Two-and-a-half years after the first indictment of corrupt Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force members, Commissioner Michael Harrison announced that the department has tasked an outside lawyer with investigating how they were able to operate for years before getting snared in federal indictments.
Michael R. Bromwich, a former federal prosecutor and former U.S. Justice Department inspector general, will head the investigation. Bromwich gained national fame last year when he served on the legal team for Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault before he was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I recognize how vital and important it is to the department and the court to understand the circumstances that allowed the GTTF’s activities to take place and go on for so long," Harrison said, referring to a federal court overseeing the city’s reform efforts. “We will learn everything from the terrible chapter in the BPD’s history and ensure that it never happens again, to help rebuild relationships with our community."
Officials did not say how long the investigation will take or what it will cost, but vowed to make Bromwich’s findings public.
“Mr. Bromwich will have full autonomy to conduct the review as he sees fit without interference from us," Harrison said.
City Solicitor Andre Davis called Bromwich is “an experienced investigator” who will receive “unfettered access" to perform a complete review without “department influence.”
Bromwich said Wednesday that the GTTF investigation is “an extremely important assignment .... that will provide the fullest story possible about the origins, causes and gross criminality of the GTTF.
“We will examine the questions of not only what happen, but why, and how, and which people, which aspects of the culture, which institutional structures facilitated it and failed to stop it,” Bromwich said.
Bromwich said after the news conference that he would attempt to interview the eight convicted officers.
“My hope is that we would interview anyone with relevant information, and that would include the officers who have been charged,” he said. "They knew how to beat the system.”
Bromwich has led similar reviews into private companies and law enforcement agencies, including a 2005 review of practices of the Houston Police Department crime lab and, more recently, as a consultant to the Chicago Police Department.
In 2017, Bromwich led a consulting team that included Lori Lightfoot, now the mayor of Chicago, in an unsuccessful bid to become the independent monitor for Baltimore’s consent decree.
Bromwich began talking with Baltimore officials about his review over the summer, and plans to attend Thursday’s quarterly consent decree hearing before U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar.
Elected officials and the judge and monitoring team overseeing the police department’s federal consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department have been pushing for an independent review to prevent another such scandal.
The department has been under the consent decree since April 2017, just a month after indictments against the Gun Trace Task Force officers were filed. Eight officers were convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to federal prison.
“This investigation is essential and is vital to help rebuild trust between the police department and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve,” Mayor Jack Young said in a statement. “It is imperative that the investigation be comprehensive and free from internal pressure.”
Bredar said the scandal hurt the department’s reputation in the community and requires a comprehensive “autopsy” to evaluate the “systemic and structural issues that contributed to this scandal. This is essential to make sure nothing like GTTF ever happens again.”
Plans to move forward with such an evaluation have stalled for the past year amid a turnover of police leadership.
Interim police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said in 2018 that the department was in preliminary talks with Johns Hopkins University about an evaluation, but no additional plans were announced. Tuggle left the department earlier this year, soon after Harrison was appointed as commissioner.
Harrison last month told a state panel that such plans were on hold because Bredar asked the Justice Department to investigate what enabled the actions of the officers to go unnoticed. Harrison also said that City Solicitor Andre Davis warned of the potential expenses from a flurry of lawsuits the city is facing over the task force’s illegal actions.
Davis on Wednesday said the investigation might bring additional liability risks to the city, but “after careful reflection and study, we on the legal team are confident we can manage those risks.”
"We will continue to represent the Baltimore City Police Department... At the same time we are totally committed, together with the commissioner, to the transparency of this process.” Davis added, “We have no worries about what may appear to be a conflict between full transparency and representing the police department.”
Harrison will issue a directive requiring all personnel to cooperate with any request from Bromwich’s team, Davis said.