Report on state officer-involved deaths released

Posted at 8:16 PM, Mar 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-16 21:28:43-04

Advocates of policing reform say 21 people were killed by police in Maryland last year.

It's just one of the findings of an examination done by the Maryland ACLU.

To compile the report, ACLU staffers say they studied various news reports after people died during police encounters, and that the overall report underscores why reforms are needed.

When a Baltimore County police officer faced off with 19-year-old Keith McLeod in an alley last September, that officer said he was forced to shoot in self-defense. McLeod later died from his injuries, and it marked one of five times a new ACLU report says someone died in an encounter with Baltimore County officers, the highest in the state according to the report.

"We found 21 such deaths that were reported, over the course of one year in jurisdictions all over the state," said Sonia Kumar, a staff attorney at the Maryland ACLU.

Eleven jurisdictions in Maryland were found to have similar instances, according to the briefing paper released this week. Baltimore County police said they were still examining its findings and were unable to comment.

"The overwhelming majority of those who died were black," Kumar said. "Close to 40 percent of the people who died were unarmed, and every single one of those were African-American."

The report also contends there is a lack of transparency in the discipline process. It notes the only criminal charges were those filed against the officers in the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore man who died after sustaining injuries while in police custody.

But the Maryland State FOP Lodge refuted those claims in a statement, saying the report doesn't consider civil actions taken in some cases or that 20 times prosecutors cleared officers of criminal charges.

Maryland FOP President Vince Canales said in a statement that the organization is open to "ways to address the perception of a lack of transparency."

"Connecting some of those dots, I think, would be a really important step in the right direction," Kumar said. She said understanding what contributed to the deaths is the first step in understanding how to stop them.

All jurisdictions in the state must start reporting the number of people who die in encounters with police, as well as officers who die in the line of duty when a new law goes into effect Oct. 1.

The general assembly is currently considering a number of policing reforms as part of a larger package of legislation.

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