the case,” according to the agreement.

The two state’s attorneys were joined by Josh Felsen, a deputy state’s attorney for Howard; Marcus Harris, Howard’s sheriff; Maj. Ellsworth Jones from the Howard County Police Department; Russell Hamil, acting police chief for Montgomery County; Marcus Jones, Montgomery’s deputy chief of police; Darren Popkin, sheriff for Montgomery; and others.

“It’s really good to see something in writing … formalizing it,” Maj. Ellsworth Jones said at the press conference.

“I have the utmost confidence of the men and women in the Howard Police Department.” he added.

The agreement is in place for the duration of Gibson’s and McCarthy’s current terms in office through 2022.

“While I am hopeful this [memorandum of understanding] is rarely used, I am grateful that Howard County and Montgomery County have put in place procedures governing these terrible occurrences,” Gibson said.

McCarthy said he recognizes “how sensitive this matter is to the community.”

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“The loss of any life is tragic, the loss of life involving a police officer while in the performance of their duty requires strict scrutiny,” he said.

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