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ACLU report details allegations of Baltimore Police misconduct, highlights need for police reform

Posted at 10:59 PM, Jan 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 16:10:47-05

BALTIMORE — A new report finds allegations of police misconduct against Baltimore City police officers continues to be a problem, despite the department being ordered to implement reforms under a federal consent decree.

The ACLU of Maryland released the report called "Chasing Justice" and found there were 13,392 complaints of misconduct filed against 1,826 Baltimore City police officers between 2015 and 2019.

In the last 12 months, the report said 20 percent of Baltimore City officers were accused of police misconduct, while stating 6 percent of officers made up more than 30 percent of the complaints.

In those same years, the report said out of 22,884 use of force incidents, more than 90 percent of the resident involved were black residents who represent about 63 percent of the city's population.

After the death of Freddie Gray, the Department of Justice found Baltimore Police violated the civil rights of its residents, specifically its black residents. BPD agreed to a consent decree to reform the department in 2017.

“The report only validates what so many black residents have known about these officers for years and decades," said Joe Spielberger, who is the public policy counsel of the ACLU of Maryland and author of the "Chasing Justice".

Spielberger reviewed BPD data made available through Project Comport, which is a tool for law enforcement agencies to report data, including misconduct complaints. With the data, albeit limited, he was able to identify more than 100 officers who had more than a dozen misconduct complaints filed against them.

At the top of the list with 227 complaints was Wayne Jenkins, who was sentenced to federal for his role in the Gun Trace Task Force Scandal. But many of the other officers listed are still on the force like Jorge Bernardez-Ruiz.

Between 2015 and 2019, the report said he had 18 complaints of misconduct filed against him. Bernardez Ruiz was involved in several high-profile excessive force cases, including the death of Tyrone West in 2013.

“If you’re doing criminal acts, you need to be charged accordingly," she said. "If I was out there beating and murdering people you would never see me again."

Spielberger and Jones also said Maryland lawmakers need to repeal laws such as the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights (LEOBRR), which critics argue allow police to police themselves. There's also been calls to reform the Maryland Public Information Act, which shields the public from seeing police misconduct records.

"It’s clear even after that huge scandal, current BPD policies and practices aren’t nearly enough to hold officers accountable," Spielberger said.

WMAR-2 News reached out to the Baltimore Police Department which released a statement on Wednesday.

The Baltimore Police Department recently became aware of the report and is currently reviewing all of its contents.

Based on our understanding, some of the data in the ACLU report comes from a previous collaboration between BPD and Code for America Labs, Inc. ("Project Comport"). All BPD data was provided on a deidentified basis. This initiative, which began in 2016 was an effort to increase transparency into use of force, police misconduct investigations and discipline. BPD has continued to advance that goal in recent years through significant steps such as the addition of civilians to BPD'S disciplinary trial boards, and remains steadfastly committed to further reform in this area consistent with the Consent Decree.

While strides have been made on these fronts, we understand the need from more accountability and transparency in rebuilding trust and transforming the department into one that the community, wants, needs and most importantly deserves.According to the report, the author assigned names to the deidentified data, using a "probabilistic matching" methodology that we cannot confirm resulted in accurate translation of the data. In addition, allegation data are misidentified as “complaints” throughout the report and the actual number of misconduct cases are lower than the report outlines.

The report also aggregated data regardless of disposition status where complaints were unfounded, exonerated, or not sustained. BPD would not, and under the Maryland Public Information Act, could not, disclose any personally identifiable disciplinary information or personnel records about its officers.

City Councilman Mark Conway sent us a statement, saying the public safety committee will hold a hearing on the consent decree next month.

The report will be a topic of conversation, Conway said.

The full report can be read below:

A revision in the article was made to correct an error describing how Tyrone West died. He died during a struggle with police while he was in custody not as a result of a police shooting.