How race plays out in claims against Baltimore police: ACLU crunches data, names officers with most complaints. However, police claim errors with report’s stats.

A white resident’s complaint against a Baltimore police officer is 61% more likely to be upheld than a Black resident’s. A complaint against a Black officer is almost 44% more likely to be sustained than one against a white officer. And from 2015 through 2019, 137 officers were the subject of 15 or more complaints.

Such are the implications of a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland that explored racial disparities among thousands of complaints filed against Baltimore police officers from 2015 to 2019 and worked to identify officers alleged to have committed misconduct.


In the report released Tuesday, author Joe Spielberger wrote that of the 13,392 complaints of misconduct filed against 1,826 officers during that period, those filed by white residents were sustained by the department’s internal affairs investigators at a much higher rate, 12.4%, than those filed by Black residents, at 7.7%.

Spielberger, ACLU’s public policy counsel, wrote that complaints filed against Black officers were sustained at a higher rate, 32.9%, than those filed against white officers, at 22.9%.


In the wake of the uprising over the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 and the following Justice Department investigation which found the department routinely violated the civil rights of city residents, particularly in Black communities, the report paints a picture of a department still biased against its Black residents.

The department entered into a consent decree with the DOJ in April 2017.

“Addressing community violence also requires examining the role that police play in sparking violence,” the report reads. “While killings and high-profile incidents garner the most attention, the more routine, low-level incidents maintain the cycle of violence as well.”

The report says 90.7% of use of force incidents from 2015 to 2019 involved Black residents, though that demographic represents about 63% of the city’s population. The report adds that the disparities play out across the geographic divisions that are representative of the city’s racial demographics are.

“Residents in the ‘white L’ of North and South Baltimore do not witness and experience firsthand close to the level of police violence as Black residents do in the ‘Black Butterfly’ of East and West Baltimore,” the report reads, adding that only 11.4% of such incidents were cited as either in the defense of others or the officers themselves.

The other 88.6% were cited as either due to “suspect resistance/combative suspect,” (60.5%) to “gain tactical advantage” (20.7%) or to “make an arrest” (4.3%).

While the report pulls from data the department released last year, Spielberger also used data from public court, city and news media records to identify which officers faced the most complaints during that period, removing the anonymity currently availed to officers under the current system.

By cross-referencing high-profile incidents such as shootings by officers in news media outlets like The Baltimore Sun, as well as arrest records linked to the department’s public database of use of force incidents, Spielberger said he was able to identify officers by name by matching their identification numbers across databases to create a comprehensive list of how many complaints have been filed and sustained against individual officers.


Among those listed as having the most sustained complaints are members of the now-disbanded corrupt Gun Trace Task Force, including 36 sustained complaints against its leader, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins. Jenkins was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his participation in a range of crimes while on the force, including stealing and selling drugs.

Jenkins, along with other members of the task force such as Daniel Hersl, Momodu Gondo and Jemell Rayam, are among those with the largest number of complaints filed against them during the period Spielberger examined, totaling 520 combined during that time.

Spielberger said that the number of complaints is not always reflective of different incidents, meaning that it’s possible that an officer could have received multiple complaints in connection to a single incident.

Spielberger’s analysis is at odds with official accounts. As of March 1, 2017, the date that the GTTF indictments were unsealed, the BPD had logged more than 100 Internal Affairs complaints naming one or more of the eight now-convicted members of the GTTF between the years of 1997 and 2016. In addition, those eight officers collectively were involved in more than 60 use of force incidents during the same period.

Within the departmental data, two of the eight convicted GTTF officers stand out for their Internal Affairs histories. When administrative infractions are excluded, four of the eight officers each had fewer than five Internal Affairs complaints in their record at the time they were indicted. Two had more than five but fewer than ten. Two had 20 or more.

Baltimore police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge also questioned the report’s methodology, saying that “allegation data are misidentified as ‘complaints’ throughout the report and the actual number of misconduct cases are lower than the report outlines.”


“The report also aggregated data regardless of disposition status where complaints were unfounded, exonerated, or not sustained,” Eldridge said. “BPD would not, and under the Maryland Public Information Act, could not, disclose any personally identifiable disciplinary information or personnel records about its officers.”

She added that while some of the data came from an collaboration between Baltimore police and Code for America Labs that began in 2016, “we understand the need for more accountability and transparency in rebuilding trust and transforming the department into one that the community wants, needs and most importantly deserves.”

Outside of the GTTF, the ACLU report says that former Police Sgt. Joseph Donato, who left the department in 2017 and had some of his past complaints discussed publicly in a rare case in Circuit Court, had 66 complaints filed against him from 2015 until his exit from the department.

Donato made headlines in 2017 after some of the complaints against him were made public in court, including an allegation that he beat a man in the head with a walkie-talkie after entering his home without a warrant in 2009.

With the report finding that 137 officers have 15 or more complaints filed against them during that time period, Spielberger said the department needs “to do much more than intervene with problematic officers.”

“My hope is that this report will be a tool to better understand the scope of police violence in Baltimore,” Spielberger said.

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He also advocated for the repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, the controversial, decades-old document outlining the due process procedure for investigating and disciplining police misconduct in Maryland. Legislators are set to debate its potential repeal after a legislative work group recommended the General Assembly do so this session.

“We need to repeal entirely LEOBR especially because of how many officers are allowed to stay on the force after engaging in egregious and criminal conduct,” he said.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison supports making changes to the document, citing a desire to be able to fire officers charged with felony or misdemeanor offenses, instead of having to wait until they’re convicted.

In addition, the department announced the launch of its “Ethical Policing Is Courageous,” or “EPIC,” program last year, meant to promote better internal accountability and intervention among officers.

Caylin Young, the public policy director of the ACLU of Maryland, said the EPIC program “can help change the culture in the police department in a positive way” but called on the department to foster an environment that makes officers feel safe reporting issues of misconduct.

“The police department has to be committed,” he said, to implementing a plan that ensures “officers feel safe to speak up and to hold each other accountable in a positive way.”


Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.