Tuesday, April 30, 2013
In the midst of the scandal over a gang's control of the Baltimore City Detention Center, I have been waiting to hear what Governor Martin O'Malley is going to do about his man Gary Maynard.
Maynard heads up the state's correctional system, and the city detention center comes under his control. He hired Wendell "Pete" France, a former city police commander, to manage it, and the two of them report every month to the city's Criminal Justice Coordinating. Some have praised Maynard for calling in the feds to investigate the jail that he runs. And according to a rather laudatory article in the Baltimore Sun, he is supposed to be the man to fix the problem that was his job to prevent.
I remember Maynard's presentation to the Coordinating Council several years ago about a program he created for prisoners to clean up neglected cemeteries. He later suspended the program because inmates were arranging to have drugs hidden at the cemeteries for them to smuggle into prison. I never heard Maynard report that to the council. And now we have a major example of his inability, over a period of years, to manage the city's jail without drug corruption. Yet he is still walking around with his job intact while making others take lie detector tests. So where is Martin O'Malley, the man who hired and has always praised Maynard?
Characteristically, as federal prosecutors were announcing indictments of corrupt jail employees O'Malley was abroad, burnishing his credentials for a run for the Presidency. That's what O'Malley is always doing. The idea that he is taking the summer to consider whether to run for President is hilarious. He's probably only waiting on Hillary's plans. O'Malley has been running for President from the day he became mayor. He exploited the 9/11 tragedy by running down to Congress and presenting himself as an expert on port security in order to gain national exposure, and has sought national attention at every opportunity since.
But this is a criminal justice blog, so let me return to my point: that while O'Malley's attention has been turned away from Maryland, Baltimore's jail--his jail--belonged to criminals. This from the man who launched his career by promising to be tough on crime, who promised "zero tolerance" as Baltimore's mayor.
What did those promises net for Baltimore? An astonishing increase in arrests that alienated the African American community and resulted in an expensive lawsuit against the city. The decimation of Baltimore's police department as he turned over one police commissioner after another. Public, counterproductive fights with the state's District Court chief judge, the city State's Attorney, and the U.S. Attorney for Maryland. He claimed responsibility for lowering Baltimore's murder rate, when that was due to the active involvement of the new U.S. Attorney, Rod Rosenstein--the same man who now is fixing O'Malley's problem in the city jail.
Through the years of O'Malley's criminal justice failures he claimed success and got away with it. He's a gifted enough politician that he will probably flick off this jail scandal, as huge and inexplicable as it is. As I am writing this, O'Malley is already turning failure into success, claiming credit for rooting out corruption, when just a smidgen of competency should have prevented it.
But he is no leader, merely a politician who follows prevailing winds and badly wants to be President. As the former mayor of a city with a huge drug and crime problem, as the current governor of a state whose biggest city is still mired in drug-related crime, O'Malley could be showing the kind of innovative leadership that might actually leave a positive, indelible imprint in the lives of Marylanders. He could be leading an effort to explore alternative solutions to the "war on drugs."
After the jail scandal broke Dan Rodricks wrote about the futility of that war. On radio station WYPR this morning Joe Jones of the Center for Urban Families called for action to change our approach. As a former prosecutor and Coast Guard officer, I have seen first-hand the failures of the war, and believe that Baltimore could be a testing ground for a new policy on drugs that would empty our jails, reduce crime, and end the corrupting nature of drug money.
We need leadership to get that going. Unfortunately, it won't be coming from O'Malley, whose priority has always been his own ambition.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Like many of us I am a Ravens fan, and followed the hullabaloo over the arrest of newly signed linebacker Rolando McClain in Alabama with mild interest. I have heard him condemned and called names (like "punk") on sports talk radio, and some have called for the Ravens to cut him.
Then I read the actual police report posted by the Baltimore Sun on line. McClain's crime? Disrespect of police.
If you've never heard of that crime, it's because it doesn't exist. On the streets, however, and apparently no matter where you live, disrespect of police calls for arrest. It's what police call a "humble."
The Alabama police report states that police were called for a disturbance at a park, but when they got there the disturbance, if any, was over. So they decided to disperse the large crowd of people. As McClain walked by he said "F___ the police." So they arrested him for disorderly conduct. He protested that he was told to move on, that he was moving on, and he swung his arms as they tried to complete the arrest. For that they piled on a charge of resisting arrest.
What struck me immediately was how the officers so boldly stated that they arrested McClain for what he said. Baltimore police would put something in there (true or not) about him disturbing the peace or hindering the police in their duties, which might actually give them probable cause to arrest. In Alabama police apparently feel emboldened to violate the First and Fourth Amendments with impunity.
From what I hear, they are now scrambling to interview other witnesses, no doubt to come up with more evidence or charges to justify the arrest of an NFL player. But had they let him walk by, as they should have, there would be no further investigation. What a waste of time.
The incident provides insight into the everyday tension between citizens and police. Police have a hard job, and feel they need to enforce their authority in order to function effectively. Citizens, rightly or wrongly, get mad at police, and feel like they should be able to express this. How far they go in expressing their feelings determines whether they cross a criminal line.
Here, in the words of the police officers themselves, the line was not crossed. But McClain faces the possible termination of his employment with the Ravens anyway because the incident comes on top of other arrests and problems. A case of guilty based on background.
The young man, who reportedly grew up in very hard circumstances, clearly has anger issues. He needs help with his problem. How far the Ravens wish to go to do that is up to them. But it's too bad that the final straw may be the failure of the police to ignore an irritated McClain, and to arrest him illegally.
That's not justice.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
What do you make of a story like the one published last week in the Sun, about a city police sergeant on trial for tape recording a judge during an argument over a search warrant?
The police wanted to search a car in which the victim of an attempted murder was found, asking Judge Joan Gordon to sign a search warrant. She didn't think she should be bothered about it on a Saturday night and argued with a police supervisor, who recorded their conversation without her knowing about it.
A technical violation of the law, yes, but a pretty trivial instance to put before a criminal jury, it seems to me. What are prosecutors trying to prove, exactly, beyond placating an offended judiciary?
I once had a child sexual abuse case in which the mother of the victim recorded an incriminating conversation with the abuser. I couldn't use the recording because the law prohibited the taping and any use of it, to the detriment of my case. But I did not press criminal charges against the mother. The police sergeant who did the taping in this case should have known better, and an administrative consequence is appropriate. But a criminal trial? Sheeze...
The problem between police officers and judges over warrants has been going on a long time and should have been resolved ages ago. That it continues and has come to a criminal trial should shame both the judiciary and the police department, but mostly, in my view, the judiciary.
Baltimore city judges are supposed to take turns being "on duty" for one week at a time. Since there are about 60 of them, this means they should have this duty less frequently than once a year. The duty judge is supposed to be available for such after-hour needs as the review of search warrants.
But judges and police have fussed about this ever since I can remember. Judges feel that police bother them after hours for non-emergencies. It's true that many, if not the majority, of search warrants are the result of investigations that take a period of time to develop, and are not emergencies. However, police officers work shifts around the clock, so it's not possible to always prepare and present warrants during the judge's work day. Since officers have to swear to the truth of what they say before the judge, and may need to answer questions, they can't just send a secretary in with paperwork for the judges to sign.
To minimize their own inconvenience, individual judges often make their own rules for reviewing warrants. Many, for example, refuse to sign any "narcotics" warrants after hours, which they regard as routine. My introduction to this came when police called me for help when a duty judge refused to review a narcotics warrant even though police were actively guarding a house from entry in order to keep a suspected stash of drugs from disappearing. We had to search for another judge willing to do the job of the duty judge.
To me the solution is simple: police officers should do their best to present their warrants during reasonable hours, while judges should resign themselves to the fact that for one week out of every 60 they will be reviewing warrants after they leave the courthouse. They should just go home and be mentally prepared for the police to come over, not whining about officers interrupting them while they are out at dinner or the mall. The judiciary and police department can easily establish a joint review panel to handle complaints about abuses by police officers and by judges. The leadership for that should come from the judges, who hold the power.
I once tried to show some leadership. When I supervised the Central Booking Division of the State's Attorney's Office, I volunteered my division, which worked around the clock, to evaluate whether the police truly faced an emergency situation before waking up a judge in the middle of the night. This meant that I, personally, would be woken up much more frequently than any one judge when my staff called to consult me. And that I, personally, would bear the brunt of judicial anger if they disagreed with my assessment. Yet I volunteered.
The response I got from the District Court judges--the ones who work part-time--was that they would be happy to take me up on my offer, but that they also wanted me to read and review the warrants for probable cause. It wasn't enough that I would prevent their being woken up for non-emergencies. I had to do their job for them, to determine if probable cause existed before they could be disturbed.
I declined their greedy request. And these half-dozen years later, we have a poorly-regarded judge, Joan Gordon, arguing with a police sergeant over whether a weekend warrant could wait until Monday. We have the sergeant, worried about what Judge Gordon might do to him, turning on his recorder so he could prove his version of events if needed, and now facing a criminal conviction and the loss of "everything" for doing so.
And we have a small glimpse into the lazy, egotistical, dysfunctional world of key players in criminal justice system.