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ACLU says hearing on Officers' Bill of Rights stacked against reform advocates

The ACLU of Maryland plans to "decry" what it calls a "disturbing imbalance" between the number of law enforcement officials and the number of reform advocates who have been asked to testify on the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights at a hearing Monday of a state panel on policing.

The Public Safety and Policing Work Group was created after the unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. One of the group's tasks is to review the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, or LEOBR, and how it is applied in different jurisdictions.

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The LEOBR, which provides procedural protections for officers accused of misconduct, has drawn criticism from protesters of police brutality, including the ACLU and the NAACP. Critics say it makes it more difficult to hold officers accountable for misconduct. Union officials say it protects officers from frivolous complaints and ensures they receive due process.

On Friday, the ACLU said it would call for reform.

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"State lawmakers have arranged for at least 15 law enforcement officials to speak about LEOBR, while only five representatives from organizations seeking reform will be allowed to testify," the group said in a statement. "Disturbingly, there is no opportunity being offered to concerned individuals to share their experiences or to talk about how the state's current LEOBR creates roadblocks in their attempts to hold police accountable in cases of misconduct or brutality."

Del. Curt Anderson, the Baltimore Democrat who co-chairs the work group, said the lineup is more about time than the number of people who can speak.

He said the 15 law enforcement officials — 11 from local Fraternal Order of Police lodges across the state, three from local sheriff's offices and Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop — will have a total of an hour and fifteen minutes to speak.

The ACLU and other reform advocates "can bring as many people as they want," Anderson said, as long as they keep their testimony to an hour.

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"It may seem unequal, but timewise, we're trying to equalize," he said. "We all will get to hear from both sides so that any kind of misconceptions that we have or urban legends that exist, we can question them on that and come away with the same information to reach a consensus on what needs to be changed."

Among the five reform advocates set to speak are the Rev. Todd Yearly of the NAACP, and William H. "Billy" Murphy, the attorney for the Gray family.

Gray, 25, died in April after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. His death sparked protests against police brutality; on the day of his funeral, Baltimore erupted in riots, looting and arson. Six police officers have been charged in his arrest and death; all have pleaded not guilty.

Meredith Curtis, an ACLU spokeswoman, said Anderson's explanation misses the point.

The reform groups' complaint, she said, is "related to our overall concern that there isn't much opportunity being worked into these series of meetings where people who have had experiences of police brutality have the opportunity to talk about them."

She said the ACLU and NAACP have "asked that there be meetings outside of Annapolis where it would be easier for many of those who have experienced police brutality to attend," but no such meetings have been scheduled. A meeting last month in Annapolis was not enough, she said.

"We need, at the very least, meetings in Prince George's County and Baltimore and perhaps on the Eastern Shore, where there have been numerous instances of police brutality where the community has organized," Curtis said. "The process and who they are hearing from is heavily weighted toward law enforcement, when the call for reform is coming from people who are actually experiencing police brutality."

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