Civil rights groups call on Hogan to convene special session

Civil rights groups implore Gov. Hogan to intervene, call lawmakers back to Annapolis.

Civil rights groups called on Gov. Larry Hogan Friday to help resolve a fractured relationship between Baltimore residents and its police department, asking him to convene a special session to pass more comprehensive body camera laws and to invest cash in urban renewal projects.

As protests continued in the streets over the death Freddie Gray from spinal cord injuries sustained while in police custody, a coalition of civil rights groups implored the governor to intervene.

The group, which includes the ACLU and the NAACP, asked the governor to address some of the broader problems the case highlighted about poverty, police brutality and inequality.

"Freddie Gray's death is part of a larger systemic problem that we see across Maryland," said Sara Love, public policy director for ACLU of Maryland. "There is a serious problem with policing practices here in Maryland."

The governor did not directly respond to the requests, but a spokesman issued a statement saying that "Given the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Mr. Freddie Gray, the frustration and concerns being expressed by citizens and community groups are both valid and appropriate."

The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Equality met with Hogan's top staff Friday in Baltimore and asked him to call the legislature back to Annapolis to enact more comprehensive laws about body cameras.

Hogan said Thursday he would sign legislation passed by the General Assembly this year to encourage police departments to launch body camera programs, but the ACLU and others criticized those measures for not going far enough.

The group would also like lawmakers to consider changes to the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, which spells out how police can be disciplined.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has criticized that law for tying her hands in quickly distributing information about police-involved incidents and disciplining officers. Legislation to change that law failed during the session this year.

The group also asked Hogan to put cash into urban redevelopment projects in West Baltimore to improve housing and job development programs. Hogan campaigned in Baltimore on a platform that promised to focus on increasing jobs in the city.

The coalition also requested Hogan direct Attorney General Brian E. Frosh to conduct an independent investigation into all deaths of people while in police custody. An ACLU report released in March found 109 people died after police encounters in Maryland between 2010 and 2014.

Hogan said earlier this week that he would not direct Frosh to conduct a review of the Gray case given that four other investigations were already ongoing. A spokesman for Frosh did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the attorney general would launch a state-wide probe of deaths in police custody.

And finally, the groups asked Hogan to deploy his Office of Crime Control and Prevention to form a task force to come up with more ideas to improve relationships with the police.

Hogan spokesman Matthew Clark said the governor was evaluating the requests, which he considered legitimate, and he was "very seriously" considering all the concerns.

"The Hogan administration will continue to be engaged with leaders in the community and remains supportive of the Mayor and the State's Attorney," Clark said.

The governor's staff said that he put Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and former Baltimore Del. Keiffer Mitchell in charge of coordinating the state's response to Gray's death, and the pair met with the civil rights group earlier in the day Friday.

The coalition also includes the Maryland State Conference and Baltimore City Branch NAACP, CASA de Maryland, Community Churches for Community Development, Greater Baltimore Urban League, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, National Action Network Maryland Chapter, Rainbow PUSH Coalition and faith leaders, the statement said.

A spokeswoman from the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the groups were appealing to Hogan because "it's clear" the city has been unable to resolve its problems alone.

"They've been struggling to handle this issue themselves, and we've seen how far that has gotten us," spokeswoman Zainab Chaudry said.

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