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Baltimore FOP lawyer says management, not Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, is BPD’s problem

An attorney for the Baltimore Police union is pushing back at calls to change a state statute that provides officers with legal protections, saying department leaders — not the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights — bear the blame for dysfunction in the police department.

As more voices clamor for police reforms in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis police custody earlier this year, many advocates for reform in Maryland have called for changing — up to abolishing — the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. It ensures police officers across the state have a right to due process and protects them against unnecessary investigation or prosecution.

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Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison supports changes to the statute. Harrison and other top leaders in his department have lamented that, had Floyd’s death occurred in Maryland, the bill of rights would have prevented Harrison from firing the officers involved, as the Minneapolis chief did.

But in a letter released Wednesday, Michael Davey, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, said changing the statute would harm all officers in the state and their right to due process.

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“The LEOBR is not the issue in Baltimore,” Davey wrote. “The true problem is the mismanagement and incompetency of the BPD to follow the law like every other law enforcement agency in the State of Maryland.”

Davey’s letter comes after a letter from the city solicitor’s office seeking changes that would allow the police commissioner to fire officers charged with felonies and misdemeanors, instead of having to wait until they are convicted.

Both letters were sent to the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing, which was formed to look into widespread corruption by the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force. Twelve such officers have been convicted in federal court.

“The termination of an officer without the right to a fair and impartial investigation and hearing would deprive the officer of the due process rights afforded to them pursuant to the U.S. Constitution and LEOBOR,” Davey wrote.

Additionally, Davey said, officers who have been charged and convicted are held accountable under the statute.

The letter from the city solicitor’s office cited the case of former Officer Wesley Cagle, who shot a burglary suspect already incapacitated by other officers. Cagle remained employed by the department two years later, but under the proposed changes, the police commissioner could have fired Cagle immediately.

But Davey said Cagle was suspended without pay and was not entitled to pension contributions or other benefits while his criminal case was pending. Once Cagle was convicted of a felony, Davey said, Cagle was terminated without an administrative hearing. The statute, Davey said, “worked as intended to make sure the Department’s interests were properly served.”

Davey goes on to criticize the department for delays in other administrative cases, not because of requirements under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, but because of internal delays.

He pointed to the case of Officer Richard Pinheiro, who was charged with fabricating evidence, a misdemeanor, after he was seen on body-worn camera footage from January 2017 placing drugs in a vacant lot. Davey said the department could have moved more quickly in the internal administrative proceedings against Pinheiro. Instead, Pinheiro was not scheduled for a hearing board until May 2020.

“BPD failed to keep track of the status of the administrative case causing a long and unnecessary delay in scheduling the administrative hearing,” Davey wrote.

The delays, he said, were “not a result of an issue with the LEOBOR, it was a result of the BPD’s incompetency in managing their own internal investigations.”

Davey’s letter criticizes additional suggestions in the city’s letter, such as a recommendation to permit a police chief to reverse a decision by an internal disciplinary board.

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“Presumably, the members of the trial board selection pool are officers that the Police Commissioner has faith in to fairly and impartially decide each case,” Davey wrote, “unless he doesn’t like the decision to find the accused not guilty of a charge(s) lodged against the accused officer.”

A Baltimore Police spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment, and Michael Mancuso, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, declined to comment on the letters Wednesday.

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