Sun Investigates

Update: Baltimore Police expect to identify officers in custody death

UPDATE, 1:20 PM: Police now say they expect to release the names of the officers involved in the arrest of Anthony Anderson. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the "department's naming policy applies now that the death has been ruled a homicide," but says that police first want to look into a threat against the officers. "If the threats are cleared, I anticipate they will be named," Guglielmi said. "The officer safety concerns are real."

Baltimore Police have shot 13 people this year - killing eight - during the course of their official duties, and, if history is a guide, most if not all will be deemed justified because the officers were reasonably in fear of their life.


In all 13 cases, police have identified the officers involved as a matter of transparency. It's a policy that goes back decades, was reversed in late 2008, and, under public pressure reinstated in early 2010.

But in the case of Anthony Anderson, the 46-year-old East Baltimore man who the medical examiner ruled this week was killed by officers trying to restrain him during a drug arrest, the names are not being released. Because Anderson was killed by blunt force trauma, not a shooting, it does not fall within the department's policy.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Tuesday that the withholding of the officer's name in Anderson's case was an officer safety issue. A similar claim has been made in the past as an argument that the names of officers who shoot people should be withheld, and the department continues to release their names. 

The move has angered Anderson's family, who are upset that police initially said Anderson died from choking himself on drugs. They also believe the officers are getting special treatment. Family attorney J. Wyndal Gordon called it an "astonishing coverup."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who was not specifically asked about the withholding of the names, praised the way police have handled the case so far.

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"I'm very impressed with the way Commissioner [Anthony] Batts has addressed this issue," she said after the Board of Estimates meeting. "Any death is a tragedy. He's been on it from the beginning, making sure that it's investigated and investigated properly. He's gone out and spoken to the family. He was very clear when he walked in the door that there was going to be zero tolerance for abuse. We expect in every encounter our police have with the public that it is done in a respectful and proper way."

Earlier this year, another area police department was confronted with a similar officer-involved death and identified the officer. Baltimore County police took two days to release the name of Officer James Laboard, who killed teenager Christopher Brown while restraining him after Brown and his friends had thrown a rock at Laboard's front door. He was later charged with manslaughter.

In 1994, after a man named Jesse Chapman was pronounced dead in the back of a police van following an alleged beating, the Baltimore Police Department identified five officers who were involved while placing them on suspension. The FBI and state prosecutors stepped in to investigate; but an autopsy in that case found Chapman did not die from a beating, but instead from his heart collapsing under the stress of cocaine use and an asthma attack during a struggle with officers. A grand jury eventually cleared the officers.

When city police reversed their shooting policy in late 2008 they pointed to threats against officers and said there had been 23 such threats in the previous year. But they later clarified that none of those threats related to police shootings; one was even made by an officer toward another.

Rawlings-Blake, who at the time was city council president, and Bernard "Jack" Young, then the chair of the council's public safety committee, wrote a letter to Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III expressing concern about how the decision had been made and the public's perception of its transparency.

A year later, police said they would release the names after allowing 48-hour period for police to arrange safeguards for the officers.

"Our concern throughout this entire time has been the personal safety considerations of officers and their families," police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said at the time. "But we have an obligation as a public safety agency to balance transparency, and we feel 48 hours would give us ample time to put things in place for the officer while being transparent enough for the public."
Rawlings-Blake called it a "change that ensures more transparency while protecting officer safety."
The Baltimore Sun has reached out to Rawlings-Blake and a spokesman for Young, who is on vacation, about their thoughts on the decision to withhold the names of the officers involved in Anderson's death.

Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this report