Lawsuit over Johns Hopkins Police dismissed
Allows for jurisdiction deal with Baltimore Police
A Baltimore Circuit Court judge dismissed a lawsuit Monday that would complicate the creation of a Johns Hopkins University police department.
Baltimore residents Donald Gresham, Kushan Ratnayake and Joan Floyd filed suit in December, asking the court to invalidate a memorandum of understanding between Hopkins and the Baltimore Police Department. The memorandum outlines the jurisdictions between the two entities and enables Hopkins to continue its creation of the university police department.
The plaintiffs argued that the memorandum should be voided because of the document’s “errors, omissions, contradictions and ambiguities,” as stated in the complaint.
For example, the plaintiffs claim there are discrepancies between campus area maps and textual descriptions of campus areas that are to be patrolled by Hopkins police. Additionally, jurisdiction limits listed in the memorandum are negated by a clause giving university police officers the conditional right to “make arrests, conduct investigations, and otherwise enforce the laws of the state throughout the state without limitations as to jurisdiction,” according to the claim.
“Instead of a clear and unambiguous public declaration of the rights and responsibilities of cooperating law enforcement agencies, the document amounts to a secret handshake between BPD and an institution that intends to operate its own armed police force,” the complaint reads.
The plaintiffs’ filing also pointed out that Baltimore residents voted to transfer control of BPD from the state to the city. The memorandum still addresses BPD as a state institution and “contains no provision for city control of BPD,” according to the complaint.
Circuit Judge Jeffrey M. Geller said the plaintiffs’ case had no legal standing. He said the plaintiffs do not live in residences subject to Hopkins police jurisdiction and that they failed to show how their experiences differed from the general public. Geller also said that the plaintiffs’ concern of potential situations caused by the Hopkins police did not equate to standing and that the argument over city control of the BPD therefore was irrelevant.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” Gresham said in a news release.
Floyd said in the release that she and her fellow plaintiffs will appeal the ruling to the Appellate Court of Maryland.
The idea of the Johns Hopkins Police Department has caused much controversy for the past few years. Students, professors and community members have protested the creation of the university police force several times, fearful that an armed university police force could lead to racial profiling and abuse of power on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods.
Responding to the dismissal, Hopkins spokesperson Megan Christin said the judge’s decision “affirms the thoughtful statutory process the General Assembly set out for the development and operation of the Johns Hopkins Police Department.”
She said the department is now in an implementation phase as policies and procedures are being developed.
“Throughout this period, we will continue to seek feedback from the community and will receive oversight and guidance from the Johns Hopkins University Police Accountability Board,” she said.
After Gresham, Ratnayake and Floyd filed their suit, Hopkins and the BPD filed motions to dismiss the complaint and asked for a hearing. The three Baltimore residents filed motions in opposition.
The trio had sued Hopkins and the BPD last September in an effort to prevent them from signing the memorandum. However, the residents dropped their original suit once the memorandum was signed in. December.
The plaintiffs said in their news release that they also will push for a Baltimore City Council hearing on the memorandum, especially because a prior city council hearing on the draft memorandum was canceled. Floyd said the meeting wasn’t held because “BPD’s status as a State agency gave the city council no influence over the [police] commissioner’s actions.”
“Those obstacles are gone,” Floyd said in the release. “BPD is a city agency now. Local control of BPD took effect Jan. 1, 2023, as confirmed by recent legal advice from the Attorney General’s office.”