Prince George’s Public Defenders Pressing for Access to Police Misconduct Records

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The Prince George’s County Office of the Public Defender filed a motion Friday morning to unseal and unredact an expert report detailing dozens of instances of misconduct and discriminatory practices by members of the Prince George’s County Police Department, alleging that prosecutors failed to disclose allegations that could impact their clients.

“As the County’s primary provider of indigent defense services, the Office has a significant interest in learning the extent of any racial bias within PGPD,” the filing reads.

However, State’s Attorney Aisha N. Braveboy (D) said she has also pressed for access to police disciplinary records, but has not been given access by the county administration.

On Friday, Braveboy said she would continue to pursue access to the report.

“I believe that transparency and cooperation is imperative which is why my office is now in the process of filing an emergency motion with the federal court for the unredacted report,” she said.

The 94-page report in the federal court case was compiled by policing expert Michael Graham. It was filed earlier this summer in a lawsuit brought by the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Officers Association against the county.

Some of these alleged incidents include sexist exchanges about Black women officers, jokes about lynchings and slavery and an episode where a group of mostly white officers staged a walk-out during an implicit bias training session, among other examples.

The motion to intervene filed on behalf of the Prince George’s County Office of the Public Defender states that there have been numerous instances where officers who arrested, investigated and prosecuted their clients were cited in the expert report that led to the resignation of former Prince George’s Police Chief Hank Stawinski.

The document alleges that the state’s attorneys office failed to disclose these instances of misconduct to the defense “despite prosecutors’ obligations to produce such information.”

State prosecutors are prohibited from suppressing evidence ― a notion cemented by the Supreme Court in the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland, which found that withholding evidence is a violation of due process rights.

“Ensuring public access to the full report will therefore shed much needed light on the ways that the misconduct alleged in this case has infected other aspects the County’s criminal legal system,” the motion reads.

Keith Lotridge, district public defender for Prince George’s County, told Maryland Matters in a phone interview that his office represents more than 20,000 people a year and that almost all of those cases involve police officers.

“We don’t know whether any of those allegations are true or not, however … there is a duty for [state prosecutors] to provide us information that could impact a trial” ― including things that may display bias, he said. “To actually have a justice system that works, we need transparency.”

Lotridge estimated that over 90% of defendants represented by his office are people of color.

But both the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Office of the Public Defender face hurdles when it comes to accessing police misconduct records. Under current Maryland law, police disciplinary and misconduct records are deemed personnel records making them unavailable for public inspection.

Legislation to reclassify these records, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), will be heard at the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee’s next Wednesday.

Following Stawinski’s resignation earlier this summer, Braveboy (D) called for greater access to police personnel records ― including an unredacted version of Graham’s expert report. She said at a June news conference that she would like to conduct her own investigation “because it may be that those officers are involved in cases in our office and I must — and I will — protect the integrity of every single prosecution that this office conducts.”

Braveboy doubled-down on her desire for transparency at a meeting of the House Workgroup to Address Police Reform and Accountability, where, representing the State’s Attorneys’ Association, she expressed support for a legislative requirement to report police misconduct allegations to prosecutors, so they can fulfill their constitutional requirements to report to the defense.

“We think it’s really important for us to have access to information that [the Internal Affairs Division] has in its possession so that we can review them to ensure that we’re meeting our obligations to the defense,” she told lawmakers Thursday.

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Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include reaction from the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.