After months of fraught debate on how to best create a police accountability board in Anne Arundel County, eight board members were approved Monday by the County Council.
The county residents who were nominated were chosen by County Executive Steuart Pittman out of 89 applicants. The board will be responsible for logging and reviewing complaints about police misconduct.
Every jurisdiction in Maryland must have a board created and prepared to field complaints starting July 1, according to a state law enacted last year. The county executive’s chief of staff, chief administrative officer, director of equity, diversity and inclusion and others in the administration reviewed every application, said Pete Baron, director of government relations for Pittman.
Fourteen people were interviewed before the eight were chosen. The bill creating the board stipulated that the diversity of the board members should reflect the diversity of the county. However, Pittman said he wanted the board to be more diverse than the county to ensure the most heavily policed communities would have the most representation on the board.
According to the Anne Arundel County Health Department, the county is about 70% white, about 17% Black and about 8% Hispanic. Four of the board members are African-American, two are white and two are Hispanic, Pittman said.
Pittman advised his staff to look for people with experience in health care, law and other fields that work closely with residents. The board needed to be composed of highly impressive individuals, he said, as this body will certainly be under heavy scrutiny once it starts its work.
The board members are: Shawn Ashworth, educator and nonprofit leader; Barney Gomez, retired special agent and Vietnam veteran; Kymberly Jackson, attorney and law professor at Anne Arundel Community College; Sarah Kivett, employee conduct investigator and former law enforcement officer; Kenneth Moore, pastor, professor and retired firefighter; Daniel Watkins, board-certified nurse executive and behavioral health professional; Anne Williams-Kinard, local business owner and Jeanette Ortiz, law and education policy expert with Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Ortiz will serve as chair.
“I believe [the board] will be fair,” Pittman said. “I’m optimistic.”
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley and the Annapolis City Council will recommend one member to the board from Annapolis. Pittman will appoint that member. Applications are currently being reviewed by the mayor and City Council. They will make their recommendation to Pittman soon after, said Mitchelle Stephenson, a city spokesperson.
Moore said he feels he’ll bring an important perspective to the board after serving in the military and as a firefighter and teaching at Anne Arundel Community College. Next month, Moore is starting a new job as senior pastor at John Wesley United Methodist Church in Glen Burnie. He’ll be wrapping up his role at Zion United Methodist Church in Lexington Park.
“I’m very much engaged with young folks — people of color — and I’ve experienced some of these misunderstandings [between police and residents] that exist and, as we engage with each other and have conversations, there will be more clarity,” Moore said.
Police interactions must be viewed with nuance, Moore said, promising to thoroughly analyze every case that is brought before the board.
“When there is wrong, there needs to be someone that speaks out to it but when there’s a misunderstanding that we also acknowledge that,” he said. “There’s good and bad in all things.”
Kivett, director of investigations and compliance for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said she’s thrilled to see the board coming to life because it will connect police and residents, two community groups that have been disjointed for too long.
“I think it is a needed element between the police department and the public,” Kivett said. “I’m happy to have the experience and the opportunity to be a part of it.”
Some groups were less enthusiastic about the board, namely the Anne Arundel County Coalition for Police Accountability, a collection of local human rights organizations that strongly opposed the board because it lacked independent investigatory powers. The original bill establishing the board did not allow it to conduct investigations, only to process and review cases before handing them off to the law enforcement agency in question to investigate.
Despite copious and often heartbreaking testimony from members of the coalition pleading with the council to create a system that didn’t involve law enforcement agencies investigating their own members, the bill passed largely unchanged in April.
During a council meeting last month a resident named Phillip Ateto dressed up as a piece of excrement to symbolize what he thought of the police accountability board as it passed. He later released a stink bomb in the chambers requiring the room to be evacuated. Ateto was later charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.
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Coalition member Lynda Davis submitted a letter on behalf of the opposition group to the council and county executive opposing the selections.
“Following the passage of the bill creating the Anne Arundel County PAB, county officials have continued to build the Police Accountability Board without involvement of directly impacted residents, Black-led organizations, and organizations working in communities disproportionately stopped, searched and arrested,” the letter stated.
The coalition went on to cite concerns with the requirements for being on the board, possible influence from law enforcement in the selection process and connections between nominees and law enforcement agencies.
County Council member Sarah Lacey, a Jessup Democrat — who worked with council member Lisa Rodvien, an Annapolis Democrat, to attempt to meet the coalition’s requests — was the only one to vote against the nominations.
“I will be voting against this resolution, not having anything to do with the quality or caliber of nominees, but as an objection to the process,” Lacey said.
Rodvien agreed that she still has concerns about the board and the process by which it was created, but said the deadline is fast approaching and, by state law, the county must have a board by July 1.
“This does not have to be a closed door,” Rodvien said. “If there are concerns that we have about this bill I certainly hope we can encourage the General Assembly to address some of them.”