In a city where police have been caught on camera faking crime scenes and elite officers were sent to prison for robbing people and selling drugs, the arrest of Sgt. James Lloyd still shocked.
With three fellow officers providing a perverse form of backup, Lloyd flashed his badge and drove a contractor to a bank, forcing him to withdraw money as a refund for what the sergeant considered a bad job on a backyard patio, according to charging documents.
The news Thursday night of Lloyd’s arrest, and the other three officers being placed on administrative duty, drew equal measures of disgust and outrage among those who in the past decade have followed scandal after scandal in the Baltimore Police Department. Many have grown impatient with long unanswered calls for reform.
“That’s a conspiracy, and they should all have been charged,” said David Jaros, a professor of criminal law at the University of Baltimore.
“The thing that makes you just shiver,” Jaros said, “is how much abuse happens on a random basis that we never uncover.”
The Lloyd arrest comes after years of everyone from community activists to the U.S. Department of Justice citing Baltimore police for abusing their power. The city has been under federal monitoring to resolve the Justice Department’s finding that officers routinely violated citizens’ civil rights and used excessive force.
Then there was the federal indictment and conviction of members of the Gun Trace Task Force on racketeering, robbery and other charges.
Last year alone, more than a dozen officers were arrested, sentenced or suspended on charges of assault, unlawful arrests and other crimes.
The litany makes many question the frequent defense that incidents of police misconduct are isolated events.
“The narrative is always: it’s only a few bad apples,” said Ashiah Parker, a member of a state commission created by the General Assembly in 2018 to review the GTTF scandal and recommend departmental changes.
Lloyd’s arrest “confirms the police department has issues that need to be addressed,” said Parker, the CEO of the West Baltimore community coalition No Boundaries.
While its work has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing is scheduled to file a report by the end of the year. The commission, created by legislation introduced by now Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, has subpoena power to compel testimony and collect documents.
The arrest by Baltimore County police of Lloyd, who was ordered held without bail Friday, added fuel to an ongoing fire over police accountability. Nationwide protests have erupted over police killings of Black men and women such as George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and increasingly are expanding to broader calls to defund police or otherwise overhaul their operations.
Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey is among those targeting measures such as the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and the secrecy over internal disciplinary records that he says protect bad cops from prosecution and accountability.
Dorsey has been in a war of words recently with the Fraternal Order of Police. On Friday, the Democrat decried what he called “the police culture of impunity, which is embodied most clearly in the conduct of the FOP.
“This culture says that when a person becomes a police officer they join a special order that is protected, above the law and accountable only to itself, whose motives, behavior, and role in society are never to be questioned,” Dorsey said.
Local FOP president Mike Mancuso did not respond to a request for comment.
Other city officials, while decrying Lloyd’s alleged conduct, were more circumspect.
“This incident highlights how we need to build up these systems of accountability and break down these long-lasting systems and that feeling of untouchable-ness,” said City Council President Brandon Scott, the Democratic nominee for mayor.
“I’m 36 years old, and the police department had these issues when I was born,” he said. “But when you commit to something like reform, you know it’s not going to be an overnight thing. You know it’s going to be tough, but this is something that makes me further commit to doing that. If we do this right, you’re going to get bad apples taken out.”
Dayvon Love, director of public policy for the advocacy group, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, said that despite burgeoning support for reform across the country, there still isn’t enough transparency surrounding cases of police misconduct.
“There’s an appetite for reform, but public pressure can only do so much until there are other mechanisms of accountability,” he said.
Love said he looks forward to the next General Assembly session so “we can do the heavy lifts that will really take the cover off of law enforcement.”
The Rev. Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, called for dramatic changes.
“This is a clear indication either that swift action has to be taken to completely transform the Baltimore Police Department or that the department has to be disbanded,” Little said.
He also called for a repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which a Baltimore police spokesman on Friday said limited Commissioner Michael Harrison’s options for holding officers accountable.
Little said Harrison “has the right idea overall,” but “this is a clear indication that he has to do more, that he has to move faster.”
That three other officers allegedly were present when Lloyd intimidated the contractor shows that maintaining “the blue line” of protecting their own still overrides “any impulse to uphold the law,” Little said.
“The department will have to do a tremendous amount of work to allay citizen fears about personal safety in the presence of its officers,” he said.
Natasha C. Pratt-Harris, a Morgan State University associate professor and criminal justice program coordinator, said incidents like the Lloyd case can feed the distrust of police in Baltimore. Pratt-Harris was the principal investigator of a survey conducted for the consent decree monitoring team released this year that found a widespread lack of confidence in police.
“They questioned whether police are effectively held accountable for misconduct,” Pratt-Harris said.
The arrest of Lloyd comes at a time of quicker response than in the past to at least some police-involved incidents. The Minneapolis officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck as he died and three fellow officers on the scene were all fired the next day and charged in subsequent days. The Atlanta police chief resigned just hours after officers killed a man, Rayshard Brooks, outside a fast-food restaurant.
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Pratt-Harris said such deaths have people looking at law enforcement in a more “radical way” these days. Whether that will prompt major changes in police accountability remains to be seen, she said.
“We don’t know if in the long term that will be consistent,” Pratt-Harris said. “The verdict is still out.”
The University of Baltimore’s Jaros said the cases in which officers have swiftly met punishment tend to be those where there is video, and where what happened is “relatively indisputable.
“What you don’t see is the police departments, the unions, turning on the bad actors and saying you are besmirching our name and making it harder for us to do our job,” Jaros said. “When these cases come up, there is the claim that this is a single bad officer, or the officer did nothing wrong.”
True reform needs buy-in from officers themselves as well as city leadership, he said, not just when responding to police misconduct but when negotiating contracts that include measures to compel greater accountability in the first place.
“We need true political will, and lasting political will,” Jaros said, “to force changes.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Emily Opilo and Tim Prudente contributed to this article.