State and local politicians continued the call Monday for heightened scrutiny of Baltimore police officers who are the focus of brutality allegations, urging tougher penalties for offenders and greater disclosure of internal discipline.
"Police brutality is completely inexcusable. I'm going to apply justice fairly, even to those who wear a badge," said Marilyn Mosby, who is expected to be the next Baltimore state's attorney. The Democrat is the only major party nominee on the ballot, though she faces opposition in the Nov. 4 election from a write-in candidate.
Responding to results of a six-month Baltimore Sun investigation into brutality allegations, Mosby and challenger Russell Neverdon said they would hold officers more accountable than Gregg L. Bernstein, the departing city state's attorney.
"I will have a zero tolerance for police misconduct and brutality," Neverdon said.
The Sun's investigation revealed that the city has been involved in 102 court judgments and settlements since 2011, making payouts of about $5.7 million. The victims ranged from teenagers to octogenarians, and in almost every case, criminal charges were dropped against the victims of the alleged beatings.
Bernstein has defended his role in such cases, noting that his office had prosecuted 10 officers for assault and 10 others for less serious offenses since 2011. In some high-profile deaths, officers were not prosecuted because they had only seconds to make decisions — cases very different from those where officers assault handcuffed suspects, he added.
Bernstein said improved training and recruitment, a better disciplinary process and greater transparency are needed to build the commnity's trust in police.
Some lawmakers echoed those concerns Monday, calling for the General Assembly to revise laws that prevent the public from learning about the internal discipline of officers accused of misconduct.
"We need to know the discipline in these cases," said Del. Jill P. Carter, noting that only a "closed network of insiders" know the outcome of cases.
Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat and law professor, said he is hearing more clamor from other officeholders about the need for more transparency involving police officers..
"It's a scandal that there are so many cases in Baltimore," Raskin said about The Sun's investigation. "The reason we have government is to protect people from arbitrary violence."
Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said he understands the public's frustration with and lack of trust in the Police Department — even though it has made a host of reforms over the past 18 months.
"What is clear for us, we will not tolerate the abuse of power," he said.
Rodriguez stressed that Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake are committed to transparency and transforming the agency. He noted that officials spoke publicly about two recent cases in which police were caught on camera hitting suspects. The leaders suspended an officer in one incident, and defended the other officer; both cases are being investigated.
Rodriguez said the agency "will go wherever evidence takes them" in misconduct cases, while cautioning that credible evidence of misconduct is needed to get rid of rogue officers. Regarding the accounts of broken bones and battered faces uncovered in The Sun's investigation, Rodriguez vowed to make sure that mistakes are not being made when residents lodge complaints.
Every case will be thoroughly investigated, he said, urging residents to come forward with any allegations. "We take them very seriously."
Since 2011, 317 lawsuits have been filed against city officers alleging civil rights and constitutional violations such as false arrest, battery and false imprisonment. Dozens of cases are pending.
On Sunday, Rawlings-Blake stressed that the incidents cited in lawsuits detailed by The Sun occurred between 2007 and 2010 and that the police force is undergoing a transformation.
Carter scoffed at that, pointing to the recent beatings caught on video.
"It should be a matter of priority and urgency," Carter said about the mayor. "These issues are not going to be fixed until serious measures are taken."
Although it would only be a symbolic move, Carter called on Rawlings-Blake to issue an executive order condemning police brutality in the city.
Rawlings-Blake, through a spokesperson, said: "Police misconduct is an issue I have personally worked on for several years, as is evident by the reforms already underway within the police department as well as my proactive outreach to the community over the past months. I didn't create these problems, but my track record demonstrates I'm committed to fixing them. As I've said before, I'm not interested in piecemeal change. I want to see bold reforms and we will continue fighting until we get there."
Carter has also led a charge to revise Maryland's law enforcement Bill of Rights, which some critics say is too protective of officers.
The law requires that disciplinary actions against police go through a three-person trial board. Before the board rules, the police commissioner may suspend an officer without pay only if he or she is charged with a felony.
The law gives officers 10 days to retain an attorney before they can be questioned by superiors, and lets the attorney strike members of the trial board hearing the case. Additionally, the law states an officer may not be investigated on a brutality accusation unless it was made within 90 days of the incident.
Carter said Tuesday she plans to push proposals, including more oversight of the police training commission, to make sure Maryland officers are properly trained and educated.
Raskin said any changes that create transparency need to guarantee that privacy laws are not violated for officers and other government workers.
Since August, the nation's attention has been focused on a white officer's shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. — an incident that triggered days of violent protests. The officer said he acted in self-defense, but many area residents saw the shooting as a symptom of racially biased policing.
In the wake of The Sun's investigation, religious and community leaders have called on the Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation to examine police policies in Baltimore. The department did not respond Monday to a request to comment.