Over a hundred advocates of police reform descended on Annapolis on Tuesday to press their case for real police reform and against measures like “Recommendation 23” — packing brutality hearing boards with members favorable to the accused — that would set back that cause.
Rally, press conference
A press conference before the hearing featured advocates bedecked in yellow “Caution” ribbons indicating the strong reservations about that element and others of the House and Senate leadership omnibus police reform bill HB1016 (now crossfiled as Senate bill SB1026).
Larry Stafford (Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability, MCJPA) led off comments with a remembrance of Marshawn Carroll, a smart, committed young African American Ohio man who had worked with Larry and MCJPA here briefly before returning to Columbus, where he committed suicide earlier this month. “What has not been reported widely was that before he took his life, he had actually lost a friend to police violence in Ohio. And so recognizing the pain and the trauma that is inflicted on communities across this country when their loved ones lives are lost through police violence, or their freedom is infringed upon because of police misconduct and abuse of their authority, it’s because of that that we’re here today.” Other speakers included:
- William Rau (Caucus of African American Leaders): “…our elected officials are policymakers who are acting on our behalf. These walls, this carpet, this podium, the pomp and circumstance, the parliamentary procedure, that is all put into place to do our will. We must remember that…we are challenging a process that has run amuk. […] We must let them know we’re paying attention to every single word and every single comment.”
- Marion Gray-Hopkins (Coalition of Concerned Mothers): “…most importantly, I am a survivor. My son Gary Hopkins was murdered by the police November 27th 1999. I’m here with Greta Willis whose son Kevin Cooper was murdered in Baltimore City. I’m here with Darlene Cain whose son Dale Graham was murdered in Baltimore City in 2008. And… there are other mothers who are not here who I am representing: Dorothy Elliot – son: Archie Elliot, murdered – over 20+ bullets while he was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, and it was alleged that there was a gun. I’m here for Gina Best whose daughter India Kator was murdered in Virginia. This is not just about Maryland.”
- Rev. Jamila Woods Jones (Jabez Christian Community Church):“This is not a new issue, we’ve been coming here for years, with the same issues, the same concerns. And while we’re happy that we’re moving forward, we want to acknowledge that there are some fatal flaws that *must* be addressed if we’re going to make this a truly transparent effort that is beneficial to everyone. … Now we’re calling on our legislators, we’re demanding that our legislators hear the cry of the people. That’s all I have to say.”
- Sophia Marjanovic: “…during my divorce I met a county sheriff whose conduct concerned me about his neglect of duty and misconduct. I made a complaint of misconduct with the county sheriff’s department. The department did not advise me about whether they’d be investigating the case, and never advised me about whether there was an outcome of an investigation. […] I was later ordered to work with the same sheriff against whom I filed the complaint. […] I’m concerned about retaliation because the officer shouted at me that he didn’t want me filing a complaint against him again. […] I ask that the agency be required to inform the complainant of the outcome of an investigation.”
- Kirkland Hall (Somerset County NAACP): “I’m here speaking for a young lady who had been voiceless after what happened to her in 2009. … The Maryland State Police called her home looking for a young man who had escaped from a work release team. She wasn’t there. But he left a message. He said ‘My name is Sergeant Milo, Maryland State Police. We need for you to call us.’ When he thought he had hung up the phone, he made this statement: ‘I’m getting sick and tired of calling these n*****s on the telephone with these long voice messages.’ […] We could hear other police officers laughing on the phone. Which tells me there’s a culture of the police department. Which tells me that they are very familiar with the words of Chief Justice Taney many years ago, that a black man has no rights which a white man should respect.”
- Lawrence Grandpre (Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle):“Some people think this issue of police reform is complicated. I don’t think so. You can look at the words of the people who represent the establishment to see what the problem is. A few days ago [Delegate] Curt Anderson was on the radio. And he said ‘This trial board thing, it doesn’t matter. That’s internal, that’s kind of like a court martial. So we don’t need non-police officers on that board. Think about that. An elected official in Maryland just said that we should have military style justice for civilian police forces. It’s a small step when you isolate a community and produce a military style accountability system; soon enough you’ll get military style application of policing on the streets.”
Watch this space for videos from the day — including from MCJPA’s own new Youtube channel.
Advocates then fanned out throughout the Lowe House office building, visiting as many delegates as possible with information sheets explaining MCJPA’s demands, and emphasizing “#NoRec23,” to use the Twitter hashtag for the occasion. Those demands, again:
- Reduce the unfair advantage given to officers accused of brutality:
- Don’t let bad cops choose who reviews their own brutality cases.
- Allow trained civilians to sit on trial boards, ESPECIALLY in brutality cases.
- Provide local civilian review boards with subpoena power to question officers accused of misconduct.
- Eliminate the 5 day window that bad cops use to manufacture their story.
- Outlaw collusion between officers so they don’t lie to protect each other.
- Treat victims of brutality as well as all other victims fairly:
- Open up who can file brutality complaints.
- Eliminate the time restriction on when complaints can be filed.
In my own discussions, I got the sense that some but not all delegates and staffers fully understood community reservations about “Recommendation 23.” I was particularly struck by one staffer’s seeming insistence that the hearing boards were fair because of the accused officer’s and police chief’s need to agree on the 3d, potential tie-breaking member. It seemed to me the staffer overlooked several important points:
- The staffer seemed to be assuming more of an adversarial process than many of the rest of us do. While I didn’t have data at the time, since then the most recent data I could find (1995-7) shows that officers facing hearing boards had a less than 1 in 3 chance of suspension or dismissal.* As much to this point, police chiefs accepted the hearing board recommendations 93 percent of the time. To be sure, this is from hearing boards hand-picked by chiefs–but it remains puzzling why *additional* layers of protection for accused officers were deemed necessary by HB1016’s drafters.
- Fair compared to what? Imagine, for example, the 3d board member being a civilian from a jury pool–or, if need be, a more restricted ‘LEOBR-ready’ pool trained in the mysteries of Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights. That would be much fairer structure than this one — if fairness not just to the police community but the policed community is a goal.
- Since the officer could, under HB1016, simply say “no” to *any* proposal of the chief’s about the 3rd member of the board, he or she could potentially win by stalemate: no hearing board until all members are chosen, no hearing board decision until there’s a hearing board — and no penalty for the officer.**
All in all, for the Maryland legislature to adopt Recommendation 23 would be a very strange legislative conclusion to draw from the #BlackLivesMatter and Freddie Gray movements–and the tragedies that sparked them.
Hearings on HB1016
Hearings on HB1016 were divided into several panels — (1) supportive politicians like Speaker Busch and Delegate Anderson, and supporting elected officials like Baltimore Mayor Rawlings-Blake;(2) legal experts including David Rocah of the ACLU of Maryland and Larry Stafford of MCJPA; (3) former law enforcement including Garland Nixon (ACLU-MD); (4) survivors such as Marion Gray-Hopkins and Sophia Marjanovic; (5) community leaders such as Gabriel Acevero of the African American Democratic Club of Montgomery County, (6) civil rights leaders such as Gerald Stansbury of the Maryland NAACP, and (7) law enforcement groups generally in partial or complete opposition to the bill.
The February 23 House Judiciary Committee hearings themselves — on HB1016 and many other police reform bills — can be watched in their entirety at the Maryland General Assembly website. Among the written testimony available so far:
- Maryland Troopers Association (oppose)
- Maryland Chiefs of Police, Maryland Sheriffs Associations (oppose with amendments)
- Maryland Legislative Black Caucus (favorable if amended)
In a hopeful development, many groups agreed with MCJPA that the hearing board structure proposed in HB1016 was inadequate — for different reasons to be sure, but some that echoed our own reasons surprisingly closely. The Legislative Black Caucus proposed an amendment requiring one member of the hearing boards to be an administrative law judge. MCPA/MSA testimony — while objecting to any civilian participation — all but channeled MCJPA views about “Recommendation 23” language in the bill (emphases added):
The proposed language provides that one of three hearing board members is to be personally chosen by the officer on trial. This is tantamount to allowing a defendant to hand-select a member of his/her jury. Such a provision is illogical and flies in the face of reason. The hearing board is supposed to be an impartial panel that can judge each case based on the facts and evidence presented, free from the influence of personal relationships or alliances. Allowing an employee to choose his or her own panelist all but guarantees a vote in the officer’s favor, no matter the egregiousness of the facts at hand. […]
HB1016 proposes that the third hearing board member is to be mutually agreed upon by the Chief and the officer who has been charge[d] with misconduct. MCPA/MSA believes this provision is problematic for several reasons. First it will impede officer discipline because the defendant officer on trial is unlikely to agree to anyone until he or she is reasonably confident the panelist will vote in his/her favor. Put another way, this provision gives the officer unlimited jury “strikes.” Currently, the incentives for his/her selection are much different, because the Chief is only looking for a panelist who will be fair and impartial. Second, this provision creates a new delay tactic for the officer on trial. There are a number of reasons why an officer and his or her attorney would wish to delay a disciplinary proceeding as long as possible. Under the proposal, an officer is free to delay the hearing simply by refusing to agree to third hearing board member. The result of the current language as proposed could result in the parties NEVER agreeing on the third board member and no board ever being convened and no discipline being imposed.
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
* Review of Police Disciplinary Procedures in Maryland and Other States, (1999). Bilanin, J. Institute for Governmental Service, Univ. of Maryland Center for Applied Policy Studies. Tables 12-14 (pp.34-36): 75% of Maryland police hearing boards in 1995-1997 found guilt; of those finding guilt, 25+16=41% recommended suspension or dismissal, i.e., approximately 31% of all cases. In cases with data, police chiefs accepted hearing board recommendations 254/274=93% of the time.
** Little did I know at the time that I was essentially introducing the staffer to the Maryland Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs Associations (MCPA/MSA) point of view in this respect.