Baltimore and U.S. Justice Department officials have recommended a hybrid team led by Venable law firm partner Kenneth L. Thompson to serve as the independent monitor to oversee sweeping police reforms in the city.
The monitor team recommended Friday comprises members of two of the four applicant finalists — Exiger LLC /21st-Century and Baltimore-based Venable LLP — and the nonprofit Baltimore Community Mediation, which was not among the 26 groups that applied for the job in June.
"[T]he combined team has significant expertise in protecting civil and constitutional rights, knowledge of police practices and the challenges that police officers and departments face, a track record of success in achieving institutional reform within police departments, and local experience and expertise with the diverse communities of Baltimore," according to a motion filed in federal court by city and Justice Department officials Friday.
The monitor is charged with managing the day-to-day process of implementing reforms required under the consent decree reached between the city and the Justice Department earlier this year. The consent decree allocates up to $1.475 million annually over the three-year term to pay for monitoring compliance.
U. S. District Judge James K. Bredar, who is assigned to oversee and enforce the consent decree, encouraged city and Justice Department officials to combine teams after they could not decide on a single applicant.
The city and the Justice Department told the judge last week that none of the four finalists had "all of the appropriate experience and expertise" for the job.
Bredar will make the final decision on the monitoring team, which will report to him. It was not clear when that decision will be made.
"This is a team that is strong in all the major areas of expertise that the Consent Decree requires," Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement Friday.
Also on the team are members of the local nonprofit Baltimore Community Mediation. Shantay Guy, executive director of the nonprofit, could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
The monitoring team would also include Charles H. Ramsey as the deputy, who would oversee areas including community policing and "First Amendment Protected Activities," according to the motion.
Ramsey was previously chief of the Philadelphia and District of Columbia police departments as those departments underwent similar Justice Department-ordered reforms. Ramsey also nearly became Baltimore police commissioner in 2007, but then-Mayor Sheila Dixon chose Frederick H. Bealefeld III to head the department instead.
Baltimore Community Mediation was brought in to focus on community engagement, according to the motion. In an earlier filing, city and Justice Department officials said they wanted to find team members that would "enhance the community engagement capability."
During the public comment period, several residents expressed interest in hiring a team with ties to Baltimore that would be better equipped to engage residents from different communities.
The motion said the new team "has an appropriate mix of local and national experience and expertise, ensuring both independence and neutrality in the performance of its duties."
The motion also highlights Thompson as being "a native Baltimorean with deep ties to the Baltimore community."
Thompson has previously worked for City Hall, serving as one of four co-chairs on former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's mayoral transition team, and later for Pugh's mayoral transition team, according to a biography online.
Thompson also headed an advisory panel that assisted the city in its search for a police commissioner following the retirement of Bealefeld. Anthony Batts was ultimately selected for the job. Batts was fired by Rawlings-Blake in July 2015 following the citywide unrest that ensued after the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody.
Thompson did not respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon.
Billy Murphy, the Baltimore attorney who represented Gray's family in its civil lawsuit against the city, wrote a letter in support of the Venable law firm during the public comment process. Gray's death helped spur the Justice Department investigation of the Baltimore Police Department. That investigation found a pattern of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing in the city, particularly in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.
In addition to Ramsey, the recommendation lists three other deputies to round out the team's leadership: Seth Rosenthal, another Venable partner; Hassan Aden, a former police chief in Greenville, N.C., who now serves as a senior policing adviser at the Police Foundation; and Theron Bowman, a former police chief and now deputy city manager in Arlington, Texas.
Murphy said Thompson has a reputation for "high integrity" and who will scrutinize the Police Department.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole, whose department is in the process of completing consent decree reforms, would provide technical assistance for police policies and training.
"The public has no way of assessing that team," Powers said, referring to a hybrid group. "What about the community? The process is going to create more mistrust."
During the months-long process, residents were given the opportunity to submit written questions and opinions, and attend two community forums in August.
"It puts us right back to where we were before the Freddie Gray situation. Even if it's not the Powers Group, we need to get the process right, a process that says the public engagement matters," Powers said.
He also expressed concerns about whether a newly formed group would agree on a budget.
Once Bredar approves the monitor selection, the chosen team will have 90 days to develop a plan to oversee the consent decree.