Three citizen complaints against the Anne Arundel County Police Department were sustained in 2022, two of which involved unconstitutional search and seizures, investigatory documents obtained by The Capital show.
In two complaints, an officer was written up for using inappropriate language during a traffic stop and another for illegally searching a locked trunk during a drunk driving arrest. In the third case, an officer was suspended for two days after unlawfully arresting someone who refused to identify himself, according to the documents obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act request.
They were the only sustained complaints among 28 cases cited by the Anne Arundel County Police Accountability Board in its first report. The report outlined the status of complaints against the county’s five law enforcement agencies, its recommendations to improve the complaint process and the establishing procedures it conducted in 2022. However, the board has no jurisdiction over those cases or any that occurred before Feb. 27 because of an agreement reached with the county’s police union last year.
In no cases were the names of the complainants disclosed, nor any member of the public, though the offending officers were identified.
In November, Officer Deonna Diggs was given a one-page written counseling after violating the Fourth Amendment rights of a Metropolitan police officer whom she had pulled over for driving under the influence. According to police records, Diggs gained access to the driver’s locked trunk and looked through several items inside without probable cause or a search warrant.
Later that month, Officer Lindsey Phebus was similarly written up for not maintaining “command of temper” and using obscene language during a traffic stop.
Officer Joseph Farrell was suspended for two days in September after making an arrest that lacked probable cause and created a disturbance at a community pool, according to the documents.
According to police records, Farrell responded to the Stoney Beach community pool in Pasadena on June 26 after receiving an anonymous drug tip. The officer approached a man in dark clothing and asked him for identification. When the man refused, frustrated that police were approaching him, Farrell and other officers grabbed the man and arrested him.
The case against the man was dropped by the State’s Attorney’s Office two weeks later, due to insufficient evidence, court records show.
An internal summary conducted by Detective Meshelle Davis found the arrest was not “executed with malicious intent,” but that Farrell’s “lack of knowledge of the law” caused the “chaotic” incident.
In addition to the suspension, Farrell was also required to complete remedial training on implicit bias, constitutional law and de-escalation techniques.
While the legislation requiring its enactment went into effect last July, the Anne Arundel County Police Accountability Board has no authority over county police conduct before Feb. 27, nearly eight months after the board was established. Jurisdiction is based on when the incident occurred, not when it was reported.
County attorney Greg Swain clarified the delay during a Feb. 22 meeting of the board’s discipline body, the Administrative Charging Committee.
According to Swain, the Anne Arundel government entered into a “necessary temporary” agreement with Lodge 70 of the Fraternal Order of Police just days before the county police union’s 2021-22 collective bargaining agreement was set to expire on July 1.
In it, both parties agreed to extend the accountability procedures laid out in the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which were meant to end with a new union contract, until the Administrative Charging Committee was established and trained.
“This allowed for clarity and consistency in the process at a time when it remained unclear when the State would finish its work in implementing the changes required by law,” Swain wrote in an email to The Capital.
The county police union was the only law enforcement body to enter into such an agreement with the government. Other police agencies will have their 2022 complaints reviewed by the charging committee over time — for instance, a representative from the Annapolis Police Department confirmed during the Feb. 22 meeting that at least 12 cases since July 1 will make their way to the committee.
The Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 required accountability boards in all jurisdictions — the state’s 23 counties, Baltimore City, and a statewide committee — be established by July 1, 2022. And within each jurisdiction are three oversight panels: an accountability board, a charging committee and a trial board.
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Once a citizen complaint is filed with the accountability board, it is investigated by the law enforcement agency in question, a procedure challenged by civil rights activists. Proposed legislation that would grant county boards investigatory and subpoena powers is currently in the state Senate.
If the complaint is deemed credible by police and sustained, the charging committee reviews the case and recommends possible discipline for the officer. If the officer refuses that discipline, the case would move to a trial board, where further appeal would be brought before a Circuit Court judge.
While accountability boards had to be established by July 1, as one of the local bodies responsible for selecting its charging committee, there have been delays in processing complaints.
For instance, in Anne Arundel County, members of the Administrative Charging Committee — Andrew Miller, Lisa Snead, Charlett Bundy, Curtis Zurcher and Sarah Kivett — were appointed in October 2022, but did not receive state-mandated training until January.
Once selected but before they can review cases, committee members must complete a 40-hour training program on police procedure from the Police Training and Standards Commission, an offshoot of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Broken into five consecutive eight-hour days, the programs are administered region to region.
According to a Feb. 8 map from the training and standards commission, 13 of Maryland’s 25 charging committees have completed their training. A Freedom of Information Act request by The Capital for a more recent number is under review.
Swain said Feb. 27 was mutually selected as the date county police procedure would be updated for the new law and the charging committee would be trained.