By Stephen Janis and Taya Graham
Special to the AFRO

The abrupt departure of the city’s top legal advisor is prompting speculation about both the timing and motive of his resignation.

Recently, Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis announced his retirement just after Christmas telling the AFRO he simply lacked the energy to continue in his role as the city’s head lawyer.

“I can’t put it any better than I have: out of fuel,” he wrote in an email. “When I started in September 2017, I had a full tank, but I did not know how far that full tank would take me. It has fueled me this far and there is no way for me to get a fill-up under the present circumstances,” he wrote.

Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis (seen here at center testifying in Annapolis) announced his resignation recently. (Photo Credit: Taya Graham)

Dana P. Moore, formerly Davis’ deputy, has been named Interim City Solicitor. She is the first Black woman to hold that position in the city’s history.

The abrupt departure of the city’s top legal advisor is prompting speculation about both the timing and motive of his resignation.

Recently, Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis announced his retirement just after Christmas telling the AFRO he simply lacked the energy to continue in his role as the city’s head lawyer. 

“I can’t put it any better than I have: out of fuel,” he wrote in an email.  “When I started in September 2017, I had a full tank, but I did not know how far that full tank would take me. It has fueled me this far and there is no way for me to get a fill-up under the present circumstances,” he wrote.

Indeed, the former federal judge played a visible role in a series of high-profile policy decisions, including the hiring of the city’s most recent police chief Michael Harrison after a nationwide search.

He also took the lead on a series of lawsuits to hold major corporations accountable.  One against fossil fuel companies for damages related to the impact of climate change on the city, and separate litigation to recoup damages from pharmaceutical firms resulting from the devastating consequences of the opioid epidemic.

“I am proud of the great work the lawyers in the law department have done.”

But his tenure was also marked by controversy.  

In 2018 he provoked a confrontation with the city’s civilian police oversight board by requiring members to sign an additional non-disclosure form before receiving brutality complaints from the police department.  The Civilian Review Board collectively refused and the conflict lead to a lawsuit that was dropped after Davis relented and the board was provided a backlog of cases.

Last year Davis was criticized for his position the city should not be held liable for the actions of the now notorious Gun Trace Task Force.  The GTTF was a group of eight officers who robbed residents, dealt drugs, and stole overtime.

“In all instances, the City contends they were co-conspirators seeking to enrich themselves and each other,” Davis told the AFRO earlier this year.  “They were not doing the work they were trained to do as police officers.”

In a recent case involving the estate of William James, lawyers representing the city made the argument that the actions of the officers were secondary to the mission of the police department, meaning the plaintiff’s only recourse was to collect $100,000 in damages awarded James from the officers themselves. 

James was driving on Hillen Road with his girlfriend in April 2016 when GTTF members Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, Marcus Taylor, and Jemell Rayam pulled him over.

After asking if he either possessed a gun or knew where they could find one, the trio instead planted a gun on James.

“This, here, is your gun now,” Jenkins is purported to have said.  

State law allows municipalities to skirt liability if the employees were acting outside the scope of their employment.  At the time Davis said the onus was on the plaintiffs to prove the officers were working in their capacity as cops.  

More recently Davis has taken the lead role in the controversy over gag orders, controversial clauses inserted into police brutality settlements that prevent victims from publicly discussing the circumstances surrounding their case.    

The council voted unanimously to end the practice.  The Federal 4th district court of appeals also weighed in against the requirement arguing it was unconstitutional. The case was the result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of local journalism website the Baltimore Brew.

But Davis urged Mayor Jack Young not to support the measure arguing it infringed upon the powers of the city’s legal department to negotiate civil settlements. The mayor thus far has not signed it and has said publicly is not legally enforceable. 

One of the activists who battled the city over the gag order law says Davis’ departure is not unwarranted.

“Even though I have respect for him I do not respect the way he did Senator Jill Carter and the civilian review board,” activist Tawanda Jones, whose brother Tyrone West was killed by police in 2013, said of Davis’ battle with the CRB and then director Sen. Jill Carter.

“No one should have that type of power…he should have been fired.”