Over the last few months, a handful of city residents tasked with reviewing the Baltimore Police Department’s internal misconduct investigations have been scouring nearly two dozen cases per week, flagging issues with missing video footage, incomplete reports and policy discrepancies.

Since its first meeting in mid-June, the five-member “administrative charging committee” of the city’s Police Accountability Board has reviewed more than 370 cases, according to the city’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights, which oversees its work. Of those cases, the committee has differed from the department’s internal conclusions in seven instances, the civil rights office said.

The accountability board was mandated by a state law passed in 2021, but delayed for several months due to disagreements over how it would function, a prolonged fight that resulted in a backlog of hundreds of cases.

To fill his two seats on the committee, the mayor appointed David Cramer, a longtime police reform activist who previously served on civilian trial boards, and Kim Rogers, a former university police officer who now works in human resources and background investigations.

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The other three went to the 17-member accountability board, which chose three people who are no strangers to police oversight. They include Ray Kelly, a community organizer and police reform activist; Tiera Hawkes, a public defender who formerly chaired the now-defunct Civilian Review Board; and Jesmond Riggins, a civil rights attorney who once supervised the review board as part of his job working for the city civil rights office. That perspective has allowed them to hit the ground running.

Compared to the reports he saw several years ago, Riggins said he has noticed improvements, particularly in how the reports are written and organized. But overall, Riggins said the Baltimore Police Department “still has a ways to go to reflect quality investigations.”

In his case reviews, Riggins said he often has had to request more information or additional body-worn camera footage to fill in the gaps in the reports. Sometimes, he has noticed that the statements in the reports don’t match the footage. Other times, he has wondered why more information wasn’t captured, such as what a complaining citizen can be heard saying on tape.

“It’s stuff like that that I have pointed out regularly,” Riggins said. “There’s more work that needs to be done, still needs to be done, to make these investigations what I believe the Baltimore Police Department can actually produce if it’s willing to invest in a first-class internal affairs division.”

Riggins’ observations come despite a 2019 restructuring and infusion of new leadership in the department’s internal investigations division, which is now known as the Public Integrity Bureau. Deputy Commissioner Brian Nadeau, formerly of the FBI Baltimore field office, has overseen the bureau, which has made strides in some areas but has lagged behind court-mandated metrics for completing its investigations.

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In response to the concerns raised by the charging committee, a Police Department spokesperson said its Public Integrity Bureau remains on track for compliance with its federally mandated consent decree, despite a rising caseload since 2018.

“While there have been few instances of evidence not being viewable due to technical issues, those instances were immediately corrected and BPD is proud to work alongside the ACC (charging committee)” Spokesperson Lindsey Eldridge said in an email. “BPD believes the new process will continue to be a success.”

Though some reformers wanted the larger accountability board to carry the powers of the charging committee, Riggins said the sleeker version of a five-person investigative wing was a preferable model, adding that it is “much more effective” than the prior Civilian Review Board, which languished for years without regular meetings.

The committee emerged from the month of June battle-tested after completing 73 case reviews in order to make a determination before their window to do so expired, according to the civil rights office. That involved spending “countless hours” watching body-camera footage and analyzing evidence, an office spokesperson said. The committee has now caught up, settling into a pace of about 20 cases per week.

Dana Moore, director of the Office of Equity and Civil Rights, said in a statement that she “cannot emphasize enough the significance of the accomplishment.”

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“The amount of work and dedication they brought to the process from day one, understanding the importance of their role and the implications for our communities, is extraordinary,” Moore said. “The massive amount of time they devoted to reviewing the backlog of cases and the hours they put in each week to make sure cases are adjudicated in a timely manner is awe-inspiring.”

Riggins, the charging committee member, said he is particularly focused on how the Public Integrity Bureau is determining chokehold and neckhold cases. Department policy says that such moves are prohibited unless the situation warrants deadly force. But there have been about three examples Riggins said he can think of where it has come up as a point of contention in his reviews.

In one case, after the Public Integrity Bureau determined there wasn’t enough evidence to say the officer acted inappropriately, Riggins said he flagged the bureau to let them know that they needed to reassess the case. The incident clearly didn’t require deadly force, Riggins said, because it involved a man on the ground in handcuffs.

Riggins said the Public Integrity Bureau changed their disposition to align with the charging committee’s review.

“That is my strategy,” Riggins said. “My strategy is to keep ACC and BPD as aligned as possible in our dispositions.”

bconarck@thebaltimorebanner.com

Ben Conarck is a criminal justice reporter for The Baltimore Banner. Previously, he covered healthcare and investigations for the Miami Herald and criminal justice for the Florida Times-Union.

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