A federal judge has appointed Kenneth Thompson, an attorney at the Baltimore-based law firm Venable, as monitor of the sweeping consent decree mandating local police reforms between Baltimore and the U.S. Department of Justice.
U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar made the appointment at the request of the two parties after a public selection process, under which Bredar said he was “confident that the public’s input was heard.”
In his order announcing the appointment, posted publicly Tuesday, Bredar noted that Thompson has “deep ties to a wide swath of the Baltimore community” and is a “seasoned litigator who understands well the role of the monitor and can ably navigate the many challenges, legal and otherwise, sure to arise during the life of the Consent Decree.”
He wrote that the monitoring team includes law enforcement officials, civil rights prosecutors and community mediators with connections in Baltimore, and that the team members collectively “possess the requisite expertise and experience to successfully assist and oversee execution of the reforms mandated by the Consent Decree, and to do so in an efficient, transparent, and accountable manner.”
Thompson’s team is a combination of individuals from two applicant teams and from outside the process entirely. It was assembled by the city and the Justice Department after the parties determined that none of the bidding teams met all of their needs, and Bredar suggested they adopt the mix-and-match approach.
Thompson, 66, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Nor could other top members of his team.
The consent decree was reached earlier this year after a Justice Department investigation into the Baltimore Police Department was conducted following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody and the subsequent rioting in the city. That investigation found widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing in Baltimore, particularly in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Tuesday.
Thompson’s team, in consultation with the city and Justice Department, now has 90 days to create a first-year implementation plan for reforms.
Ganesha Martin, chief of the Police Department’s Justice Department compliance division, said the plan will address a wide array of reforms relating to community engagement, stops, searches and arrests, impartial policing, use of force, crisis intervention and the broader crime fight.
It will show Baltimore residents that the city’s reform priorities “match those of the community,” she said, and show how the Police Department will be held accountable for their implementation.
“They will be able to see, ‘By such and such date, the BPD is expected to do x, y and z.’ And if we don’t do those things, it will be reported, and those reports will be public,” Martin said.
Thompson grew up in the 900 block of Wheeler Ave. in West Baltimore, graduated from Baltimore City College in 1969 and earned degrees at the University of Maryland and the University of Maryland Law School. He was admitted to the state bar in 1977.
As an attorney, he has represented large groups, such as the owners of the Horseshoe Casino, and has served on the transition teams of Mayor Catherine Pugh and her predecessor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Bredar noted the experience of Charles Ramsey, who will serve as principal deputy monitor. He is a former Philadelphia and District of Columbia police chief and served as co-chair of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Other deputy monitors include Hassan Aden, a former police chief in Greenville, N.C., who now serves as a senior policing adviser at the Washington-based Police Foundation, and Theron Bowman, a former police chief and now deputy city manager in Arlington, Texas, Bredar said.
The team, however, is “far from” being a group of former police chiefs, said the judge, citing the involvement of former federal civil rights prosecutor Seth Rosenthal, who he said has “experience investigating police corruption and use of force,” and of Randolph Dupont, a “nationally recognized leader in developing crisis intervention protocols for dealing with individuals with mental illness.”
Bredar also praised the inclusion on the team of the Baltimore Community Mediation Center, led by Shantay Guy, which he said is “well-established and respected in the Baltimore community.”
Andre Davis, the city solicitor, called Bredar’s order “12 pages of this judge demonstrating, really, the care, the attention, the sensitivity that he has brought to every aspect of this process.”
Davis said the city is “eager to get started” with the reform process, and expects the first-year plan “before the holidays.”
Davis said Thompson, whom he has deep trust in, “is going to be the maestro, and he’s going to be the one who is accountable to Judge Bredar to make sure that the members of his team, not just the leaders of his team but each and every member, lives up to their responsibilities.”
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the appointment of the monitor team represents “progress that is ongoing, but it’s certainly a really great feeling to have them in place, approved by the judge, so we can continue to get down to business.”
The commissioner said Thompson brings “a whole lot of credibility to the top of the ticket,” and called Thompson’s chief deputy, Ramsey, a “living godfather of American policing” who has deep experience not just in law enforcement, but in law enforcement reform. He said the team’s big city policing experience will prove beneficial to Baltimore.
“They’re realists. I think they're pragmatic. I think they're ambitious,” he said. “We are going to set goals and objectives that we are going to have to work really hard to achieve.”
Martin, the Police Department’s compliance division chief, said Thompson’s born-and-raised Baltimore background was critical to hit the ground running.
“We really didn’t have the luxury to bring somebody up to speed on the fact that Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods, and how all those neighborhoods interact with each other,” Martin said.
Martin said her division already has created presentations for the monitor team on what reforms the city and the Police Department believe can be achieved in the first year, and the work will begin quickly.
Some national and local advocates for police reform expressed reservations about the monitor team but said they would continue to push for needed reforms.
Monique Dixon, deputy director of policy and senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, reiterated her organization’s concern about the number of law enforcement officials on the team.
She said her organization will continue to be a resource for local residents, who “must continue to be empowered to engage the parties, the independent monitor, and the court effectively throughout this process so that their views, concerns and suggestions remain central as the city works to implement the terms of the agreement.”
Dayvon Love, director of public policy at the local grassroots think tank Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, said the monitor team represents the “status quo” in American policing.
His organization will focus now on pushing for community oversight of police, he said.
“If you don’t have civilian oversight,” Love said, “then all other approaches to police reform are going to be counterproductive.”