City police officer found guilty at first public discipline hearing
General Assembly passed law this year requiring sessions to be open
A Baltimore police officer who testified at the trial of an officer accused in Freddie Gray’s death is set to be disciplined after a prosecutor complained that she missed a meeting.
The discipline hearing Monday for Officer Alice Carson-Johnson was the first to be held in public since the Maryland General Assembly passed a law requiring that such proceedings be open. The change was part of a broader package of police accountability reforms.
A 19-year veteran of the department, Carson-Johnson trained officers in emergency assessment and care. She testified in the December trial of William Porter, which ended in a mistrial. Charges against him and two other officers were ultimately dropped; three others were acquitted.
Carson-Johnson has been on temporary security detail at police headquarters since Janice Bledsoe of the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office complained that she missed a scheduled meeting in August 2015.
A three-member police panel headed by Major James Handley found CarsonJohnson guilty of misconduct for missing that meeting to discuss training of the officers charged in Gray’s death. Gray died a week after he suffered severe spinal cord injuries while riding in the back of a police transport van.
The discipline hearing, held at City Hall, drew a handful of people. Baltimore police officers may appeal disciplinary cases to internal “trial boards” after an administrative investigation finds them guilty of misconduct. Possible punishment ranges from a written letter of reprimand to firing.
The trial board has yet to recommend punishment. The board’s finding and its discipline recommendation will go to Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who will have the final say on punishment. His decision will be conveyed to the complainant, but not the public.
Carson-Johnson’s lawyer, Michael Davey, described her case as a “minor internal misconduct case.”
“Someone is making a big deal out of nothing,” Davey told the board.
Louis Hopson, of the Vanguard Justice Society, an organization of minority officers, attended the hearing and called it “a waste of time.”
Carson-Johnson said at the hearing that she had anticipated meeting with John Butler, another lawyer in the state’s attorney’s office. She said she was caught off guard when Butler texted her the night before that he couldn’t make it due to a personal matter and that Bledsoe would fill in.
According to her testimony, Carson-Johnson told her supervisor the next morning that she felt “uncomfortable” talking to Bledsoe, whom she didn’t know, given the “high-profile” nature of the case.
She told the panel that she tried to reschedule, and that she had obtained the OK from her supervisor to do so, but could not get through to anyone at the state’s attorney’s office before the meeting.
According to text messages collected as evidence, she texted Butler that she couldn’t make it for another reason — that she had an emergency at the police academy.
She testified that she needed to take care of a “security issue” at her office where she had an issue with her locks and believed file folders had gone missing. The morning she was set to meet Bledsoe, she drove to Home Depot to get new locks for her office door.
Davey declined to comment on the content of the files.
Rodney Hill, chief of the Office of Professional Responsibility, said that Carson-Johnson did not have any files pertaining to the Gray case.
Hopson suggested the misconduct case could be retaliation for reporting the missing files.
He pointed to a recent investigation by the Department of Justice that found a history of retaliation in the Police Department for reporting misdeeds.
“There are some bad apples, but this is not one of them,” he said of CarsonJohnson.
Carson- Johnson, who makes $81,000 a year, was reprimanded in 2014 for insubordination when she refused to hand over her security keys to a supervisor. Another supervisor had instructed her not to give that person her keys, according to Davey.
Her meeting with Bledsoe ended up being rescheduled for the next business day.
The fact that she missed the earlier meeting had “no consequence,” Davey told the panel, and she cooperated fully with the state’s attorney’s office.
The police accountability law also enables localities to put civilians on the hearing board, but that change must be agreed upon by the Fraternal Order of Police in Baltimore, which has been opposed to it.
“Someone is making a big deal out of nothing.”