New police body camera footage obtained by Baltimore mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah captures police joking about detaining protestors at a June demonstration against Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. that ended in arrests.

When the utility company announced plans to install gas regulators on the outside of people’s homes, residents in several neighborhoods decried the idea, including some Baltimoreans who were arrested when they demonstrated against the company outside installations at Federal Hill rowhomes. Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates dropped the charges in August.

In September, the Maryland Public Service Commission sided with the residents and ruled that they could choose whether BGE installed external regulators at their homes.

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With the mayoral primary looming less than a month and a half away, Vignarajah said the footage represents “a mayor that responds to BGE reflexively and ignores the rest of the city.”

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The lawyer, who formerly served as Deputy Attorney General of Maryland and worked as a prosecutor in the State’s Attorney’s Office, led a class action suit against BGE and represented the arrested protestors.

The Democrat ran against incumbent Mayor Brandon Scott in the 2020 primary and for State’s Attorney in 2018 and 2022. He consistently earns double-digit support from voters; stories of hostile work environments he oversaw and harassment have lingered around each campaign.

Scott made headlines when he approved a controversial deal with the utility provider over access to the city-owned underground conduit. That 2023 deal did not have much to do with external regulators.

The mayor is not depicted and not heard from in the footage. The video includes a snippet of Councilman Eric Costello, who represents Federal Hill, telling an officer he spoke with Scott, City Administrator Faith Leach and Senate President Bill Ferguson.

“What’s going to happen is, we’re going to send someone up here from MONSE [the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement] and they’re gonna come talk to these folks and say, ‘You gotta move. If you don’t move, here’s what the consequences are going to be,’” the Democrat said.

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Scott said he did not recall the conversation with Costello. “We often send folks [to protests] to have conversations, because we believe in people’s right to protest,” he said.

MONSE is the mayor’s flagship public safety program; staffers often perform conflict mediation at sites and are known for their gun violence and homicide prevention work.

Costello did not respond to a request for comment. After the protests, he sponsored city legislation to ban external regulators in Baltimore.

Police in the footage appear both frustrated that the protestors refuse to step aside and bemused to be on the scene at all. They repeatedly tell protestors that “arrests will commence if you do not clear the area,” while privately joking to each other: “Baltimore police have nothing better to do!”

“You’re trying to stop them from doing something that’s illegal,” one officer said of the protestors. “Come on, let me help you. Let’s get serious.”

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The officer added: “They’re probably right. You don’t have the lawyers or the pockets to go against them. This is a Fortune 500 company, they have billions of dollars in assets. They will bury you before you get anywhere.”

After hours of back and forth between BGE workers, police, and the protestors, BPD officers eventually handcuffed and arrested three women. “What is telling is the level of comfort BGE has pulling the strings of municipal government,” Vignarajah said.

Vignarajah aired about 20 minutes of footage from the full six hours of obtained video at a news conference Wednesday. In one snippet, as he speaks with BGE attorney David Ralph via speakerphone, Vignarajah informs Ralph that a police officer wearing a body camera is capturing their exchange. “Do you need me to turn my camera off, sir?” an officer asks.

As that segment played in the conference room at Sanford Heisler Sharp, the civil rights firm where he serves as a managing partner, Vignarajah smiled.

“I think it’s a helpful reminder that that [turning off a police body camera] is not some god-awful thing that is rarely done,” he quipped afterwards.

In 2020, news outlets published footage of Vignarajah asking a police sergeant to turn off his body camera during a late night traffic stop on Greenmount Avenue.

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news.

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