A dozen internal affairs charges against Baltimore Police officers were dismissed by a circuit court judge last week, including one case where an officer was criminally charged, because the department filed them too late.
The failure to pursue the cases has drawn criticism from a state senator and leaders of the police union and the Civilian Review Board — a group of volunteers who investigate police misconduct allegations. The dismissals underscore the need for reforms, they say.
The judge agreed with attorneys for the officers that the police internal affairs bureau did not follow state law when it filed charges. Under the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, police departments have one year to investigate and bring formal charges after complaints are lodged. The statute allows officers to file what’s known as a “show cause” hearing before a circuit court judge to review the matter.
Circuit Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill said the department’s failure to act in a timely manner left him no choice.
“I do not grant relief gladly in these cases,” Fletcher-Hill said, noting that some of the officers faced serious allegations.
After issuing his ruling, Fletcher-Hill said he believed the department’s waiting until the deadline in some cases seemed “risky” when officials had an entire year to act.
The cases represented a mix of minor and serious infractions, according to Mike and Adam Davey, union attorneys with the firm Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner. They expired in December 2018 and January of this year, under then-Acting Commissioner Gary Tuggle.
Mike Davey questioned why it took the department so long to investigate some of the lesser issues, such as one incident in which an officer lost his hat.
The attorneys did not discuss specific allegations in the hearing, nor with a reporter afterwards. Police do not release information related to administrative investigations.
Several of the officers who won the reprieve last week have had troubles in the past.
In November 2017, Erica Hamlett said she filed a complaint with the department against Officer Damond Durant, after she said he pulled a gun on her son without justification near their Columbia home. Hamlett attended Friday’s hearing and said the department has made it difficult to file a complaint and receive any follow-up information about the case.
After the case was dismissed Friday, she said, “I cried sitting in the courtroom.When you find out about this, you find out the system is working exactly how they want it to,” she said. “
Previously Durant was sued along with the city after being accused of breaking a man’s jaw while responding to an assault call, according to city officials. The city settled the civil case in 2014, agreeing to pay $55,000 to the accuser.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Durant declined to comment on the allegations.
According to city salary records, Durant remains on the job and earned a base salary or $80,000 and another $16,000 in overtime for 2018.
Another officer who had a case dismissed was Sgt. Larry Worsley, who in July was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol after he crashed a department vehicle in July. He was acquitted at trial and prosecutors said mistakes by police handling his case forced them to discard a breath test. Prosecutors said officers on scene waited too long administer a breath alcohol test.
Worsley earned $88,000 and a total of $117,000 with overtime, records show. It is not clear if the dismissed case is related to the drunken driving charge. He could not be reached for comment.
One case dismissed Friday involved Officer Latisaha Adams, who was criminally charged in October 2017 with fourth-degree attempted burglary and malicious destruction of property after police said she tried to break into an ex-boyfriend's home, according to a WBAL News report. The burglary charge was dropped and she received probation before judgment — meaning the judge set aside the guilty plea and placed her on probation — for the destruction of property charge. Adams did not respond to a request for comment.
Adams remains with the department and earned more than $91,000 a year between her base salary of $72,00 and overtime, according to city records. She and the 11 other officers cannot face any internal discipline for their cases.
Adam Davey wrote in a memorandum for the hearing that Adams’ criminal case concluded Nov. 30, 2017, but that the department did not internally charge her until more than a year later on Dec. 4, 2018.
Once an officer is investigated, an internal Disciplinary Review Committee — a board selected and appointed by the police commissioner, including sworn and civilian members of the department and legal affairs — makes a recommendation on charges. The committee’s recommendation is then reviewed by the police commissioner or his designee.
At issue was that the designee did not sign the charge by the one-year deadline, Adam Davey said.
Molly Cross, an assistant city solicitor representing the police department, argued that signatures are not required by the statute and BPD’s policy is that charges are filed when the committee issues its recommendation.
The judge asked her why the signatures aren’t made at the committee meeting, but Cross said the statute is vague and that signatures are not a requirement. The meeting is essentially the formal filing of charges, she said.
“The court should give deference to the agency’s policy,” she said.
But the judge said that filing charges should include some sort of formality, and for the BPD, that means a signature to indicate they’ve been filed.
The failure to complete the 12 misconduct cases has again raised questions about the department’s ability to hold their own accountable. The dismissal comes at a time of deep community distrust of the department amid the fallout from one of the department’s largest scandals in which eight Gun Trace Task Force officers were sent to federal prison. Records show the officers for years regularly violated citizens’ rights, conducted illegal searches, tracked people without warrants and stole drugs and money.
“It’s so outrageous to me. This is further evidence that the internal affairs division is unfit to investigate and discipline its own officers,” said Sen. Jill P. Carter, who previously served as director of the city’s civil rights office, which includes an all-volunteer Civilian Review Board that investigates police misconduct. She has long called for an independent body to investigate officer misconduct.
Additionally, Sgt. Mike Mancuso, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, also criticized the department after it “had blown the one year deadline.”
“The FOP and our attorneys tried to work it out with them and the BPD refused. The BPD continues to work in an antagonistic manner towards its officers. This has lowered morale to an all time low and rattled the rank and file’s confidence in BPD command,” Mancuso said.
Police spokesman detective Jeremy Silbert said in a statement that the court’s ruling was based on procedural issues and that the department is considering “all of our appellate options moving forward.”
The dismissals come as the department has struggled with turnover in leadership, including officials overseeing misconduct investigations. Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has shaken up the senior staff, at one point naming Assistant Attorney General Michelle Wilson to head the public integrity bureau, which includes internal affairs. But the position remains vacant after Harrison abruptly announced Wilson would not be joining the department.
Like other areas in the department, internal affairs has suffered from staff shortages and a backlog of cases.
Misconduct investigations are one of the top areas of reform mandated under a consent decree, an agreement reached between the city and U.S. Justice Department in 2017 after an investigation found officers regularly violated residents’ civil rights.
Each month, police representatives, DOJ officials and the independent monitoring team of lawyers and law enforcement experts that are helping the department implement the reforms are also reviewing internal affairs investigation records to help shape reforms. This August, the department is supposed to submit to the DOJ and the monitoring team a proposed internal affairs manual that details how investigators will complete investigations.
Bridal Pearson, chairman of the Civilian Review Board, said the dismissals are unacceptable.
“I find it to be outrageous,” Pearson said, that the cases were dropped for what amounted to a “ technical error.”
But Pearson said the cases showcase the broader need to reform the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.
“I feel like it’s designed for officers to get off in circumstance like that. LEOBR is so powerful,” he said.