By Sean Yoes, Baltimore AFRO Editor, [email protected]
Last month, Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis paid a visit to the members of the Civilian Review Board (CRB), which investigates citizen complaints of police misconduct, among other tasks. Davis wanted them to sign a confidentiality agreement, which would in effect render much of the board’s work opaque to the public.
The meeting didn’t go well.
“You came in here with a conversation about a confidentiality agreement in determining what we can and can’t say to the public. So, you already clearly let us know as a board, that you’re not here for us. You can’t possibly be,” said George Buntin, a member of the board (who is the son of former NAACP Baltimore Branch Executive Director, George Buntin Sr.).
Recently, the CRB was placed under the authority of the city’s Law Department, which is led by Davis.
“How can this even be a rational, how can we even be having this discussion that this board should be signing this agreement like this? It strikes me as completely insane,” said David Rocah, senior attorney for the Maryland ACLU. Rocah, who was a frequent guest on my former radio show, AFRO First Edition, is typically not prone to hyperbole. But, he was clearly exasperated during the CRB’s meeting with Davis on July 19.
I reached out to the City Solicitor’s office for comment concerning the reaction to Davis’ request for the CRB to sign the confidentiality agreement, as well as the seeming conflict of interest of the Law Department representing both the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) and the CRB. My phone call was never returned.
The request of the confidentiality agreement, as well as other actions taken by the Law Department, prompted the ACLU to craft a detailed letter addressed to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh outlining the group’s opposition to the Law Department’s apparent takeover of the CRB.
“The ACLU of Maryland, as a statutory non-voting member of the Civilian Review Board…is deeply concerned about recent attempts by the City of Baltimore, through the City Solicitor, to limit the CRB’s access to Baltimore police records, as well as to limit the CRB’s ability to operate transparently and to communicate with the public and other interested parties, such as the Department of Justice or the BPD Monitor,” the letter states.
“None of these changes is required by law, and all are inconsistent with the City’s past practice, as well as with public demands for greater transparency, accountability, and civilian oversight of the BPD, including in the recent report by the Civilian Oversight Task Force…which you appointed. All of these concerns also reflect a larger concern about the independence of the CRB as an oversight body,” the group wrote.
The ACLU also questioned the Law Department’s ability to adequately serve both the BPD and the CRB.
“Further, the City Solicitor’s actions regarding the CRB raise significant questions about that office’s ability to serve as counsel to both the CRB and the BPD. At the most general level, as the CRB itself clearly articulated on July 19, the City Solicitor’s demands are inconsistent with the CRB’s statutory mission to be an independent review body concerning officers’ actions and the BPD’s investigations of allegations of misconduct,” the ACLU stated. “And contrary to the assertions of the proposed confidentiality agreement, the CRB is not a City agency like any other. It is a creation of state law (like the BPD itself), staffed by City employees.”
Ultimately, the elephant in the room, so to speak, is why isn’t Sen. Jill Carter being re-instated as director of the Office of Civil Rights?
Carter resigned as Delegate representing the 41st District in 2016 to accept an appointment as Director of the Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement, the entity under which the CRB operates under. In the minds of many, the CRB, which in the past has been described as an impotent agency, seemed to thrive under Carter as it sought more power (subpoena and otherwise) to fulfill its mission.
However, when Carter was appointed to replace Nathaniel Oaks as the Senator representing the 41st in March 2017 (an office she won outright on June 26), she was informed she could not remain in the director’s chair. Yet, she returned to the agency this week officially as deputy director of the Office of Civil Rights, even as the director’s position remains vacant. In the absence of a director, City Solicitor Davis, is in charge of the agency.
Sean Yoes is the Baltimore Editor of the AFRO and the author of, Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.