FOP suit over civil­ian over­sight dis­missed

Po­lice union tried to block shar­ing of files with board

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Cather­ine Rentz crentz@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/cdrentz

A judge dis­missed a law­suit Fri­day filed by the Bal­ti­more po­lice union that sought to block the Po­lice Depart­ment from shar­ing in­ter­nal af­fairs files with a civil­ian over­sight board.

The Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 3, the union rep­re­sent­ing Bal­ti­more po­lice of­fi­cers, filed the law­suit against the depart­ment and the Civil­ian Re­view Board this past spring. In the suit, the union ar­gued that the po­lice in­ter­nal af­fairs unit had no le­gal right to share its in­ves­ti­ga­tory files with the Civil­ian Re­view Board, which re­views cit­i­zen com­plaints about po­lice.

“It was a ground­less and friv­o­lous case,” said Suzanne San­gree, a Bal­ti­more City at­tor­ney who rep­re­sented the civil­ian board. “The Po­lice Depart­ment will con­tinue to work with the Civil­ian Re­view Board to en­sure com­plaints are in­ves­ti­gated and that ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion is taken.”

Aaron Ni­chols, a lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the FOP, ar­gued that state statutes, in­clud­ing the Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers’ Bill of Rights and the Mary­land Pub­lic In­for­ma­tion Act, pro­hibit re­lease of such in­ves­ti­ga­tory files to the board.

San­gree noted, how­ever, that the board was es­tab­lished, in part, to re­view such files, and that state law­mak­ers who es­tab­lished the board did so know­ing that it would not con­flict with the ear­lier state statutes. She pointed out that the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice had de­ter­mined that the new board’s du­ties would not con­flict with the Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers’ Bill of Rights.

An in­junc­tion bar­ring the shar­ing of files “would ren­der the Civil­ian Re­view Board com­pletely in­ef­fec­tive,” San­gree ar­gued.

Bal­ti­more Cir­cuit Judge Jef­frey M. Geller agreed with San­gree, find­ing no ba­sis for the union’s com­plaints.

Ni­chols and FOP of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment on the de­ci­sion.

Kisha Brown, direc­tor of the Civil­ian Re­view Board, said the FOP should back the board’s mis­sion.

“It is our hope that the FOP will now fo­cus their ef­forts on sup­port­ing fair and ef­fec­tive po­lice ac­count­abil­ity re­form,” she said in a state­ment.

The union brought the suit on be­half of Kim­berly M. Starr, a de­tec­tive in the in­ter­nal af­fairs unit, which in­ves­ti­gates com­plaints about po­lice. It’s un­clear why she was se­lected as the plain­tiff.

David Rocah, a staff lawyer with the Mary­land chap­ter of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, ques­tioned Starr’s role in the law­suit. He called her in­volve­ment an ex­am­ple of “why peo­ple do not trust in­ter­nal af­fairs” and the law­suit an ex­am­ple of the union’s “dis­dain for any ac­count­abil­ity.”

The ACLU filed a brief in the case sup­port­ing the Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment.

Bal­ti­more po­lice spokesman T.J. Smith said it wasn’t a con­flict of in­ter­est for Starr to be a plain­tiff in the suit while also work­ing as in­ves­ti­ga­tor in in­ter­nal af­fairs. He said Starr “did not ini­ti­ate the com­plaint, nor did she re­quest it.”

The Civil­ian Re­view Board lacks in­flu­ence over po­lice dis­ci­pline; it can only make rec­om­men­da­tions to the po­lice com­mis­sioner, who has the fi­nal say.

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