Baltimore's civil rights office gets new head amid legal dispute between police oversight panel, city solicitor

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has chosen Darnell Ingram, an administrator from Georgetown University, as director of the city’s Office of Civil Rights amid a bitter legal dispute between the city’s top lawyer and a police oversight panel that receives administrative support from the office.

City Solicitor Andre Davis, who was closely involved in Ingram’s selection and confirmed his appointment, said Ingram’s background as both an engineer and a lawyer makes him a strategic thinker and good communicator.

Davis said Ingram, who was introduced Wednesday to the office’s staff and starts work next week, is also aware of the rocky terrain he is stepping onto.

“I’ve actually said to him a couple of times, ‘Are you sure you want this job?’ ” he said. “He is equal to the task.”

Ingram is a contracting official at Georgetown and has served in the District of Columbia attorney general’s office. Much of his experience is in corporate law, according to his LinkedIn page, but Davis said he has been involved in minority contracting issues at the private university in Washington.

Ingram was unavailable Thursday for an interview, Davis said.

He will be paid an annual salary of $120,000.

The director’s job has been vacant since May, when the previous director, Jill Carter, resigned on being appointed to the state Senate. Carter has continued as deputy director.

Carter said Thursday that she is considering whether she wants to stay on. She said she wants to support the new director in any way she can.

Davis said one of Ingram’s first jobs will be to hire some new staff.

Ingram also faces the task of helping resolve the dispute between members of the Civilian Review Board, the police oversight panel, and Davis. The unpaid board members receive support from the civil rights agency’s staff. The board has eight members, along with one vacancy.

The board filed a lawsuit Monday in Baltimore Circuit Court to demand access to police disciplinary records, which it is supposed to have access to as it reviews misconduct cases. The Baltimore Police Department stopped turning over the files after board members refused to sign a confidentiality agreement drafted by Davis.

For his part, Davis said the board, as part of the city government, can’t even bring a case — comparing it to a kneecap that is part of the city’s body.

“It’s not a thing that goes into court,” he said. “The thing that goes into court is the mayor and City Council.”

Davis wrote to a private attorney the board hired, asking him to withdraw from the case and saying he could face a disciplinary complaint if he continued. The board members have asked the lawyer not to pull out.

Davis also confirmed that three board members’ terms expired at the end of September, meaning the mayor could appoint replacements. No decision has been made on whether to do that, Davis said.

When the current board members’ nominations were sent to the City Council, records indicated their terms would not end until 2019 or 2020. Davis said that was a drafting error in the documents.

Bridal Pearson, the board’s chairman, said the timing of a director being appointed and the questions over board members’ terms of office seemed to him to be retaliation for filing the lawsuit.

“It feels like there’s been a hostile takeover of the office of civil rights,” he said.

Pearson, whose term has not expired, said board members expected there might be consequences of taking legal action, but decided it was better to fight.

“What’s more important: for us to keep our board jobs or to really fight for the citizens?” he said.

Davis said the hiring of Ingram and the matter of the board members’ terms are not retaliatory moves.

“The hiring process has been going on for weeks,” he said. “I just learned about the expiration of the dates as I was assembling information for the transition.”

Davis said there is a lot of common ground between him and the board members: Both sides want to change the law that shrouds police misconduct records in secrecy.

“They really want a new law,” he said. “I want a new law too.”

Davis said officers are uniquely at risk of facing false allegations that ought not to become public, but that people also deserve to know about misconduct by police officers.

“There are a lot of people in the city who believe the level of secrecy around police discipline is much too high,” he said. “The challenge will be trying to find a middle ground that properly preserves the privacy of law enforcement officers.”

Pearson said it’s easy for officials to say they support transparency, but that he judges Davis on his actions.

“Everyone says they believe in transparency, but the work that makes that happen in an entrenched power structure — that can be messy,” he said.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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