The battle for Police oversight
Police Oversight Measure Considered in Annapolis
BY DON RUSH
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Advocates for police reform are urging the approval of a legislative package that would broaden the scope of law enforcement accountability.
The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Equality is hosting a news conference Thursday morning in Annapolis for support of three bills that address investigations into police misconduct and propose guidelines for the use of officer body cameras.
One measure would authorize the state prosecutor to investigate the deaths of anyone who died either through the actions or omissions of a police officer.
Another bill would alter requirements under the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights for making a complaint against an officer.
The measures are scheduled for committee hearings Thursday afternoon.
Advocates, police square off over brutality legislation
By Timothy B. Wheeler The Baltimore Sun
Civil rights advocates, law enforcement spar over police brutality bills.
Civil rights advocates and families of alleged victims of police brutality urged state lawmakers Thursday to improve law enforcement accountability, saying Maryland is not immune to widespread concerns about the use of excessive force by officers.
"Enough is enough," said Marion Gray-Hopkins, whose 19-year-old son, Gary, was shot to death by a Prince George's County police officer 15 years ago.
She joined rights advocates and others at a news conference before a Senate hearing on several bills. One would spell out when police wearing body cameras must turn them on. Another would make it easier to file excessive force complaints against officers and speed up internal investigations of such incidents.
"We're not here to pick on cops, only bad cops," said Ryan Dennis, a spokesman for the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Equality.
But law enforcement officials turned out in force to oppose the bills, arguing that they go too far and would be counterproductive.
A police union official warned that changing the rules for internal investigations could worsen police-community relations rather than improve them. And a spokesman for the state's police chiefs said that the body camera standards under consideration are so complicated they would discourage police departments from fitting their officers with them.
While the deaths of unarmed black men during confrontations with police in Missouri and New York have sparked national debate, advocates say incidents in Maryland have fueled similar mistrust of law enforcement in minority communities.
A six-month Baltimore Sun investigation, for instance, found that Baltimore taxpayers had paid nearly $6 million since 2011 to settle 102 lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct. Officers had battered dozens of residents during questionable arrests, the investigation revealed, resulting in broken bones, head trauma, organ failure and even death.
Responding to community anger over those revelations, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to make a comprehensive review of the Police Department.
The mayor and police commissioner also have said they support body cameras as a way to rebuild public trust, and other police departments are moving to adopt them as well.
Sen. Victor R. Ramirez, a Prince George's County Democrat, said he believes there needs to be a statewide "framework" for how the cameras are used. His bill would not require police departments to use cameras. But in those that do, he said, officers need to know when they should be filming, and when they should not.
"Ultimately, what we're trying to do is bridge law enforcement and our citizens, build that relationship," he said.
Civil rights advocates endorsed the bill, particularly a provision barring the use of the cameras to film protest demonstrations. They said the cameras should not be used to spy on constitutionally protected activity.
But local officials, prosecutors and police chiefs complained that Ramirez's bill would cause problems. They urged lawmakers to leave it up to each department to write its own policy.
"This is micromanaging when I can turn cameras on and when [to] turn it off," said Joseph Cassilly, Harford County state's attorney. He called the bill confusing and restrictive, and predicted it would complicate prosecution of criminal cases by prompting litigation over whether the cameras had been properly used.
John Fitzgerald, speaking for the Maryland association of police chiefs, suggested the prohibition on filming protests was counterproductive. If violence flares, Fitzgerald, chief of the Chevy Chase municipal force, said he wants cameras running so he could be sure his officers act appropriately.
Another point of contention is a provision requiring officers to get civilians' consent to film when they're not in a public setting or dealing with emergency or criminal activity. Maryland law generally requires the consent of anyone being recorded, and Ramirez said that complicates how body cameras are used.
But opponents said the legislation is too rigid. With officers facing a wide variety of situations in the field, they argue that the standards could inappropriately restrict them in deciding when to film and when not to.
"Officers would have to choose between common sense and violating the law," Fitzgerald said.
Even some supporters of the body-camera bill cautioned that it needed to be tweaked.
Nicholas Blendy, an aide to Rawlings-Blake, pointed to estimates that body cameras could cost Baltimore $5.5 million to $7.9 million a year. He urged lawmakers to take those costs into consideration and not set standards that are too detailed.
Advocates and officials also squared off over proposed changes to a Maryland law that grants police officers certain rights in defending themselves against misconduct complaints.
David Rocah, of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the state's "law enforcement officer's bill of rights" one of the most protective of police in the country. He told lawmakers it was hindering investigations of civilians' complaints and fueling public mistrust.
The bill put in by Sen. Lisa Gladden, a Baltimore city Democrat, would do away with a requirement that citizens file an excessive-force complaint within 90 days of the incident. It also would eliminate a provision barring questioning of a police officer accused of misconduct for 10 days after an incident.
The 10-day rule, Rocah said, "more than anything else drives the public perception that law enforcement officers are playing by a special set of rules."
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a lawyer himself, pointed out that the delay allows an accused police officer time to get a lawyer to advise him on his rights.
And law enforcement officials and organizations countered that the changes proposed by Gladden would tip the system against police officers and even violate their constitutional rights.
Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, asserted in written testimony that the bill would in fact "create an even deeper divide between law enforcement and the community it is sworn to defend."
In the case of Gray-Hopkins' son, officials admitted no wrongdoing on the part of the officer or police department. Officers involved in recent deaths in Ferguson, Mo., and New York were cleared of wrongdoing.
A third accountability measure sought by civil rights advocates, which would have authorized a special prosecutor to investigate deaths at the hands of police, was withdrawn by the sponsor.
Sen. C. Anthony Muse, the lead Senate sponsor, said he pulled it so that the affected parties — including the Fraternal Order of Police, police chiefs and state's attorneys — could hammer out a deal with advocates before next year's session.
"I would rather see this done as a team effort," said Muse, a Prince George's County Democrat. "It makes a powerful statement to the community if we can do it that way."
Muse said that if no agreement is reached, he would still reintroduce the bill next year. He said the state prosecutor had not expressed any reservations about the legislation.
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.
Yancey calls for civilian board to investigate police misconduct
Yawu Miller | 2/25/2015, 10:59 a.m.
City Councilor Charles Yancey filed legislation that would create an independent board to review complaints of police misconduct. Banner Photo
City Councilor Charles Yancey has filed legislation that would establish an independent civilian review board with the power to investigate allegations of police misconduct and impose sanctions against officers.
Yancey’s proposal, which has not yet had a hearing in the Council, comes at a time of increased public scrutiny of police practices in the wake of high-profile police killings of unarmed civilians across the U.S.
“It’s important for elected officials at all levels of government to understand that police accountability is a serious issue,” Yancey said.
Yancey is proposing a board of 11 members appointed by community-based organizations. The board would have the power to subpoena witnesses in its investigations.
That approach differs from the current system, in which all investigations of police misconduct are handled by the department’s own Internal Affairs Division. Civilians unsatisfied with an IAD investigation can appeal their cases to Civilian Ombudsman Oversight Panel (CO-OP), which reviews select IAD investigations.
Mayor Martin Walsh announced last week his appointment of two new members to the three-member CO-OP panel. Former Boston Health and Human Services Chief Larry Mayes and former Judge Regina Quinlan will join New England Law associate professor Natashia Tidwell on the board, which reviews cases that have been investigated by the police department’s Internal Affairs Division, but does not conduct its own investigations.
“The fact that the mayor made the appointments shows he thinks police accountability is important,” said Yancey.
Few cases reviewed
The CO-OP board has reviewed just a small sliver of the hundreds of cases of police misconduct filed with the Internal Affairs Division over the last few years. In 2012, the last year for which CO-OP provides data on its website, civilians filed 324 complaints against police, of which the board reviewed 31. While CO-OP does not have the power to conduct its own investigations, it reviews IAD investigations and makes a determination of whether the investigations were fair and thorough. Of the 31 cases it investigated in 2012, it flagged four as not fair or thorough.
Flagged cases are then referred to the police commissioner for review.
Because the current system relies on the police department’s own investigative arm, civilians have little chance of receiving a fair hearing, argues attorney David Milton, who specializes in cases of police misconduct.
“When we do help people go through the complaint process with Internal Affairs, we make sure they lower their expectations,” Milton said. “It’s a biased and totally ineffectual process.”
And the CO-OP board does little to improve the experience for complainants.
“They can play an important function, in terms of giving some feedback to the police,” Milton said. “But without subpoena power and the ability to conduct investigations and recommend disciplinary action, the CO-OP board is not as effective as it could be.”
Rasaan Hall, deputy director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, agrees.
“The absence of teeth — of the ability to do anything beyond investigate whether or not the process was fair and thorough — makes it meaningless,” he said. “They do a good job of providing reports and statistics. But beyond that, there’s nothing that goes toward police accountability.”
Hall said that for the CO-OP to be more effective it would need investigative powers and enough staff to conduct independent investigations.
“If there were really a commitment to a deeper level of accountability, you’d need to budget for paid staff,” he said.
Civilian oversight panels have been in place in U.S. cities since the late 1960s, when African Americans complained widely of police abuse. There are currently 200 civilian oversight boards in U.S. cities including New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
But police unions routinely object to civilian oversight. In January, off-duty police officers scuffled with civilians during a meeting of the St. Louis, Missouri Board of Alderman to discuss the establishment of a civilian review panel.
In the 13-member Boston City Council, Yancey’s measure has support from just two colleagues — Tito Jackson and Ayanna Pressley. The matter has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
Key West police oversight board wants medical records, testimony in Taser case
By ANTHONY CAVE
The 2011 case of a man Tased by Key West police officer Mark Siracuse was continued by Key West's Citizen Review Board, which reviews police-related complaints, at its meeting Monday at Old City Hall.
The board voted to reach out to two paramedics listed in the Care/American medical report for Matthew Murphy, a West Virginia man who's still at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami unable to walk or speak nearly four years after he was Tased.
"There are two stones that have not been turned over," CRB Vice Chairman Tom Milone said, referring to the paramedics.
According to initial police reports, Murphy, 27, "had his shirt off and had taken an aggressive stance" toward another man, Jason Moffet, on April 16, 2011, at 3:40 a.m. on Duval Street. Siracuse wrote in the report that Moffet and Murphy were arguing over someone using the N word.
After Murphy allegedly punched Moffet in the face, Siracuse Tased Murphy, "striking him with both probes."
Murphy fell and knocked his head on the pavement. He was taken to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami "due to a brain bleed," Siracuse wrote.
"You could hear his head fall, like hitting the concrete and stuff," Murphy's fiancee, Marie Annulysse, said in a sworn statement last August to CRB attorney Robert Cintron.
Moreover, Annulysse, in a complaint form submitted last July to the CRB, said Siracuse did not warn Murphy he could be Tased before Tasing him.
"He lied in his report," Annulysse said. "Using the Taser was excessive because he could have just ordered Matthew and the man to sit down."
Annulysse, who is Haitian-American, told Cintron that an older couple, Moffet and his girlfriend Beverly Anderson, allegedly made racial slurs including [N-word] lover" and "that's how you make monkey babies."
She also said she did not see Murphy hit Moffet, contrary to Siracuse's report.
"If Matt was dating a white girl, this wouldn't have happened," Annulysse wrote.
A July 2014 Monroe County State Attorney's Office investigative report found "no cause for further action" relating to the Murphy case, but Chief Investigator Christopher Weber wrote that the question of whether Key West police acted outside the scope of their authority when using the Taser "should be addressed."
In that same report, Siracuse told Weber that there was no mention of visible head trauma by anyone on scene, including medical personnel.
Besides Monday's CRB vote looking to question the two paramedics, CRB Executive Director Larry Beaver said Cintron has subpoenaed Lower Keys Medical Center for Murphy's medical records. LKMC has not responded as yet.
"He was there for a period of time before he was air-flighted out," Beaver said.