Police panel withdraws lawsuit
Civilian Review Board had sued city over documents related to investigations
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.