Almost 20 years ago, the Baltimore Police Department was so concerned about the possibility of Officer Edward Gorwell beating an administrative hearing and returning to the streets that it struck an unusual deal.
Gorwell had shot and killed a teenager in 1993, and was charged with manslaughter. Years went by as the case wound through the court system and was dropped eventually by prosecutors in 1999.
In 2002, fearing Gorwell might prevail in an administrative hearing, the department agreed to let him stay on the force at an officer’s salary and eligible for a pension, but without police powers and a gun.
That agreement held until earlier this month. The Inspector General’s Office said in a report released Wednesday that it received a tip complaining about the arrangement, investigated and determined Gorwell’s permanent suspension of his police powers made him eligible to be fired because he was unable to carry out his duties.
Gorwell could not be reached for comment. His union attorney, Michael Davey, said he had been working in the department’s “building and construction unit” and retired after Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said he concurred with the IG’s analysis and would move to fire Gorwell.
“We don’t believe it would have been a justifiable termination,” Davey said, but he added that Gorwell was ready to go.
“I have had the honor and pleasure of working [with] some of the greatest hero’s on earth,” Gorwell wrote in a Facebook post Aug. 1. “To those who are still in the grind. Stay true to yourself, stay safe, back each other up and join the club in [sic] your terms.”
Attorney Sean Malone was head of the Police Department’s legal affairs at the time the deal with Gorwell was struck, and said Wednesday that the agreement was a compromise. He said his recollection was that Gorwell was to retire after he reached 20 years with the department.
“The mistake that was made was in letting him work another 10 years,” Malone said.
Gorwell joined the Police Department in 1990. In 1993, he fatally shot 14-year-old Simmont D. Thomas in the back. The boy was fleeing from a stolen car in a densely wooded area at the edge of Gwynns Falls Park in West Baltimore. Gorwell said at the time that he heard a gunshot and then opened fire, hitting the running teen. No gun other than Gorwell’s was found at the scene.
Within weeks, Gorwell was charged with manslaughter. The Sun described the case at the time as “one of the more controversial and racially tinged cases of deadly force in recent Baltimore police history.” Thomas was black; Gorwell is white.
His first trial in 1993 ended in a mistrial when one of the jurors failed to show up for deliberations. After a series of appeals that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Gorwell was scheduled for trial again in 1999.
Two days before the trial date, a police crime lab technician decided to conduct a test for gunshot residue — using new testing equipment which had been unavailable to police in 1993. That test revealed traces of gunshot residue from Thomas’ left hand, police said at the time, even though no weapon was found at the scene. Prosecutors then dropped the case on the morning of Gorwell’s scheduled trial.
“I don’t hate you,” Thomas’ father told Gorwell in the courtroom. “But as long as I live I will know in my heart my son did not shoot at you. I will never give up trying to find some evidence.”
Malone, the former head of legal affairs, said police department officials were concerned they would not be able to prove an internal disciplinary case, and did not want Gorwell returning to the streets. They also felt he was performing well in the administrative job and could continue to contribute, he said.
Gorwell had to hand in his badge and gun, and instead worked in the communications section. The arrangement was conveyed publicly by Malone.
The Baltimore Police Department has long had sworn officers work jobs typically filled by non-officers in other departments, and has frequently talked about “civilianizing” those functions.
And there are scores of officers who over the years have not had their police powers suspended permanently, but were kept on desk jobs as a result of controversy. The officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray all remain on the force but work in administrative roles across the agency. The late Sgt. Lou Hopson was prevented from carrying a gun due to a domestic violence conviction but continued working in the juvenile booking section.
There are some officers who were once on former State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy’s “do not call” list who continue to work jobs like security.
“There are a lot of positions within the police department that require individuals with law enforcement experience and background to assist in those positions,” said Davey, the lawyer for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. “If they didn’t use officers who couldn’t testify or the state’s attorney’s office wouldn’t let testify, they’d have to take someone with sworn police powers off the street.”
“Individuals in similar situations to Gorwell definitely have an important role in the department,” Davey said.
The Inspector General’s report describes Gorwell’s arrangement as “potential financial waste.”
“The officer’s permanent loss of police powers contradicts their ability to hold the position of BPD police officer under the City’s relevant job description,” the report says. “The job classification for a BPD police officer includes performing duties such as maintaining order, detaining and arresting suspects, serving arrest warrants and summonses, and testifying in court. Further, a BPD police officer must be able to protect life and property within the City.”
Per the Inspector General’s Office’s policy on investigations, Gorwell is not named in the report released Wednesday. But the details of the report, as well as the unique arrangement, match the circumstances of Gorwell’s case.
Over the last five years, Gorwell’s salary rose from $83,800 to $92,500, while he earned significant amounts of overtime each year — between $28,000 and $35,000 annually. The Inspector General’s Office said Gorwell was paid $600,000 total over the past five years.
In a response, Commissioner Michael Harrison wrote that the department agreed that the permanent suspension status prohibited Gorwell from “ever serving in a law enforcement capacity for the Baltimore Police Department.”
“As such, that would place into a similar status as other members who are medically unable to return to full service and, pursuant to the FOP MOU, the department is able to separate them from service,” Harrison wrote.
He said the Police Department notified Gorwell and his legal counsel that he would be fired effective Aug. 1.
Malone, the former legal affairs chief, said the Inspector General’s Office never reached out to him about the case. He said they also got information wrong, such as saying that a pact on Gorwell’s status was the result of an administrative hearing ― it was a settlement.
“They’re ignoring the reality of the situation” at the time, Malone said. “Is it wasteful? It seems like they needed him, look at all the overtime he worked.”