Tuesday, April 30, 2013

O'Malley's Corrupt Jailhouse

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

The Unjust Arrest of a Raven

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.