Baltimore judge denies bid by police union president to halt investigation into media leak

Published on: September 27, 2022 at 7:52 pm EDT

Updated on: September 27, 2022 at 8:41 pm EDT

A patch on the uniform of Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison as he speaks at a press conference outside Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School on 8/24/22.

A Baltimore City circuit judge on Tuesday rejected an argument by the police union president that an investigation into whether he was the source of a media leak this year violated his constitutional rights, allowing the probe to continue.

Sgt. Mike Mancuso, president of the Baltimore City Lodge No. 3 Fraternal Order of Police, filed a complaint with the court on July 15 asserting that the Baltimore Police Department’s Public Integrity Bureau was on a “fishing expedition” and that its attempt to interrogate him about the alleged leak violated his First Amendment rights, as well as the state’s Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights.

That law, which has sections devoted to shielding officers against retaliation from supervisors, was repealed by the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year. However, it still applies to the chain of events triggering the investigation, which occurred before July 1.

The leak in question concerns the firing of Dana Hayes, a former civilian employee of the Police Department who was terminated in April, nine days after being hired as head of fiscal services. City officials belatedly realized Hayes was a person of interest in a homicide investigation. Hayes was later indicted in federal court in June for alleged wire fraud and money laundering related to COVID relief funds.

In response to Mancuso’s filing, the department said it had ascertained that the sergeant, who is on full-time leave to serve as police union president, received a “confidential personnel record.”

Ashley Moore, the Police Department’s attorney, argued that the judge should dismiss Mancuso’s attempt to block the probe because the agency was investigating misconduct. “Illegal conduct by union officials,” she said, wasn’t protected under the First Amendment nor by the officer’s bill of rights.

“The Police Department has the right to conduct and maintain efficient operations, and if there is any deviations from that efficiency, they have the right to internally investigate and address these matters outside of the public’s eye,” Ashley Moore, the Police Department’s attorney, said.

In issuing his ruling on Thursday morning during a Zoom meeting, Judge Jeffrey M. Geller said the facts available to him were “somewhat sparse.”

“Since the petitioner has neither confirmed nor denied disseminating any confidential personnel records to the press, the issue is whether any investigation into the improperly disseminated personnel information would necessarily violate his free speech rights,” Geller said. ”In this case, the court finds that it does not.”

Kieran P. Dowdy, one of the attorneys for Mancuso, argued earlier in the hearing that the department’s failure to properly screen Hayes before hiring him was “very different from a routine personnel action.”

“I think he had the right to comment, if he did at all,” Dowdy said. “I think whoever leaked this information, if they were a police officer, had the right to release that information because it fosters public discourse, because it evidences gross mismanagement.”

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Dowdy also said the notion that leaking the information to the press interfered with the department’s right to privacy was flawed because Hayes was “publicly led out of the building” after his firing.

“Hundreds of employees probably watched him walk out of that building,” Dowdy argued.

Geller, the judge, called that argument self-defeating.

“The Baltimore Police Department’s interests in protecting the privacy of its employees, maintaining discipline and uniformly enforcing its longstanding policies outweigh the petitioner’s relatively nominal interest in disseminating a personnel record that he implicitly concedes would do little to inform the public,” he said.

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