City po­lice of­fi­cer found guilty at first pub­lic dis­ci­pline hear­ing

Gen­eral As­sem­bly passed law this year re­quir­ing ses­sions to be open

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Cather­ine Rentz Michael Davey, lawyer for Of­fi­cer Alice Car­son-John­son crentz@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/cdrentz

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.”

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