MCCRC “favorable with amendments” position on HB627, the ACLU body camera bill

policebodycameraimageMCCRC revised its formal position on proposed body camera legislation from opposition to SB482 to “favorable with amendments” for HB627— the best of three body camera bills considered by the House Judiciary Committee.  (The text of our statement is reproduced at the end of this post.)

We did so after closer consideration of the competing alternatives, and the fact that body cameras are currently in use in Maryland without any state guidelines whatsoever.  Both our praises of and concerns about HB627 remain the same; our March 12th testimony simply elaborated more fully on the concerns we have.

On the plus side, HB627/SB482 would have…

  • established clear protocols for turning on and off body cameras, rather than leaving that at the officer’s or police department’s discretion — essential if body cameras are to serve an accountability role
  • prohibited use of body cameras when police were present at constitutionally protected activities, e.g. demonstrations or religious services — essential if free speech is not to be chilled

But even HB627…

  • didn’t establish storage time limits — considered essential by the national ACLU
  • made it far too easy to review footage for non-complaint related reasons — potentially turning body camera systems into a Trojan Horse for surveillance purposes
  • didn’t clearly establish restrictions on sharing data with other agencies — a real and growing concern as Joint Terrorism Task Forces and federal agencies vacuum up local police data
  • focused on restrictions on stored data only, not on live, streaming data as well — potentially a significant regulatory loophole.

If none of the proposed bills this session were to become law, that would keep Maryland law enforcement body camera regulations in an unregulated status quo – perhaps salutarily chilling wider use of a problematic technology and public policy.  That’s because the status quo features at least some uncertainty whether body camera use by police is legal under Maryland’s Eavesdropping Act, which prohibits recording conversations without consent.  Getting an exception to that law was a major, stated goal of police advocates at the March 12th hearing — and, we suspect, of body camera vendors.  Unfortunately, they’re on their way to succeeding without any corresponding legislative control of how body cameras are implemented.

On the other hand, (1) body cameras are fervently supported by many of our friends and allies, (2) the uncertainty under the Eavesdropping Act was modest and might have been ended by some court case in the near future — and (3) it’s always regrettable when the Maryland legislature doesn’t fully exercise the authority it needs to in regulating a technology like body cameras.  As we’ve stated before, let the conversation continue.

Related body camera posts:

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Maryland body camera legislation – on its way to “worse than nothing”

policebodycameraimageThree body camera bills were considered by the Maryland House Judiciary committee on March 12.  Their statuses, as of this morning, are:

  • HB308 (Conaway: video cameras ) – Unfavorable Report by Judiciary (no motion)
  • HB533 (Sydnor: surveillance exception )  – Favorable Report by Judiciary (11-8); Third reading passed (129-11); First Reading Judicial Proceedings
  • HB627 (Rosenberg: body-worn cameras ) – Unfavorable Report by Judiciary (no motion)

I.e., HB308 and HB627 are dead, but HB533 has moved on to the “sweet 16,” as it were: its first reading (as yet unscheduled) by the opposite chamber.  Unfortunately, this outcome is “worse than nothing,” in the words of one civil liberties advocate.

March 12th body camera hearings: outlining the debate
In retrospect, the March 12th House Judiciary Committee hearings on body camera legislation seemed to us an exercise often not just in missing the forest for the trees, but in missing the ecosystem for the forest. Testimony and questions in the hearings focused almost entirely on three questions:

  • What were the Fourth Amendment implications of body camera footage under different circumstances at the time of videotaping?
  • Should the  Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) be modified to make it more difficult for third parties to obtain body camera footage?
  • Should the Maryland Wiretapping and Electronic Eavesdropping Act (which prohibits nonconsensual recording of private conversations), be modified to provide an exception for body camera footage?

In addition, there was discussion of why or why not “constitutionally protected” activities should not be recorded by body cameras (a stipulation of HB627). In each of these (relatively) narrow questions, we largely agree with the premises and/or language of HB627 and its supporters:

  • the Fourth Amendment issues at stake at the time of a stop or an accosting are entirely a consequence of the authority the officer exercises (i.e., whether the person involved is free to go).  The presence of a body camera has no bearing on those consequences.*  HB627 advocate and criminal defense attorney Jay Wendell Gordon:

    It is not a 4th Amendment issue for the police officer to make observations of what’s in his plain view, that does not trigger the 4th Amendment outside of the initial stop. So in fact your 4th Amendment rights are protected because the behavior of the officer is being recorded, and if there [are] any challenges as to the officer exceeding the scope of his authority, you have a record…

  • No, the MPIA should not be modified; the law already provides sufficient discretion to data custodians when third parties are requesting data; once those data are given over, rules attempting to govern the use of that information are unconstitutional under the First Amendment.  David Rocah (ACLU-MD):

    “If we change the MPIA to say that the data is not a public record and never needs to be made public, then we have completely defeated the purpose of doing this in the first place. Completely. That is not to say that every piece of video recorded by every officer is automatically releasable to any and every single person who asks for it. Our current PIA already has a structure for dealing with this kind of data, like all other kinds of …police data.”**

  • Eavesdropping rules should not be modified for body cameras, until and unless many safeguards are in place governing the operation of these devices and the handling of the streaming and stored data they generate.
  • Constitutionally protected activities — e.g., demonstrations, religious meetings — should already not be surreptitiously videotaped without warrant, but they should also not be openly videotaped by law enforcement body cameras because of the chilling effect on speech —  unless it’s observation of actual criminal activity.

Stepping back from those issues, though, support for body cameras per se was both all but unanimous and unexamined.  Moreover, virtually no consideration (beyond our own testimony) was given to how or whether body cam footage might need to be shielded from federal or joint task force access, whether storage time limits were an appropriate way to do that, or whether live body camera footage merited any separate, additional consideration.  It also seems to us that Fourth Amendment implications of body cam videotaping don’t begin and end with the authority exercised by the officer; new implications arise as stored or streamed data are examined by other law enforcement authorities for reasons having little or nothing to do with the stop.

Body camera supporter testimony
The pitches of the first two sponsors — Conaway and Sydnor were short; Sydnor in particular succeeded in making his HB533 seem almost innocuous: “very simple and straightforward and to the point.”  By contrast, HB627’s sponsor, Sam Rosenberg (D41, Baltimore City), had a more extensive opening statement — yet also wound up, however unfairly, sometimes seeming unclear on specifics, in part because negotiations about his bill (between ACLU and police chiefs) made the bill so subject to change.

ACLU panelist David Rocah explained that given the demand for body cameras — grounded in police abuses of their discretion — “we need some rules to ensure that the cameras are going to be on when they need to be and that citizens will have the autonomy and dignity to demand they’re off when they should be off. “ Jay Wendell Gordon noted that as a trial defense lawyer, he often (and without apology) seeks to introduce doubt about the veracity of police testimony; body camera footage would make that harder to do.

Ironically, it was ACLU Maryland board member and former police officer Garland Nixon who may have inadvertently suggested the amendment that HB627 foes attached to the stub that was HB533:

As a police officer walking around with a camera — or with anything — I am a lawsuit waiting to happen for both myself and the agency. … What we need to do is put this in place so that the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission can put together a singular training program and that all agencies can have a uniform way of implementing this…

Vice chair Kathleen Dumais was to musingly remember that statement later in the hearing.  Take out the “put this in place so” and one reads more or less exactly what HB533, as amended,  winds up doing: yes, statewide body camera protocols — but with all details left up to the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission.

Police testimony in opposition
What were some of the reasons police and police advocates gave for opposing HB627?

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MCCRC joins national coalition in concerns about federal law enforcement profiling guidance

scales_of_justiceMCCRC has joined a national coalition in praising progress but identifying continuing concerns about important federal anti-profiling guidelines released in December.  From the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights announcement:

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 80 other national, state, and local organizations this week sent a letter to President Obama expressing their concerns with the administration’s Guidance for Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Regarding the Use of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, National Origin, Religion, Sexual Orientation, or Gender Identity, released in December 2014.

[…]  despite significant progress, troubling exceptions and loopholes remain, such as the guidance not applying to state and local law enforcement. The guidance also retains exceptions for the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which disproportionately profile Latinos, Arabs, South Asians, Muslims, and Sikhs. Additionally, the guidance does not ban the troubling practice of “mapping,” data gathering, and surveillance of racial, ethnic, and religious communities. These activities are a pernicious form of profiling that associates criminal activity with racial, ethnic, or religious identity.

The text of the letter is provided below.

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Experts from broad coalition conduct briefing on bipartisan Surveillance State Repeal Act

Rep. Mark Pocan, sponsor of the Surveillance State Repeal Act

As reported in ThinkProgress and elsewhere, experts from across the political spectrum convened in the Cannon House Office Building on Tuesday afternoon to strongly advocate the Surveillance State Repeal Act (SSRA) before an audience of press, public, and congressional staff.  The act, numbered HR1466, was released by Representatives Pocan (D-WI) and Massie (R-KY) last week; they are seeking additional co-sponsors in the House and a partner bill in the Senate.  In his own brief comments, Rep. Pocan pointed out “this isn’t just tinkering around the edges, this is a meaningful overhaul of the system.”

On hand to discuss the proposed legislation — and the urgent need for it — were Patrick Eddington (CATO Institute, former senior policy adviser to Rep. Rush Holt), Zack Malitz (CREDO Action), Shahid Buttar (Bill of Rights Defense Committee, BORDC), Norm Singleton (Campaign for Liberty), and Nathan Leamer (R Street Institute, formerly staff of Justin Amash).

Patrick Eddington (CATO Institute) remarked that there are still no documented cases of mass surveillance stopping any attacks: “mass surveillance did not stop the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, the Boston Marathon bombers… all mass surveillance does at the end of the day is violate the rights and cause a chilling effect on [citizens]”, citing a Pew poll showing that fully one third of respondents have changed how they behave as a result of surveillance.  He concluded “before we get to the Memorial Day break on May 22d, your bosses are going to be asked to vote on legislation to extend the PATRIOT Act.  […] Your bosses… should not be contemplating a straight up vote on that in light of everything that we know now.”

Zack Malkin (CREDO Action) welcomed the sweeping nature of the SSRA: “The SSRA lays down a marker for what real reform will look like. It gives us an opportunity to get members of Congress on the record, as supporting real reform, or, alternately, siding with the intelligence community against the rights of the American public. This is the litmus test that we need.” He saw it as almost a test of Congress’s character: “the crisis that we’re facing isn’t even about the laws that are on the books. One thing that we’ve learned from Edward Snowden’s brave decision to reveal the full scope of government spying is that even the few laws that are intended to restrain intelligence community are often and routinely violated. …That has to change. Congress must reassert its role in checking executive power, overseeing America’s secret intelligence agencies, and protecting Americans from unconstitutional mass surveillance.”

Norm Singleton (Campaign for Liberty), Shahid Buttar (BORDC), Zack Malitz (CREDO Action), Patrick Eddington (CATO Institute

Shahid Buttar (BORDC) stressed that this was an opportunity for Congress to reclaim some of its due powers.   Addressing an audience largely composed of Hill staffers, he pointed out “If Congress is going to get lied to by executive officials and then summarily reauthorize powers… it is allowing its own power to check and balance the executive, to legislate with the full facts, simply to be told the truth under oath to be eroded.”

Buttar argued that the carefully limited authorities of the SSRA would actually restore both the intent of the Fourth Amendment and even the intent of PATRIOT Act authors like Rep. Norm Sensenbrenner — who had to learn of dragnet surveillance not from agency officials, but from Edward Snowden.  He also took aim at the frequent invoked 1979 Smith v. Maryland case as a sound legal basis for surveillance:

“That case was about particularly targeted surveillance of a particular person of whom authorities …in Maryland had suspicion of involvement in drug transactions. It was over a limited time. So we had a particular individual, with suspicion of criminal activity, bounded by time.  What we are talking about is unbounded, the entire state and indeed the entire world.  There is no suspicion of anyone required to come under the government tracking, and we’re talking about indefinite, constant surveillance.”

Norman Singleton (Campaign for Liberty), a former Ron Paul staffer, recalled that members of Congress actually did not have time to read the bill before voting on it — and that on review, it contained many provisions the Justice Department had been unable to slip by a Republican Congress in the 1990s. Yet the result was a system that didn’t help: “There’s so much data coming in that they have to sift through, that it’s very easy for a real threat to fall through the cracks.” He continued, “The Fourth Amendment is there for a reason. It’s not too much of a burden to ask that governments have a reason of probable cause to launch surveillance of a citizen.”  Mr. Singleton also mentioned the provision removing Executive Order 12333 as a basis for bulk collection: “This is an executive order that was signed in 1981 by President Reagan.  1981. Who here had a cell phone in 1981? Who here even had a home computer in 1981, much less a computer with Internet access?”

Nathan Leamer (R Street Institute), a former staffer for Justin Amash (R-MI), recalled the “long hard slog to get one small amendment” passed defunding the NSA activities revealed by Edward Snowden — an amendment that failed, narrowly (205-217), due in part to extremely disappointing votes by Representatives Van Hollen and Delaney from Montgomery County.  Urging his audience to encourage their bosses to co-sponsor the bill, Leamer said, [the SSRA] “sets the standard to address the Fourth Amendment concerns” expressed in phone calls, emails, and town halls from around the country.

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Press release, Rep. Mark Pocan: Pocan & Massie Introduce Legislation to Repeal PATRIOT Act

Surveillance StateLegislation would end NSA Dragnet Collection of Personal Communications
Washington, D.C. Today, U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) introduced the Surveillance State Repeal Act. The legislation would repeal dragnet federal surveillance laws, while overhauling the NSA’s domestic surveillance program.

“The warrantless collection of millions of personal communications from innocent Americans is a direct violation of our constitutional right to privacy,” said Rep. Pocan. “Revelations about the NSA’s programs reveal the extraordinary extent to which the program has invaded Americans’ privacy. I reject the notion that we must sacrifice liberty for security- we can live in a secure nation which also upholds a strong commitment to civil liberties. This legislation ends the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices, while putting provisions in place to protect the privacy of American citizens through real and lasting change.”

“The Patriot Act contains many provisions that violate the Fourth Amendment and have led to a dramatic expansion of our domestic surveillance state,” said Rep. Massie. “Our Founding Fathers fought and died to stop the kind of warrantless spying and searches that the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act authorize. It is long past time to repeal the Patriot Act and reassert the constitutional rights of all Americans. I am proud to co-sponsor Congressman Pocan’s bill and look forward to working with him on this issue.”


The Surveillance State Repeal Act, H.R. 1466, offers a complete repeal of the 2001 PATRIOT Act, which the NSA has cited as the legal basis for its phone metadata harvesting surveillance program. Additionally, the bill repeals the FISA Amendments Act, which contains provisions for email data harvesting, while overhauling the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. Additionally, the legislation makes retaliation against federal national security whistleblowers illegal and ensures any FISA collection against a US Person takes place only pursuant to a valid warrant based on probable cause.



The Surveillance State Repeal Act would:

  1. Repeal the PATRIOT Act (which contains the telephone metadata harvesting provision)
  2. Repeal the FISA Amendments Act (which contains the email harvesting provision), with the exception of the provisions regarding FISA court reporting and WMD intelligence collection.
  3. Makes retaliation against federal national security whistleblowers illegal and provides for the termination of individuals who engage in such retaliation.
  4. Ensure that any FISA collection against a US Person takes place only pursuant to a valid warrant based on probable cause (which was the original FISA standard from 1978 to 2001).
  5. Retain the ability for government surveillance capabilities to be targeted against a specific natural person, regardless of the type of communications method(s) or device(s) being used by the subject of the surveillance.
  6. Retain provisions in current law dealing with the acquisition of intelligence information involving weapons of mass destruction from entities not composed primarily of U.S. Persons.
  7. Prohibit the government from mandating that electronic device or software manufacturers build in so-called “back doors” to allow the government to bypass encryption or other privacy technology built into said hardware and/or software.
  8. Increase the terms of judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) from seven to ten years and allows their reappointment.
  9. Mandate that the FISC utilize technologically competent Special Masters (technical and legal experts) to help determine the veracity of government claims about privacy, minimization and collection capabilities employed by the US government in FISA applications.
  10. Mandate that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regularly monitor such domestic surveillance programs for compliance with the law, including responding to Member requests for investigations and whistleblower complaints of wrongdoing.
  11. Explicitly ban the use of Executive Order 12333 as a way of collecting bulk data

Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition is proud to be among the many national and local groups supporting this bipartisan effort to roll back the (bipartisan) surveillance state, including…

Organizational Support (national):  FreedomWorks, CREDO, Campaign For Liberty, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Demand Progress, Coalition for Peace Action, Defending Dissent Foundation, Restore the Fourth, National Libertarian Party, Media Alliance, Rights Working Group, We Are OneAmerica, Government Accountability Project, Code Pink, X-Lab, U.S. Labor Against the War, National Lawyers Guild.

Organizational Support (regional): Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MD), OMNI Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology (AR), Bay Area Civil Liberties Coalition (CA), Stop NYPD Spying (NY), Neighborhood UU Church of Pasadena (CA), Friends of the Constitution (WA), Dallas Peace Center (TX), Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights (IL), Cleveland Immigrant Support Network (OH)

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Law Enforcement Officers “Bill of Rights” reform hearings: a report — and next steps

by Fran Pollner

Police reform advocates didn’t just hold a rally on March 12th, they seized the opportunity to tell their stories again at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on 17 bills addressing police misconduct allegations and systemic reforms.

Among these 17 were three bills to alter the internal process under which complaints against police officers are investigated and reported. The most prominent, HB968, would amend the state’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR), a statute described by ACLU-Maryland attorney David Rocah as one of the two “most extreme” such documents among the “14 states in the whole country that have this kind of ‘bill of rights.’”

March 12 House Judiciary Committee hearings

Bill sponsor Jill Carter (D., Baltimore City) called the 41-year-old LEOBR a “shield” against appropriate investigation of complaints against officers, even those alleging brutality and involving the death of people in police custody. She cited as “patently unfair” the 10-day rule, “the gap” that allows an officer to be given witness statements and any other evidence gathered in the case prior to giving his or her own statement.

Moreover, she added, the “lion’s share of cases are never charged.” One reason is that the LEOBR gives citizens 90 days to file a complaint, a deadline that would be thrown out in the reform bill. “It’s not enough time,” Carter said. “The victim could be hospitalized, in jail, traumatized, unfamiliar with the process.”

Another reason is that citizens’ complaints may simply be ignored or turned against them, as was the case with Liz Howard, who testified that her filings were met only with hostility. “I was the one investigated, not the police officer.”

Marion Gray-Hopkins did file a timely complaint in the case of her murdered son, Gary, but the state’s attorney “failed to place an attorney who had ever prosecuted a murder case,” and the grand jury did not indict the involved officer. The status quo, she said, enables police officers to be “judge, jury, and executioner.”

It also enables repeat offenders, Abdul Salaam observed. He recounted a vicious beating he’d received in his driveway in July 2013 that sent him to the hospital and terrorized his three-year-old son. He later learned, from individuals he described as “good police officers,” that his assailants were known for that kind of behavior. Seventeen days later, the same officers who beat him were involved in the beating death of Tyrone West, whose sister, Tawanda Jones, testified that the officers were given immunity and 152 days to make their statements.

Another mother of a slain son, Olubunmi Comfort Olidupe, addressed some of her comments to the sea of police officers in the hearing room, “I say to you, if you see your comrades doing something bad, say something.”

Police Have Their Say
Police officers and representatives of police chiefs and commissioners and states attorneys from across the state of Maryland testified in force against the LEOBR reform bill, which they characterized as violating the due process rights of law enforcement officers. The LEOBR, they said, had served them and the citizens beautifully for 40 years.

Some dismissed the reality of those ill-served by the current system as “emotional,” presenting statistics on the numbers of police officers disciplined or fired in various jurisdictions as proof that justice was being done.

Some scapegoated Baltimore City, claiming that its unique failures were being used to saddle every jurisdiction with unnecessary and unfair (to law enforcement) so-called fixes to a system that was not broken.

Next Steps
Notwithstanding the police opposition, it may still be possible to get a favorable committee vote on the LEOBR reform bill. Kathleen Dumais (D., Montgomery County), committee vice chair, pledged to hearing attendees during the testimonies of those seeking redress that “this committee will work on the bill. It is not all or nothing. We will work through compromises.”

Let’s hold her to that — use our action alert to advocate LEOBR reform to the Maryland House and Senate leadership, and to our Montgomery County delegates and senators on the relevant committees. (Go ahead and email and/or call them even if you’re not from their district — just be up front about being from a different part of the county or the state.)

For more on the LEOBR reform bill – including text of the matching Senate version of the bill — see earlier posts includingLEOBR reform in Maryland — what is it, why is it needed?  Among its most important provisions are ones codifying, statewide, the possibility of civilian involvement in the police officer disciplinary review process, and, as noted above, ones ending the 90 day complaint deadline and the 10-day period during which officers facing complaints can delay obtaining counsel and wait to see witness testimony before being interrogated themselves.

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Video: March 12 MCJE police reform rally in Annapolis

Here is a video playlist of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Equality (MCJE) March 12 rally in Annapolis preceding the House Judiciary Committee hearings.


The playlist is in the order that people spoke. To navigate to the desired speaker, click the “= Playlist” symbol in the upper left corner and scroll down, or choose one of the speaker links below.  The rally — principally organized by MCJE’s Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle and the ACLU of Maryland — featured…

and police abuse victims and family…

  • Abdul Salaam, beaten 2013 by Baltimore PD (the same officers were involved in the Tyrone West killing)
  • Tawanda Jones, sister of Tyrone West, d. 2013, killed by Baltimore PD
  • Marion Gray-Hopkins, mother of Gary Hopkins, Jr., d. 1999, killed by PG County PD
  • Dorothy Copp Elliott, mother of Archie Elliott III, d. 1993, killed by PG County PD
  • Olubunmi Oludipe, mother of Emmanuel Okutuga, d. 2011, killed by Montg. County PD
  • Darlene Cain, mother of Dale Graham, d. 2008, killed by Baltimore PD

For an overview of the day and links to more detailed reports about different parts of those hearings (as those reports are completed), see “March 12th Annapolis rally and hearings build case for police reforms.”

As of this weekend, LEOBR reform legislation (SB566/HB968) is still stuck in both the Senate and House committees without an up or down vote.  Please continue to advocate for police reforms!  Visit our email alert, featuring links to  the ACLU MD email form to Maryland legislative leadership as well as individual (rewriteable) form emails and phone numbers for Montgomery County delegates and Senators on the relevant committees.

Rev. Heber Brown III fires up rally goers.

* The simple playlist link is:

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March 12th Annapolis rally and hearings build case for police reforms

Adam Jackson (Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle) speaks; behind him, r.t.l: Gerald Stansbury, (MD State Conf. NAACP), Sara Love (ACLU MD), Farajii Muhammad (AFSC), Tawanda Jones (behind banner)

A brisk, bright early spring day provided the perfect backdrop for a stirring rally for police reform on Annapolis’s “Lawyers Mall” last Thursday.

Speakers at the rally included Adam Jackson (Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle), Sara Love (ACLU MD), Gerald Stansbury (Maryland State Conf. of NAACP), Farajii Muhammad (AFSC/Young Leaders for Peace), and Rev. Heber Brown III (Pleasant Hope Baptist Church) — and also mothers of victims like Olubunmi Oludipe, Marion Gray-Hopkins, and Darlene Cain, all of who were also at our recent town hall on police abuses in Maryland.

The rally was followed by marathon House Judiciary Committee hearings on the subject, beginning at 1pm on Thursday, March 12th — and lasting until around 10pm that evening. Over 500 witnesses signed up to testify, including MCCRC’s Thomas Nephew, who submitted testimony regarding HB627, body camera legislation sponsored by Delegate Rosenberg.

Thomas Nephew (MCCRC) and Del. David Moon legislative aide Alicia Briancon.

Before the rally, MCCRC activists Fran Pollner and Thomas Nephew had already taken the opportunity to visit the offices of Delegate Moon and Delegate Smith to convey our support for police reform bills like HB968/SB566, the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights reform legislation that would authorize civilian participation in disciplinary hearing process, end the 10 day harbor for police to avoid interrogation following complaints of police-involved violence, and end the 90 day time limit for filing such complaints.

We also voiced concerns about what’s missing from body camera legislation: storage time limits, awareness of live body cam footage, and stronger prohibitions on retrospective surveillance.

A busy day ahead.

The hearings can be viewed online; we will report on parts of them in more detail in the days ahead.  They were organized into five parts*:

(1) Body cameras

  • HB308 (Conaway: video cameras )
  • HB533 (Sydnor: surveillance exception )
  • HB627 (Rosenberg: body-worn cameras )

(2) Reporting

  • HB338 (Carter: SWAT teams)
  • HB771 (Carter: Baltimore community policing)
  • HB954 (Washington: officer-involved deaths)

(3) Police Misconduct Allegations

  • HB112

    Sara Love (ACLU-MD) testifies

    (Conaway: state prosecutor for police-involved deaths)

  • HB363 (Anderson: misconduct in office)
  • HB365 (Anderson: attorney general felony prosecution of police officer)
  • HB438 (Rosenberg: state prosecutor for use of force by police officer)
  • HB813 (Washington: state prosecutor for police-involved deaths)

(4) Police Oversight

  • HB731 (Carter: written policy for disciplinary actions )
  • HB819 (Carter: alcohol and drug testing)
  • HB968 (Carter: Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights reform)

(5) Civil Actions

  • HB608 (Carter: nondisclosure agreements )
  • HB728 (Carter: tort claims for excessive use of force)
  • HB890 (Carter: liability insurance)

Hearings begin with testimony by Del. Curt Anderson and Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Most witnesses were held to 2 minute statements as they appeared in panels of three to five people organized for or against the bills.  Delegates would occasionally engage them in discussion following the final panelist statement.

Many onlookers could find standing room only in the Judiciary Committee hearing room which, while spacious, gives over most of that space to delegates seated along two long walls and one facing wall.  This eventually turned the hearings into an endurance test for those who hadn’t snared one of the relatively few chairs — but those who remained in the room throughout were occasionally rewarded with electrifying testimony, particularly by many of the activists, victims and/or family members who spoke:

  • Diana Tokaji (beaten by MCPD): “If a gang beat you up, would you run to their headquarters to report the harm?”
  • Marion Gray-Hopkins (mother of Gary Hopkins): “The opposition said, you’ll hear emotional testimony. Well, yes, it’s emotional I will never see my son again! With the [Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights], they are judge, jury, executioner.”
  • Tawanda Jones (sister of Tyrone West):“This is a state problem. This room would be filled to capacity (with the dead). I wish I could get the dead folks to speak up. If we had all the dead stand up, we would fill this room and out the doors.”**

We will post more detailed articles about testimony in several of these groups, as well as video from the rally and from a “freedom school” seminar organized by Rev. Heber Brown.  Meanwhile, more photos from the rally and the hearings are available in an “Annapolis rally and House Judiciary Committee hearings, 3/12/15″ album.

Additional March 12 rally and hearing posts

* HB363 was heard “out of order” first to accommodate testimony by Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
** Fran Pollner reported these quotes, as well as excellent, detailed background notes on the hearings in general.  She will be contributing some of the forthcoming articles about the hearings.

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ACLU MD Briefing Paper: at least 109 deaths in Maryland police encounters, 2010-2014

We Are All 1 Bullet Away From Becoming a #Hashtag

As this Thursday’s critical House Judiciary Committee hearings on police reform bills approach, the ACLU of Maryland has released a briefing paper on deaths in police encounters in Maryland between 2010 and 2014.

Compiled from news sources and a public information request to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, some of the key findings are:

  • “At least 109 people died in police encounters in Maryland between 2010-2014”
  • “The rate at which Blacks died by a police encounter (deaths per population size) was five times that of Whites,” and…
  • “Ten unarmed Black people died for every unarmed White person who died”
  • “Thirty-eight percent of those who died (41 people) presented in a way that suggested a possible medical or mental health issue, disability, substance use or similar issue”
  • “Police officers were criminally charged in less than 2 percent (2 cases) of the 109 incidents”

This nine page report deserves to be read in full.  The briefing paper proves it’s a fallacy to believe Maryland doesn’t have a police-involved deaths problem — including substantial racial disparities in that problem —  or that that either issue is confined to majority black counties.

The sheer effort necessary to compile this briefing paper also shows that even just keeping track of police-involved deaths has been shamefully neglected in our state.  No wonder many politicians don’t think there’s a problem — no one’s been interested in finding out.  Until now.

We are profoundly grateful to the ACLU of Maryland for compiling this timely, sobering report, and hope to help make facts like these persuade legislators to achieve real change in police accountability and procedures.  Join us on Thursday to make your support for police reform known.

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District 16, 20 – call, email Sen. Lee and Raskin: support SB566!

State Senator Susan Lee (D-16)

State Senator Susan Lee (D-16)

If you live in District 16 (vicinity of Bethesda, Glen Echo) or District 20 (vicinity of Takoma Park, Silver Spring)  (not sure? look it up here),  please take a minute to make a very important phone call to your Maryland Senator’s office right now. Their phone numbers are:

District 16 (Bethesda, Glen Echo)
Senator Susan C. Lee
(410) 841-3124, (301) 858-3124, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3124 (toll free)

District 20 (Takoma Park, Silver Spring)
Senator Jamin B. (Jamie) Raskin
(410) 841-3634, (301) 858-3634, 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3634 (toll free)

Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20)

Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20)

Both Senators are Montgomery County members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and will therefore vote on the fate of SB566, a bill reforming the “Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights” — i.e., the way cases involving police officers are currently handled.  Here’s what you can say:

Hello my name is ________

I am a resident of the [16th/20th] legislative district. I am calling in support of Senate Bill 566. I would like to know what Senator [Lee’s/Raskin’s] position is on this bill.

[Here are the major points of the bill that we care about]

  • It allows for residents of a community to serve on the trial boards that determine disciplinary measures against officers that have engaged in misconduct. Currently only other law enforcement officers serve on this board.
  • It removes the 10 day window that police officers are given before they are compelled to make a statement in the event that they kill someone in the line of duty.
  • Allows for family members to file complaints on behalf of a victim of police misconduct.
  • It requires that police officers are questioned before they receive information about the complaint against them.

If they ask you about other parts of the bill, make it clear that the advocates are willing to negotiate on other parts of the bill, but that the talking points above are the main elements that we want in the bill.  If they ask for specific names of advocates you can tell them Dayvon Love from Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Sara Love of the ACLU, and Rion Dennis, and/or Elsa Lakew and Thomas Nephew of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition.*

Below is an email version of this that you can also send to your Senator’s office.  If you use an email client (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.), just click the links and then edit with your own words if you choose.  As written, your email will simultaneously CC the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition; you can remove that if you prefer, of course.

Otherwise, just copy/paste/edit the email below with your web-based email system:

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