BALTIMORE (AP) - Encounters with police in Maryland resulted in the deaths of at least 109 people during a four-year span, according to a report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.
According to the report, which ACLU staff and volunteers began compiling in 2013, 69 percent of those who died between 2010-2014 were black. In 41 cases, the individuals killed demonstrated possible medical or mental health issues or disability.
Police officers were criminally charged in less than 2 percent of the cases.
The ACLU’s report is the result of more than a year of research that involved combing through news media reports and speaking with family members of individuals who were killed by police, according to ACLU attorney Sonia Kumar. That’s because the state has no unified system for tracking and reporting deaths that occur at the hands of law enforcement officers. Maryland has roughly 140 law enforcement agencies.
“We were shocked to realize that no one was officially tracking these deaths in any way, and certainly not any way available to the public,” Kumar said Wednesday. “There are opportunities to learn from each of these incidents. How can we prevent these incidents from occurring if we’re not tracking them or reporting them so police departments can learn from each other? Even more fundamentally than that, we are not even counting these deaths. That speaks for itself.”
The briefing paper says Maryland had the sixth-highest rate of deaths that involved police out of the 39 states that reported numbers in 2012, according to FBI “justifiable homicide” statistics from that year.
According to the report, Baltimore City has had the most police-involved homicides in the state, leading with 31 deaths in four years.
“All we are asking for is accountability,” Tawanda Jones, whose brother Tyrone West died after a confrontation with police following a traffic stop in 2013, said in a statement. An independent review board determined that West died of a heart condition and the officers involved were not charged. But the report said the officers “made several tactical errors that may have extended the length of the physical encounter, compromised officer safety, and potentially aggravated the situation.”
“At the end of the day there are lives being taken every 24 hours and nothing’s being done,” Jones said. “We don’t want this type of pain to happen to another family.”
A variety of measures are before the Maryland General Assembly relating to police accountability this session.
Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat who has not seen the ACLU report, said this session is the right time to address police misconduct issues, and noted several bills that have not received votes yet with less than a month left in Maryland’s legislative session.
Anderson is sponsoring a bill that would take the prosecution of police officers out of the state’s attorney’s office in the county where alleged misconduct happens and turn it over to the attorney general. He also is sponsoring a bill to take away a police officer’s second hearing at a trial board, when they have been convicted already in a state court.
“The story is: What are we doing?” Anderson said. “Are we standing by and doing nothing or are we trying to at least pass bills that help give the public more faith in their police department?”
But Vince Canales, president of the Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police, said the report is misleading, and that reforms should be focused on effectively communicating the outcomes of investigations to family members rather than the conduct of officers on patrol.
“In each of those incidents you’ll find those officers were investigated internally and criminally, and we had situations where state’s attorney’s offices were involved,” Canales said. “I think the attempt to make this an issue about rank and file street officers is wrong; at the end of the day, the issues are more systemic in nature than about officers out on the street doing his or her job.”
Associated Press Writer Brian Witte in Annapolis contributed to this report.
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