Gov. Hogan vetoes key parts of Maryland police reform package; General Assembly begins votes to override him

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed most of a landmark police reform package Friday evening, setting up a faceoff with the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, where leaders have vowed to pass the legislation into law with or without his support.

The three bills rejected by the Republican governor contain nearly all of the most controversial provisions in the sweeping four-part Maryland Police Accountability Act. The package overwhelmingly passed the legislature earlier this week, despite vehement objections from police unions and opposition by nearly all Republican members of the legislature.


Top Democrats contend the legislation is needed urgently to restore public trust and confidence in law enforcement and meets demands from protesters for greater police accountability and transparency.

Less than two hours after the vetoes were announced, the legislature got to work overturning them. The House took one vote Friday night, with the rest of the necessary votes expected before lawmakers adjourn their annual session at midnight Monday.


One of the bills Hogan vetoed would allow the public to obtain disciplinary records and complaints against officers in the state, files that are currently confidential, and put new limits on when police can obtain so-called “no-knock” search warrants.

The second would rewrite a legal standard for when officers can use force — requiring that it be “necessary and proportional” — and create new criminal penalties for serious instances of excessive force by police.

The third would overhaul how officers in Maryland are disciplined and how complaints are handled. It would repeal the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a 1974 law that guarantees job protections and due process rights for officers accused of wrongdoing, and replace it with a new system controlled largely by civilians. That bill also would more than double the limit on how much police departments sued in state court can be forced to pay in damages and set up a process for state regulators to kick problem officers out of the profession.

In a statement announcing the vetoes, Hogan said the effect of the legislation would be to “further erode police morale, community relationships and public confidence.” He said it would backfire by causing “great damage to police recruitment and retention.”

The House of Delegates voted 95-42 Friday night to overturn the veto of the bill to repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and replace it with a new disciplinary process. It’s sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat.

The House override took less than 15 minutes and was followed by a burst of applause before delegates got back to work on other bills.

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, who shepherded the bills through the House, called the speaker’s bill “groundbreaking” and worthy of support.

“We didn’t slap it together, like the governor said. This was painstakingly put together to protect Black and brown folks in our state,” said Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat.


Signaling his concerns Thursday about the bills, Hogan criticized the legislative process, particularly in the House. He said on WBAL-AM in Baltimore that at that point, “we haven’t even had time to read what they slapped together.”

The veto the House voted to override Friday night now goes to the Senate, which planned to take it up Saturday. The other bills vetoed by Hogan originated in the Senate, so that chamber must act first on them.

Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said in a statement that “restoring trust in policing” is one of his chamber’s priorities. Once the vetoes are overturned, “we look forward to working with all stakeholders and partners in government to ensure these laws build a stronger and safer Maryland.”

The only bill in the package the governor did not veto is one that will create a statewide body tasked with investigating all civilian deaths at the hands of police in Maryland. The unit, housed in the Maryland attorney general’s office, would turn its findings over to a local state’s attorney to decide whether to pursue criminal charges against an officer. The governor agreed to let that bill become law without his signature.

Altering the use-of-force standard drew the most vehement opposition during legislative debate. GOP lawmakers such as Sen. Justin Ready of Carroll County said it would tip the scales against officers and threaten them with prison terms of up to 10 years over split-second decisions made in stressful and dangerous situations.

Those pressing for the change argued that the current standard — outlined by a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision — is broken, giving police too much freedom use force against civilians and making it too hard to hold officers accountable after avoidable killings or beatings.


Hogan called the new standard “a vague and undefined test” in his veto message to lawmakers. He termed the new criminal penalties “unnecessary and harmful” because prosecutors already can charge officers in egregious cases with crimes such as assault or murder.

“I cannot support a hindsight review of an officer’s actions when the officer must react in a split second to a deadly situation that could pose a threat to their own life and the lives of citizen bystanders,” Hogan wrote.

Sen. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored some of the legislation vetoed by Hogan and has pressed for similar bills for years, repeatedly listed during legislative meetings the names of people killed by police in Maryland to highlight the urgency and life-and-death stakes of the issue.

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Supporters of the legislation argued that the secrecy surrounding how departments handle complaints against officers — most of which are dismissed without any discipline being meted out — has eroded trust in law enforcement. They say public scrutiny of disciplinary records would let residents judge whether law enforcement adequately polices itself. Critics, including Hogan, contended that releasing all complaints — even those deemed baseless by internal investigators — is unfair and could tarnish the reputations of good officers.

The governor did not address the public records changes specifically in his veto message for that bill, but contended the restrictions on no-knock warrants would put “the lives of the officers, as well as the occupants of the dwelling, at unnecessary risk.”

Before the House vote to override the veto, Atterbeary denounced Hogan’s vetoes in a series of tweets.


The governor, Atterbeary wrote, “is telling the victims of #PoliceBrutality & their families that their lives don’t matter. He is telling Black Marylanders that systemic racism in policing doesn’t exist here. SHAME ON HIM. He is telling my children & all other Black children in the state he does NOT care about their futures.”

Hogan also chose not to veto legislation giving voters in Baltimore a chance to decide whether the city should take full control of the Baltimore Police Department, which has been a state agency since just before the Civil War. The question would appear on local ballots in either 2022 or 2024.

The governor didn’t endorse the measure, but opted not to block it. If approved by Baltimore voters, local police control would likely give Baltimore’s mayor and City Council greater power to regulate the department.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.