Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Sun and Pat Jessamy

The Sun accused Gregg Bernstein Tuesday of "unethically" stealing its "credibility." Apparently some Bernstein campaign materials cited "The Baltimore Sun" as the source of a campaign claim without clarifying that the information came from a Sun columnist, not from the Sun's editors or reporters.

I almost had to laugh. For years the Sun has received unethically leaked charging documents from State's Attorney Pat Jessamy. But it never reported on her unethical behavior because it was the beneficiary.

As for credibility, this is a newspaper that knows that Jessamy's press aide, Margaret Burns, is ethically challenged. It also knows that she has fed them stories for years to make the police look bad. But it's done nothing to enlighten the public about it, making it a bit ironic for the Sun to complain about stolen credibility. It can't be stolen unless one has it.

But originally I had planned to revisit a previous editorial suggesting that it wasn't quite fair for Bernstein to focus on Jessamy's conviction rate because "police, judges, witnesses and juries (not to mention the caseload, budget and other resources provided to the prosecutor's officer) bear some of the blame..."

I wonder how the editors feel now knowing that Jessamy doesn't "accept blame" at all. Or that she believes conviction rates are "smoke and mirrors" and she doesn't "do" them. Or that she can't tell us what happened to the repeat violent offenders in the War Room program.

They know these things now because Gregg Bernstein challenged Jessamy and forced her into the public eye. Because she said these things in response to campaign questions on radio shows and in debates and can't hide behind the spin of Burns. Statements the Sun has still not reported on.

The campaign was never about whether Jessamy deserved
all of the blame for an ineffective criminal justice system, but about whether she could be doing a better job as state's attorney. It's quite clear from her own words that she is not and never plans to be accountable for her own performance.

But I submit that Jessamy is more to blame than anyone else for the current state of our criminal justice system for two reasons.

First she managed the War Room, which showed her how multiple agencies pursuing their narrow, independent missions failed to identify dangerous criminals and released them repeatedly to the street. When I as the War Room supervisor wrote a comprehensive report in 2004 about this she suppressed it, submitting a vanilla version to the Legislature instead. She assured me that she would handle the issues out of the public eye.

But she never did. She never approached either her own staff or any other agency with War Room data and recommendations.

And so I wrote in a 2007 report: "What the War Room has observed over the past three years is that the culture that led to the need for a War Room has not changed much over the years. The system continues to fail to 'focus' upon offenders that are responsible for violence...The 'war' on violent crime needs to come out of a 'room' and into a way of thinking and acting."

Here's what Burns/Jessamy wrote for the Legislature instead: Over the past three-years [sic], a very capable team of law enforcement and corrections partners have established a coordinated effort to meet these original goals, and it appears their efforts have complimented [sic] the criminal justice partnerships and vision to reduce violent crime in Baltimore and make our community safe through the addition of the War Room project...The War Room is a criminal justice success story..."

An incoherent report (and blatant lie) never challenged or questioned in any way by the Sun, by other news media, by legislators, or by others inside the criminal justice system, before or after I left the prosecutor's office. And Jessamy put my name on it. Talk about stealing credibility.

The murder of off-duty police officer Troy Chesley is just one example of how Jessamy's failure to do anything to effect change led to tragedy. Chesley's murderer was on bail for two separate handgun offenses at the time of the murder. Jessamy had never gone to the District Court judges to discuss War Room bail recommendations. Nor had she ever made her own staff seek bail revocations when violent offenders on bail committed another crime.

The robbery case of John Wagner, who is now accused of murdering Stephen Pitcairn, is another example I've discussed before. Jessamy failed miserably to take basic steps to proceed with a very winnable case against a War Room offender, blaming the police and the victim in a reprehensible way to escape any accountability. She also made sure to point the finger at the probation judge, though again she had never gone to the judiciary to discuss War Room offenders and probation proceedings.

The second reason Jessamy deserves more of the blame is because she has actively undercut her law enforcement "partner," the police department. Some examples include:
  • Spreading the false notion that all arrests for which prosecutors declined to issue charges are "illegal." See The Lie That Won't Die.
  • Planting a story with TV stations that the police were not solving enough homicide cases.
  • Feeding statistics to the Sun and successfully urging it to characterize the police citation program as a failure. The police wanted to write more citations and make fewer arrests to keep people out of jail and police on the streets. Instead of helping to accomplish this worthy goal Jessamy tried to undermine the program.
  • Criticizing a police plan to take fingerprints from offenders on the street. Police hoped to write more citations by enabling positive identifications. Without it, offenders could use a phony name, fail to appear for court, and have the wrong person arrested for it.
  • Tracking the results of cases in which surveillance cameras were used solely for the purpose of arguing that the cameras were a waste of money, even before the program got going.
And this doesn't even count the many times she has blamed poor police investigations for not being able to prosecute, even when, as with John Wagner, the police didn't do anything wrong.

So we have a prosecutor who never formed working partnerships with other criminal justice agencies to address War Room offenders and who has actively worked against the police department when it tries to improve law enforcement techniques. She has used the police and judges to explain her own failures.

And through it all the Sun has remained silent and reported Jessamy's spin.

The Sun can't shift this to witnesses, judges, juries, police or lack of resources. It's all on Jessamy, whether she "accepts" it or not.

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