A state commission investigating the Baltimore police Gun Trace Task Force scandal will get secret records from the police department, but will have to sign an agreement to keep them from public view.
City Solicitor Andre Davis told members of the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing on Tuesday that “there will be information we provide to this commission that we’re going to have to insist be kept strictly confidential.”
The commission was created by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan to dive deeper into the systemic problems that allowed the crimes of eight Baltimore police officers convicted of racketeering to go unnoticed or unchecked for years.
The Police Department has refused to disclose what, if any, investigations it has undertaken and provided no other public accounting.
Appearing before the state panel Tuesday, Davis lamented the state’s secrecy on personnel records but said he was nevertheless bound by it. He drew a parallel to a continuing dispute with the city’s Civilian Review Board, saying it was similarly rooted in the laws that prevent police disciplinary information from being disclosed.
“All of the constraints they [the Civilian Review Board] don’t like are right there in the statute,” Davis told the commission.
But Davis said those secret records show “a lot of complaints” against at least some of the officers, and said prosecutors and judges had been aware of problems with the officers.
“There were lots of red flags all over the place,” he said. “This was a systemic failure of the criminal justice system.”
Davis called the officers “thugs” who were “disguised as police officers” as he reiterated that the city is committed to making sure that taxpayers do not have to pay for the officers’ misconduct. Davis said an agreement in which the city indemnifies officers who are sued does not cover such egregious behavior.
If the courts affirm his assertion, that would mean citizens victimized by the task force would have to collect from the officers themselves, severely limiting what they can receive.
The commission is chaired by retired U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams and comprised of six citizens selected by Hogan and Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch. The volunteer commission has a preliminary report due at the end of the year, but is in the early stages of assessing the scope of the corruption scandal and how the police department works.
Williams said the commission will negotiate with the city over what documents can be turned over without restrictions, which the commission will have to subpoena, and those which will be subject to protective orders.
“We’ll negotiate and work with [Davis] and see what we can get,” Williams said. “We have to comply with the law. … Ultimately, our recommendations to the General Assembly may be to review certain things and make certain documents available for disclosure.”
Davis appeared Tuesday with three other police department and city officials to discuss the structure of the police department, and the evolution of the gun task force.
Baltimore Police legal affairs chief Dan Beck said the Gun Trace Task Force was created in 2007 by then-Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III as a multi-jurisdictional partnership to go after gun traffickers, part of a series of initiatives at that time that included a Gun Offender Registry and a regular “GunStat” meeting to examine data.
The task force included officers from the Maryland State Police and Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County police departments, with assistance from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Around 2011, the other partner agencies dropped out, Beck told the commission, though he was not sure why. In 2013, a consultant’s report commissioned by then-Commissioner Anthony Batts said the Gun Trace Task Force was largely performing administrative tasks and should become more operational.
Beck said their mission changed significantly when now-convicted Sgt. Wayne Jenkins was put in charge in June 2016, during the tenure of Commissioner Kevin Davis. Under Jenkins, the unit “became more of an operational unit doing proactive enforcement” and a “response team focused on street-level gun crimes.”
Beck said he did not know who made the change and why.