Discontent with city leadership may have played a larger role than has been acknowledged in the recent, back-to-back departures of Baltimore’s police commissioner and director of the neighborhood safety office.

Texts messages obtained by The Banner through a public records request show Shantay Jackson, then the outgoing director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, sent text messages to then-Police Commissioner Michael Harrison during the Police Department’s consequential City Council budget hearing on June 6, which led to his abrupt departure two days later.

“Time to get rid of Barksdale,” she wrote. “We can take him down and figure out the rest,” she later added.

She was referring to Anthony Barksdale, the former deputy police commissioner and former critic of the city’s public safety strategies who joined the city as deputy mayor for public safety in July 2022. In that role, he oversees police and the neighborhood safety office, as well as the fire department and Office of Emergency Management.

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Word of Jackson’s resignation leaked on May 11. Two days later, Harrison said he submitted his 90-day notice of resignation, which was kept under wraps until after Harrison was repeatedly pressed about his future at the June 6 City Council hearing.

As Harrison was questioned by Councilman Eric Costello, Jackson sent him a series of texts.

“I need you to take my call,” she wrote. “I know you’re in the hearing. You gonna answer? Chess - not checkers - time.”

Harrison responded that he was sitting “front and center at the hearing” and asked her to text him.

“It’s collective bargaining time,” she wrote — it’s unclear what she meant — and then said it was “[t]ime to get rid of Barksdale.”

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“You and me unless you’re already out. You have my respect either way.”

Harrison did not respond to her subsequent messages that night.

Reached this week, Jackson declined to comment on the texts, her working relationship with Barksdale or the circumstances of her departure.

Harrison, meanwhile, didn’t address specifics of his interactions with Barksdale but said: “I’m a professional; I can work with anybody. He had nothing to do with my decision to leave, my timing.”

Bryan Doherty, a spokesman for Mayor Brandon Scott, did not respond to a question about whether the administration was aware of any discontent with Barksdale. He said they were pleased with his performance.

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“Deputy Mayor Barksdale’s record and work within this administration speaks for itself,” Doherty said. “With homicides down 25 percent and non-fatal shootings down over seven percent so far this year, he has made enormous positive impact while facilitating the overall violence reduction efforts, and will remain a key and trusted public servant.”

Harrison’s texts from June 6 through June 8 were requested by The Banner as administration officials refused to answer basic questions about Harrison’s departure and denied public records requests.

Harrison, Mayor Brandon Scott and Harrison’s successor — Richard Worley, who had been serving as deputy commissioner — eventually sat down with The Banner and media partner WJZ and provided more information about the whirlwind 36 hours after the budget hearing that led to Worley being installed immediately as the acting police commissioner.

During the council hearing, as Costello sought to get information, among those also texting Harrison was Council President Nick Mosby, who seemed to be coaching Harrison on how to answer Costello.

“If your contract is not renewed... of course you will take another opportunity before your contract ends. That’s the answer,” Mosby wrote. “Stay behind it is the Mayor’s decision about renewing and expectations.”

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City Administrator Faith Leach texted Harrison around the same time telling him “Don’t worry,” saying that she had spoken to Costello and “the chair will not ask again” about his future with the city.

“I’m going to have to have my senior team meet after this tonight,” Harrison wrote back. “They are rattled.”

Harrison had not told his staff of his plans to leave. Leach apologized and asked to “huddle” after the meeting was over.

Texts from the department’s chief legal counsel Justin Conroy were withheld, citing “attorney-client privilege.”

On Wednesday night, Harrison had dinner with U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar, who has been overseeing the consent decree, along with Department of Justice official Timothy Mygatt and Ken Thompson, the monitor for the consent decree team.

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“We will dine in my chambers (catered). Informal, Italian,” Bredar texted Harrison.

The Police Department’s chief spokesperson, Lindsey Eldridge, texted Harrison at 11:46 p.m. on that night, just hours before Harrison’s resignation would be announced to the public. Eldridge, who said at the time she was unaware that Harrison had submitted his resignation a month earlier, had just found out about his impending departure and questioned whether they should push back the announcement of his resignation.

“Hey Sir, I have the talking points and am making edits. Just a question/thought, do you think it’s a good idea to make this announcement tomorrow?” she wrote. “I’m very concerned about people trying to say that you lied [at the council hearing]. If you made the announcement a week or so later, you could say that in the week after the hearing, you made a determination to submit your resignation. Please know that I am good either way, but I at least wanted to share that.”

Eldridge sent Harrison and his wife draft talking points at 1:12 a.m.

A flood of messages rolled in after Harrison’s departure was announced on June 8, from faith leaders, city officials and members of the Police Department. Among them was Worley, who found out just before midnight the night before that he was getting the job.

“Obviously, I’m going to need a lot of help in the transition. Just let me know when you are available,” Worley wrote. “I know you want to enjoy the day with your family. I could never thank you enough for your leadership.”

justin.fenton@thebaltimorebanner.com