Baltimore Mayor Pugh opposes state commission to investigate police corruption

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday she opposes a proposal to establish a state commission to investigate unanswered questions surrounding the city police department’s disgraced Gun Trace Task Force — but wants her police chief to pursue such an inquiry.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, proposed creating a special commission Tuesday to investigate proven and alleged corruption that emerged in the federal trial of the task force, including how high up the corruption may have gone and whether anyone might have ignored the officers’ actions.

Pugh said at her weekly news conference that a state investigation is unnecessary because the Baltimore Police Department is already operating under a federal consent decree. She added that Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa is soliciting private donations to set up his own independent commission.

“Sen. Ferguson called me up yesterday” about creating a state commission, Pugh said. “I asked Sen. Ferguson if he would have a conversation with the police commissioner first. The police commissioner has already reached out to funding sources and is already setting up an independent body to do that. Some things we don’t need legislation for.”

Introduced as an amendment to Ferguson’s bill that calls for regular state auditing of the city police department, the proposal would establish the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing.

The commission, which would have subpoena power, would be tasked with conducting a 20-month investigation into Baltimore police corruption with a preliminary report due at the end of 2018 and a final report due at the end of 2019.

It would have the ability to call witnesses to testify and the power to compel production of written and electronic records and other documents.

But Pugh said federal officials are already keeping a close eye on police — after the Justice Department found that officers routinely violated the constitutional rights of local residents, particularly in predominantly poor, black neighborhoods; used excessive force; mistreated protesters, youths and people with mental disabilities; and dismissed sexual assault complaints improperly.

“We’re already under federal mandate. We’re being monitored by the Justice Department,” she said. “I would support an independent body that is not led by the state.”

The federal case against the Gun Trace Task Force is among the worst corruption scandals ever to hit the police department. Six officers pleaded guilty to various federal crimes, including racketeering and robbery, with some of them flipping on their former colleagues and helping federal prosecutors secure guilty verdicts against the two officers who went to trial.

Ferguson said an investigation — even an independent one — created by the city police would be insufficient to restore public trust.

“In order to restore trust in the Baltimore Police Department, it’s difficult for me to believe that an internal investigation is sufficient,” Ferguson said. “An internal investigation can’t change state laws. The consent decree can’t change state laws. Only the governor and the General Assembly can change laws. If the Baltimore Police Department is to remain a state entity, there must be state investment in reforms.”

He said he hoped Pugh and De Sousa would join in with a state investigation.

“I commend the commissioner for the proactive approach he’s demonstrated and the mayor’s insistence upon it, but that does not remove the absolutely necessity that the state thoroughly get to the bottom of this tragedy,” he said.

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