Maryland Gov. Wes Moore’s choice to be the state’s top cop — tasked with turning around an agency facing allegations of racism and illegal quotas for tickets and arrests — faces a key test on Monday.
Maryland State Police Lt. Col. Roland Butler has a confirmation hearing in the Maryland Senate, where he’ll hope to win enough support to be approved as the agency’s superintendent. Butler, who spent his career with the state police, has been serving as acting superintendent for about a month.
“Monday’s a very, very important day for the superintendent to lay out a plan, point by point, of how he really intends to reform an agency that has been struggling of late on a number of different fronts,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, told reporters on Friday.
Butler is being scrutinized as he takes over a department facing challenges including a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation into potentially discriminatory hiring and promotion practices, as well as a lawsuit from Black troopers alleging discrimination in disciplinary decisions.
And the state police have been criticized for sexist and racist “challenge coins” being exchanged among troopers and racist imagery on a target at a shooting range.
Representatives from the Black troopers coalition met with Butler and Moore for an hour and 45 minutes at the State House on Friday afternoon.
Rodney Morris, a retired state trooper who was in the meeting, declined to offer many specifics afterward, saying “that’s a work in progress” and they are “coming up with a plan.”
Assisting with Butler’s confirmation process, however, “is not part of the plan,” Morris told reporters.
Butler has also faced questions about a points-based quota system used to reward troopers in some barracks for traffic stops, in violation of state law.
In a budget hearing with state lawmakers, Butler said he did not know about the quotas and does not support them. The point system is “inappropriate and blatantly wrong,” he said.
Butler, who headed the Maryland State Police Field Operations Bureau overseeing the barracks until he retired in December, said he learned about them from news reports. He said the matter was “immediately dealt with” and limited to one barrack, but The Baltimore Banner has reported on evidence of quotas in multiple barracks.
All cabinet-level positions require “advice and consent” from the state Senate, a process that involves a confirmation hearing and vote in the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. If the committee votes to support a nominee, then a vote in the full 47-member Senate follows.
Ferguson has said he expects Butler to meet with all 47 senators individually ahead of Monday night’s confirmation hearing. Each senator must make up their own mind and Ferguson said he did not want to “pre-judge” the outcome.
“The executive nominations process is working. It is intentionally built to make sure you get the best and talented, most talented individuals leading state agencies,” Ferguson said. “I think there’s been a lot of work put in by the superintendent to address concerns that senators have brought forward.”
Sen. Joanne C. Benson, a veteran Prince George’s County Democrat who is Black, said she’s heard for years from Black and brown troopers who have been on the receiving end of a disciplinary system that’s stacked against them.
Given that Butler was a top official within the Maryland State Police for many years, she questions whether he’s the right person for the job of reforming the agency.
“When you have the United States Department of Justice investigating an agency, that is a red flag,” Benson said. “And the red flag goes up and it begins to call into question: Who caused this problem to happen? The unrest of many of the elected officials and many of the people in the community is this: Mr. Butler was there when these kinds of things happened.”
Moore, for his part, is standing by Butler.
The governor’s spokesman, Carter Elliott IV, described Friday’s meeting as “productive” in a written statement.
“Lt. Col. Butler takes the suggestions provided by the troopers and other stakeholders seriously, and knows their voices are critical to making much needed changes in the department,” Elliott said.
He continued: “Gov. Moore is confident in Lt. Col. Butler’s ability to lead the Maryland State Police. His three decade career in the Maryland State Police makes him well-prepared to serve as Superintendent and move the department forward.”
The Moore administration sent 21 letters of support to the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, many from law enforcement leaders, including Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, Anne Arundel County Police Chief Amal E. Awad and Annapolis Police Chief Edward C. Jackson.
When Moore announced his pick on Feb. 23, he said Butler fulfilled his desire for a leader who understands the problems with the organization, “but also had the core vision and the fortitude to be able to help lead us through.”
Butler, if confirmed, would be the first Black superintendent of the Maryland State Police.
He isn’t the first of Moore’s nominees to run into friction in the state Senate.
Vincent Schiraldi eventually was confirmed as secretary of juvenile services, but only after Republicans delayed the vote and voiced concerns about his “radical” positions on juvenile justice reform.
One of Moore’s nominees for the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, withdrew after there was pushback over his prior job in the natural gas industry.
And Yolanda Maria Martinez, nominated to the Maryland Stadium Authority, is awaiting a vote in the Executive Nominations Committee.
The website Maryland Matters reported on Martinez’s past financial troubles. The committee delayed voting on Martinez, whose supporters have been urging senators to confirm her.
Baltimore Banner reporter Brenda Wintrode contributed to this report.