A sweeping new review of the Baltimore Police Department's handling of the unrest in April and May could not determine who made the controversial decision to cancel normal bus service at Mondawmin Mall on April 27.
The decision was heavily criticized at the time, with some observers — including local teachers — saying it contributed to tensions by stranding high school students at a location where police were already staging in anticipation of trouble.
Clashes erupted at the scene, with students and others throwing bottles and other debris at officers and police donning military-style gear deploying tear gas to disperse the crowds. The incident precipitated rioting, looting and arson that broke out in other parts of West Baltimore as crowds shifted and others joined in the fray.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in July that she did not believe it was a bad decision to shut down transportation in the area at the time, but that the Police Executive Research Forum report could provide more answers.
"I was made aware in real time that it was done," she said. "We did not have a discussion, where I was, about if this should happen. I remember trying to get to the bottom of it. [The Maryland Transit Administration] is saying schools said it. The schools say the police suggested we shut it down."
However, the report, released publicly on Monday said — in a footnote — that PERF personnel were "unable to determine who issued the order to cancel bus service."
It did find that the decision made it so that "the crowd could not easily disperse."
"The crowd of school-age individuals grew, and some became violent, throwing rocks, cinder blocks, bricks, and other debris," the report said. "Officers were equipped only with helmets and shields, and many of the shields broke.
"Many officers were injured during the attack," it said. "Eventually an armored response vehicle operated by SWAT team members arrived and deployed a chemical agent and smoke, dispersing some of the crowd."
In response to the report's findings, Rawlings-Blake on Monday said that "in a chaotic situation sometimes you can't answer the question, because multiple people said the same thing — and that can be the answer."
"We've heard that MTA employees, the bus drivers, were afraid to go. We've heard that Baltimore city police made a call to close. We heard MTA people made a call to close based on those things. If those things happen all at the same time, then what is the answer?" she said.
"The problem underneath that chaos was a lack of strong communication, and we fixed that. We've fixed the communication with the MTA, with all of our public safety partners that are coming in and that's, for me, the take away," she said. "It's not who did what, it's not the 'gotcha,' it's the fact that we want to make sure through strong communication that something like this doesn't happen again."