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Baltimore residents, groups weigh in on who should be the consent decree monitor

Forty-six individuals and groups submitted letters to city and U.S. Department of Justice officials offering their opinions on who should be appointed to oversee sweeping police reforms in Baltimore.

The letters were submitted as part of the months-long process in selecting an independent monitor that will oversee implementation of the consent decree reached between the city and Justice Department officials, and approved by a federal judge in April.

Twenty-six teams applied for the job, some with experience overseeing consent decrees in other cities and others with experience in law enforcement, law and politics.

City and Justice Department officials whittled the list to six finalists last week. Their final choice will be sent to a federal judge for approval next month. The consent decree allocates up to $1.475 million annually over a three-year term to pay for the monitor.

The majority of the letters, which were released this week and reviewed by The Baltimore Sun, stressed the importance of selecting a team that is based in Baltimore, includes minority members, and focuses on communicating with and involving the community in the process.

Nine of the letters were submitted by organizations, including the Baltimore City NAACP, No Boundaries Coalition of Central West Baltimore, and Disability Rights Maryland.

The NAACP letter mentions several qualifications it would like to see in the monitor team. One is ensuring the team is made up of diverse members with varying backgrounds, not just law enforcement.

The chosen team should “substantially incorporate community advocates and those experienced in eliciting and enhancing community input,” its letter said.

The No Boundaries Coalition, a West Baltimore advocacy group, asked that consideration be given to teams that would make monitoring the consent decree a priority.

“We are concerned to see that many applicants would have other professional obligations that would seriously limit or intermittently hinder the time and attention they would be able to devote to their role as monitor,” the coalition wrote.

In its letter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund asked officials to request that finalist teams provide information about any criminal prosecutions or civil lawsuits involving team members, specifically those with law enforcement backgrounds.

Billy Murphy, the Baltimore attorney who represented Freddie Gray’s family in its civil lawsuit against the city, wrote a letter in support of the Venable law firm, which is among the six finalists. The team would be headed by Ken Thompson, a Baltimore attorney who Murphy said is known to be of “high integrity” and who will scrutinize the police department.

Murphy said that the chosen team should “under no circumstances” be led by a former law enforcement official, which he said would “shatter the hope and expectations of the African-American residents.”

Many of the letters expressed support for a team headed by Susan Burke, an attorney who lives in Baltimore and has a national reputation as an advocate for victims in military sexual assault cases. Several also expressed support for a team headed by Loyola University Maryland.

Burke’s team was among the six finalists. The Loyola team was not.

In addition to the Burke and Venable teams, the consent decree monitor finalists are CNA Consulting, an Arlington, Va.-based consulting firm with experience in law enforcement reform; Baltimore law firm DLA Piper, headed by Charles P. Scheeler, a local attorney who monitored the consent decree among the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference and Pennsylvania State University after the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal; Exiger, a team led by Jeff Schlanger, a former official in the Manhattan district attorney's office; and the Powers Consulting Group, headed by Tyrone Powers, a Baltimore resident and retired FBI agent.

Many letters were written by individuals, including local educators, medical professionals, social workers, an artist and a rabbi. Several expressed interest in teams that are from Baltimore because they felt those teams would be better at engaging the community. Several letters preferred teams with few or no law enforcement officers. Some wrote that none of the teams were qualified.

The public is invited to submit comments or questions for the six finalists by August 13. Two meetings will be held the same week, where the finalist applicants will have the opportunity to answer the public’s written questions.

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