Lack Of Disclosure

City Paper

As the fallout from the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri reverberates, City Paper wondered where the Baltimore Police stand on their own use-of-force cases.

In June the department announced a new, more “transparent” system to investigate police shootings and other uses of force that result in death or serious injury. The website was launched with a matrix of cases and a map, which combines “use-of-force” incidents by police with murders to drive home the point that police work in dangerous neighborhoods.

Missing from the matrix: the names of the officers and their victims/suspects, and any indication of what the investigators found.

In the 19 incidents currently under investigation, there is not even a way to tell how many resulted in death.

Sergeant Sarah Connolly, a department spokeswoman, says the lack of names is a policy decision—even though the department announced in 2010 that it would, within 48 hours, release the names of police who shoot suspects (and it does—just not here).

Updates on a case’s status, Connolly says, will be forthcoming as the use of force board “makes their recommendations.” This, she says, “could take up to six months.”

It has already been more than six months since some of these incidents happened.

For example, on Jan. 13 police officer Warren Benn, working in plain clothes, shot 24-year-old Perry Webb on the 1800 block of East Lanvale Street. The officer said Webb and another man in the car with out-of-state plates were acting suspiciously and called for backup. The two officers, who were, as a police spokesperson told reporters, “deployed in an area that we know to be very violent,” approached the car. They said they saw a gun, and they fired, killing Webb. Police said they didn’t know whether Webb had pointed the gun at anyone. He had not fired the gun, which was reportedly recovered from his hand.

Court records show Webb had burglary and traffic violations pending at the time of his death. In 2007 he was indicted on attempted-murder charges, eventually pleading guilty to assault and handgun charges.

Benn is a 13-year veteran of the police department. Baltimore Police are typically placed on administrative leave after shootings, but Benn’s status was undisclosed. Court records suggest that Benn was back on patrol at least by May, when he was listed as a witness in a drug case against a woman arrested in June for an incident that occurred on May 15. In the case, Benn is listed as a Southwest District officer.

Incidents were added to the matrix sometimes months after they occurred without any notification by the department. On July 5 the Sun’s Justin George detailed three incidents that had just made the list—one dating from Jan. 25 when officer William Berardi injured a domestic violence suspect as he was handcuffing him, one on March 26 when Detective Sgt. Wayne Jenkins used his patrol car to run down a man allegedly armed with a gun, and an April 4 incident in which an officer identified only by his last name—Maggio—and Detective Michael Gause followed a black pickup truck they thought was suspicious and reportedly watched the driver emerge in an alley and fall on his face. It is unclear how the incident rates as a “use of force” under the department’s definition, which it says consists of “shootings, and other categorical uses of force where the injury may be directly attributed to the use of force by an officer and requires the individual’s admission to a hospital.”

City Paper has for several months asked police for more detail about officers’ use of force. On June 13 the newspaper made a request under the Maryland Public Information Act for records relating to every bullet fired by a Baltimore police officer in 2013.

Called “Firearms Discharge Reports” by other agencies, these records are standard in police departments nation-wide, and have been ruled to be public records elsewhere.

The Baltimore City Police Department did not respond to City Paper’s request within the required 30 days. When the reporter emailed the department to ask for a response on Aug. 14, J. Eric Kowalczyk, director of the department’s media relations section, replied that he would see if the request was received. He did not reply to follow-up emails. 

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