Po­lice panel with­draws law­suit

Civil­ian Re­view Board had sued city over doc­u­ments re­lated to in­ves­ti­ga­tions

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Jes­sica An­der­son

The Civil­ian Re­view Board, a panel of vol­un­teers that re­views Bal­ti­more po­lice mis­con­duct com­plaints, is with­draw­ing its law­suit filed last month after the city re­fused to re­lease po­lice in­ter­nal af­fairs records amid a dis­pute over con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments.

The board’s at­tor­ney planned to re­lease a no­tice of dis­missal of the law­suit Thurs­day, said Bri­dal Pear­son, the board’s chair­man. The de­ci­sion was made after the Po­lice Depart­ment agreed to re­lease of­fi­cial po­lice in­ter­nal af­fairs records to board mem­bers.

“We have been as­sured by City So­lic­i­tor An­dre Davis that the files, which are ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial for the Civil­ian Re­view Board to func­tion, will in the fu­ture be pro­vided promptly and with­out the need for more ju­di­cial in­ter­ven­tion,” Pear­son said in a state­ment.

Davis did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

The suit was filed by the board and 15 mem­bers of the pub­lic in Novem­ber. The board said the Po­lice Depart­ment with­held the in­ter­nal af­fairs files after board mem­bers re­fused to sign a con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ment im­posed by the city so­lic­i­tor’s of­fice. Davis has said the use of con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments would not af­fect the board’s work.

After a sum­mons re­lated to the board’s law­suit had been re­leased, Davis an­nounced he would no longer re­quire mem­bers to sign the con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments but said board mem­bers could face le­gal ac­tion on their own over any al­le­ga­tions of pub­lic leaks of po­lice of­fi­cers’ con­fi­den­tial per­son­nel doc­u­ments they are au­tho­rized to re­view.

Pear­son warned that the panel would re­tain coun­sel, should there be an­other dis­pute.

“[W]e will con­tinue to have ac­cess to our le­gal coun­sel in case other con­flicts of in­ter­ests arise. We will make the pub­lic aware of each oc­cur­rence. Al­though the board has now be­gun re­ceiv­ing case files, we must re­main vig­i­lant,” Pear­son said.

Davis ini­tially said the group’s con­cerns were a “ginned-up pub­lic dis­pute” and that the board — a city agency — had no au­thor­ity to file.

The panel re­ceives com­plaints di­rectly from ci­ti­zens and also re­views in­ves­ti­ga­tions by po­lice in­ter­nal af­fairs. The board rec­om­mends dis­ci­pline to the po­lice com­mis­sioner but has no power to im­pose sanc­tions on of­fi­cers.

Many ad­vo­cates say the board al­ready lacked any real power. Un­der the con­sent de­cree reached be­tween the city and the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice, a panel was es­tab­lished to eval­u­ate civil­ian over­sight of po­lice. That panel, the Com­mu­nity Over­sight Task Force, rec­om­mended abol­ish­ing the board and set­ting up a new agency with pow­ers to in­ves­ti­gate po­lice mis­con­duct and au­dit po­lice train­ing and poli­cies. But many of the re­forms re­quire leg­isla­tive changes that have yet to been en­acted.

Pear­son said it was “un­for­tu­nate” that the panel had to bring a law­suit to re­ceive files nec­es­sary to com­plete its work, and that the city agen­cies should co­op­er­ate.

“We all serve the pub­lic, but we serve the pub­lic best when we work to­gether and as much as pos­si­ble in full pub­lic view,” he said.

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