Baltimore Police begin disciplining staff following internal probe of Brooklyn shooting

Published 8/30/2023 3:21 p.m. EDT, Updated 8/30/2023 5:43 p.m. EDT

Richard Worley, Deputy Commissioner at Baltimore Police Department with Mayor Brandon Scott at the the Press conference

Hours after the release of a much-anticipated, scathing probe into this summer’s mass shooting at Brooklyn Homes, Mayor Brandon Scott, public safety and housing officials admitted a series of failings across agencies that left the city unprepared for the gunfire that scattered a block party at the beginning of July.

Acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley, meanwhile, said disciplinary steps are underway within his department, suggesting that additional action is likely to be taken as investigations continue.

Gathered alongside city leaders Wednesday morning, Scott called the new, 173-page internal investigation an “uncompromising” look at the shortfalls and gaps in protocol that prevented city leaders from doing more to address a dangerous situation in Brooklyn before it turned violent.

The mayor called the shooting “one of the most painful chapters” in Baltimore’s history, and said the investigation sets a path forward “with the goal of ensuring every mistake outlined in these reports is never repeated.”

Much of the report zeroes in on the Baltimore Police Department, revealing a hands-off approach in the days and hours leading up to the shooting. Police failed to take preemptive measures to protect residents, the report chronicles, despite evidence in the days before that a large event was planned and even as hundreds of people crowded together at the housing complex that night. In the end, 28 people were injured and two more were killed in the early hours of July 2 as hundreds scattered from shots fired from more than a dozen guns.

Worley said “multiple” people in his department were notified the day before the report’s release that they were facing disciplinary investigations, adding that there are likely to be more to come as investigations continue. The department reassigned the major in charge of the Southern District and moved a captain from another district to take over the role, Worley said.

The kind of gathering that happened in Brooklyn is not an unusual occurrence for Baltimore Police, the acting commissioner said, expressing frustration and confusion about why the department didn’t get people to the scene sooner, when there were more than 100 officers in the city who could have been routed there in short order.

“We could have asked for resources,” Worley said. “We could have done so many things differently that could have helped with a different outcome. But we didn’t. And those who didn’t do that will be held accountable.”

Baltimore elected officials responded to the report Wednesday with calls for further accountability, noting the breakdowns at multiple government levels that failed to get ahead of a developing situation that might have been prevented.

Councilwoman Phylicia Porter, who represents Brooklyn and South Baltimore, said in a statement that the need for the report demonstrates “a cloud of doubt and mistrust within and surrounding our City government,” making it challenging for an already wounded community to rebuild.

“A line has been crossed, and I stand alongside my fellow citizens in demanding transparency and accountability, and proactive solutions from our City government,” she said. “Our voices must not be silenced, and our quest for justice and answers must be relentless.”

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Worley, meanwhile, pushed back on impressions that a police investigation into the shooting is “winding down.” His department is pressing forward both with its internal probe and its pursuit of the shooters, he said, announcing that a reward for information about the shooters has been upped to $88,000.

Scott stood by his selection for police commissioner, who was less than a month into the new job at the time of the shooting.

“This is not on the acting police commissioner,” the mayor stressed, pointing to failures at lower rungs of the department that Worley is working to resolve. The city has to focus on holding those who pulled the trigger accountable along with the officials who did not do their jobs on the day of the shooting, he said.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Worley on Sept. 21, the week after a follow-up hearing on the Brooklyn shooting in which council members are expected to delve into the findings of the new report.

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City has also stressed that Brooklyn Day festivities never received a permit, arguing on Wednesday that there were not channels in place to alert officials to the hundreds of people gathering at their development. Janet Abrahams, the agency’s president, said she did not have any way of knowing what was developing without resident input because it doesn’t have on-site personnel. The agency’s 24-hour hotline received no calls raising concern about the event, the report said.

The report also notes that the housing authority is in the process of deploying a private security service on each of its Baltimore properties, an expansion of a pilot that has been underway over the last year at four developments, though not Brooklyn Homes. Those security personnel could be helpful for alerting housing authority staff in the future, Abrahams said.

Abrahams pushed back on criticism from housing advocates alleging that her agency has responded to the shooting with punitive steps toward its residents. The housing authority has adopted policies to penalize residents who hold un-permitted events in violation of their lease. But Abrahams said the agency is not evicting anyone involved in planning this year’s Brooklyn Day party. “If any eviction happens right now in the housing authority, it’s for nonpayment of rent,” she said.

Councilman Mark Conway, chair of the public safety committee, said in a statement Wednesday morning that the findings of the report reveal a “heartbreaking series of failures and missed opportunities” in the lead-up to the violence.

“To see that police department personnel was aware of the growing crowds but took minimal action is beyond disappointing,” the North Baltimore councilman said. “The fact that HABC [housing authority] staff was unaware of an hours-long event on their property with hundreds of people until early the next morning suggests gaps in communication that must be addressed going forward.”

Council President Nick Mosby similarly decried “unacceptable” direction from the Police Department and said the new report speaks to reforms that still have not been addressed since the 2015 death of Freddie Gray.

“The catastrophic breakdown, officer indifference, and lack of proactive and reactive response at the heart of this mass shooting would not have occurred if the same scenario was the case in a more affluent part of the city,” he said.

Overall, the report paints a picture of a Police Department with a troubling disconnect from the Brooklyn community it serves. Community members repeatedly expressed a sentiment to report authors that, had such a large group converged “in a predominantly white neighborhood,” the response would have been preemptive “and then certainly swiftly tactical” to disperse crowds before the situation turned violent.

Asked about that sentiment Wednesday, the mayor agreed that Brooklyn has suffered from generations of inequitable policing practices, but also pointed to changes predating the shooting — such as an increase in the number of officers patrolling the South Baltimore neighborhood — meant to address those deep-rooted disparities.

“We are talking about systemic things,” Scott said. “We know that neighborhood has been served inequitably for many, many years.”

Baltimore Banner reporter Emily Sullivan contributed to this article.