A Baltimore Police car and crime scene tape remains on the scene after a vehicle exploded inside a five-story parking garage in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood on 7/27/22.  Two people are being treated for injuries, fire officials said Wednesday afternoon.

The president of the Baltimore police union is asking a city judge to block a Baltimore Police Department internal investigation accusing him of leaking information to a reporter in April.

Sgt. Mike Mancuso, president of the Baltimore City Lodge No. 3 Fraternal Order of Police, filed a complaint on July 15, writing that the department’s Public Integrity Bureau was demanding to interview him later that month about the potential leak. In the filing, Mancuso’s attorney described the probe as an attempt to quell the union president’s free speech that would send a chilling effect to fellow union members. Department officials, the filing said, were “using it as an opportunity to effectively investigate the union.”

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

Mancuso has not admitted or denied leaking the information. In the filing, his attorney said the inquiry amounted to “nothing more than a fishing expedition to determine how the news media learned that Mr. Hayes had been fired after only nine days.” The probe, the filing added, is at odds with Mancuso’s rights under the First Amendment and the state’s Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights.

“The only reasonable conclusion is that the investigation is aimed primarily at chilling Sgt. Mancuso’s speech as well as other members of the BPD who choose to communicate with the media on matters of public concern,” the complaint said. “Because the department is violating Sgt. Mancuso’s rights, it should not be permitted to proceed with its investigation.”

Mancuso filed the complaint on July 15, the day after he was served notice of the internal investigation by the Public Integrity Bureau. That notice stated that, “in April of 2022, you improperly disseminated information related to Mr. Dana Hayes.” At the time of Mancuso’s filing, the interview was scheduled for July 19, but Mike Davey, one of Mancuso’s attorneys, told The Baltimore Banner on Thursday that the Baltimore Police Department “agreed to postpone the interrogation until the complaint is heard in court.”

Davey said the police department wants to investigate Mancuso “based on union activity, and that’s a violation of the First Amendment.”

A BPD spokesperson said the agency “does not comment on ongoing internal and legal matters.”

A city judge scheduled the hearing for September 27 and directed the department to file a response to Mancuso’s complaint by September 14, according to court filings.

In asking the judge to block the probe, Mancuso’s attorney made several arguments, including that Hayes’ firing is “a matter of public concern which the department has no cognizable interest in regulating.” The filing asserted that Mancuso did not violate Baltimore Police Department Policy 601, which concerns “member confidentiality obligations and media releases.”

The filing did not address department Policy 602, which governs “public speech” and describes the department’s attempt to “balance the interests of BPD employees in commenting publicly upon matters of public concern, and the interests of the BPD as their employer in promoting efficiency and effectiveness in the discharge of its responsibilities.”

Mancuso asserts that the Public Integrity Bureau investigation would necessarily implicate his duties as police union president and threatens discipline over “constitutionally protected activity.” As the president of the police union, the filing argued, any commentary on Hayes would be done in Mancuso’s private capacity as president, and not his official capacity as a police sergeant.

“Sgt. Mancuso is particularly experienced to offer comment on the city’s background check and hiring process; his members have an interest in ensuring the civilian personnel they interact with are properly vetted,” the complaint said.

The filing added that Mancuso had previously expressed concern about the department’s “efforts to civilianize certain positions, arguing that the department was not paying attention to its fundamental purpose or focused on recruiting qualified sworn police officers.”

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