Karen J. Kruger, a leading national legal authority on police discipline and legal issues relating to public safety, an adviser to most of the state’s police departments and a former ballerina, died of complications from multiple myeloma April 21 at her Towson home. She was 64.
“I first met Karen in 2000 when I was a legal adviser to the Baltimore Police Department, and she became a close friend and mentor,” said Maria Carmen Korman, who is now an assistant attorney general with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
“No one knew more about advising police departments on these issues in Maryland than Karen,” Ms. Korman said. “For police chiefs and judges, she was the go-t person on these issues.”
Karen June Kruger, daughter of the Rev. Ralph Kruger, a Lutheran pastor, and June Kruger, an educator, was born in St. Louis, then moved with her family to Rockville. Because of her father’s pastoral career, they moved to Northport, Long Island in New York when she was 11.
After graduating from Long Island Lutheran High School in Brookville, New York, Ms. Kruger earned a bachelor’s degree in 1979 in dance from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, and a master’s degree in fine arts ballet in 1981 from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Ms. Kruger danced professionally for the Philadelphia Ballet, formerly the Pennsylvania Ballet, before enrolling in law school.
“I then realized that it was a career for young people, and I would not always be young,” Ms. Kruger said in an interview with Discover Criminal Justice. “So, I decided to go to law school and thought that it would be a good fit for me in terms of my career.”
She obtained her law degree in 1986 from Rutgers University Law School and a master of law degree in 2006 from American University.
She began her legal career as a deputy district attorney in Fresno, California, and three years later, became an assistant attorney general in the criminal investigation division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.
From 1992 until 2005, she was an assistant attorney general at the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and primarily worked on law enforcement issues. Throughout her career, she was a strong advocate for women in policing and focused primarily on the treatment of pregnant police officers.
In 2005, Ms. Kruger became senior assistant county attorney for the Harford County Department of Law and was also general counsel to the Harford County Sherriff’s Office.
After leaving Harford County in 2009, Ms. Kruger joined the Baltimore law firm of Funk & Bolton P.A. in the firm’s local government practice group. She also worked yearly with the Maryland State Legislature on law enforcement issues and was one of the leading attorneys who trained and practiced under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
In 1974, Maryland became the first state to enact a Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
“This provides for certain investigations and procedural mechanisms that a police department has to follow before it can discipline or fire a police officer,” she explained in the Discover Criminal Justice interview. “In my practice, I handle a lot of cases representing departments who need to remove unfit personnel but have to go through this mechanism — which is in the arena of administrative law, so that’s a third arena in which I get to practice; administrative law, civil law, and criminal law.”
In 2014, when the Baltimore Police Department faced criticism after an officer was caught on video punching a suspect at a bus stop, an outside audit of the Internal Affairs Division that had been commissioned by Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, revealed “many flaws” within the division that resulted from detectives “who lack proper training, work under decades-old processes and are often pulled from their duties for other tasks,” The Baltimore Sun reported.
“Such shortcomings lead to incomplete investigations and hamper the agency’s effort to build community trust, Karen Kruger concluded in a 21-page audit obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a Public Information Act request,” the newspaper reported.
Ms. Kruger addressed issues she discovered in the audit that took her six months to complete. “If you have weak front-line supervisors, you’re going to have problems,” she said in an interview with The Sun. “The police commissioner should not have to micromanage 3,000 employees ... This has been the elephant in the room for many years.”
In 2015, after advocates for police accountability urged Maryland lawmakers to make major changes in the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, Ms. Kruger in an interview with The Associated Press, stood by a “rule requiring claims to be filed within 90 days,” the AP reported.
She explained in the interview that the “90-day limit was created to deter frivolous lawsuits that police faced. She noted that police departments are not barred from conducting investigations after the 90-day limit.”
In the Discover Criminal Justice interview, Ms. Kruger explained the focus of her legal career.
“My primary responsibility is to provide legal advice to police chiefs and sheriffs and heads of police agencies,” she said in the Discover Criminal Justice interview. “My goal with respect to that is to protect police chiefs and departments from any type of liability that may arise from personnel action, policy deficiencies, training deficiencies, management supervision issues, issues relating to equipment inadequacy — all those types of areas where there might be civil liability coming from citizens who file law suits.”
She added: “I am most committed in my job to making sure that people who aren’t suited for the law enforcement profession are removed. There’s nothing more galling to me than a corrupt police officer. I believe it is totally unacceptable both for liability reasons and for the safety of other officers. I believe that it [police work] is very important work.”
“She was always very fair and balanced,” Ms. Korman said. “She protected the rights of law enforcement as well as uncovering wrongdoing of law enforcement. She also protected the rights of those who were victims of police misconduct. When she saw something, she’d slow down and evaluate it. She was just incredible.”
Ms. Kruger also conducted classes for law enforcement officers with an instructional focus on investigating police misconduct matters based on the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
While with Funk & Bolton P.A., one important client was the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association, for whom she served as executive director and general counsel. For many years, she was general counsel for the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association.
In 2017, she left the law firm and was the first woman to be appointed executive director of the Maryland Police Training Commission, from which she retired in 2019. She continued to maintain a private practice, Kruger Law LL, representing Maryland police chiefs and sheriffs, until closing it earlier this year because of failing health.
In January 2011, Ms. Kruger was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and that summer, received a bone-marrow transplant from a donor, Lucas Townsend, 22, a resident of Marshall, Michigan, and a student at Northern Michigan University.
The Morning Sun
A year later, they were finally allowed to contact each other after they filled out a from through the Be A Match Foundation, and Mr. Townsend traveled to Towson to finally met the woman who was the recipient of his bone marrow.
“You could have turned out completely different, and I still would have been happy to meet you, no matter what,” he told Ms. Kruger, reported The Towson Times. “I just wanted to do it to help whoever it was, and finally meeting you and your relatives and close friends and seeing all the people — I’m part of their life now, too.”
Interested in the arts, Ms. Kruger was an avid supporter of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University and the Kennedy Center.
She enjoyed Pilates, swimming and dancing, and she and her husband were also world travelers.
A memorial service will be held at noon June 10 at the Mansion House, 1876 Mansion House Drive, at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.
Ms. Kruger is survived by her husband of 11 years, Gary McLhinney, who recently retired as chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police; a daughter, Annie L. Lacher of Charlotte, North Carolina; and a brother, Tim Kruger of Ventura, California. An earlier marriage to Kim Lacher ended in divorce.
This story has been updated. A previous version incorrectly stated when the memorial service is. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.