Maryland lawmakers took a final vote Thursday to give the state’s attorney general the responsibility for prosecuting police officers who kill or grievously injure people, taking the power from local prosecutors who have been reluctant to charge officers.
The bill given final approval in the Maryland General Assembly would consolidate both investigations and prosecutions under the attorney general, which supporters say makes a fairer and more straightforward process.
Local state’s attorneys, who currently prosecute such cases, have not brought charges in these cases in recent years, and some have suggested that could be because they work so closely with police that they can’t be unbiased.
“Even if there was a scintilla of doubt that there could be some kind of partiality or bias in the local state’s attorney’s office, it takes it off the table,” said Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who heads the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee.
The House voted 99-37 to approve the change on Thursday, following a 27-20 vote last month in the state Senate.
The bill will soon go to the desk of Democratic Gov. Wes Moore, who plans to sign it into law, according to a spokesman.
As part of sweeping policing reforms passed two years ago, state lawmakers created an independent division under the attorney general to investigate deaths that involve police. But they left the decision of whether to prosecute officers involved in the incidents to the local elected state’s attorneys.
Since the Maryland Office of the Attorney General Independent Investigations Division took over investigations in October 2021, not a single completed investigation has resulted in prosecutors bringing criminal charges against involved police officers.
In one recent case in Frederick, the state’s attorney declined to file charges before the attorney general’s independent investigators completed their report. A Frederick police officer shot and killed a man armed with a knife who was wanted on a warrant for violating probation, according to investigators.
Most state’s attorneys have opposed the bill, unwilling to lose part of their authority and arguing that they’ve been entrusted by voters to handle serious cases.
Republican lawmakers voiced the same concerns and attempted to change the bill so that state’s attorneys could have the first chance to file charges before the attorney general would step in.
Republicans also unsuccessfully attempted to limit the change to just four years, to move the power of prosecuting such cases to the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor (which typically handles government corruption cases) and to remove cases involving “injuries likely to result in death” from the bill.
This article may be updated.