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Justice

In Court Filing, Attorney General Says Harford County Sheriff’s Office Is Impeding a Fatal Police Shooting Investigation

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) requested a temporary restraining order against the Harford County Sheriff’s Department on Monday, alleging that the agency is in violation of state law for interfering in the investigation of a fatal police shooting.

According to the complaint filed in the Harford County Circuit Court, Frosh’s office says that Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler (R) is refusing to provide physical evidence and electronic copies of video evidence to the Independent Investigation Unit at the Attorney General’s Office.

“The people of Maryland deserve better, and we will fight to see that they get it,” he said in a statement.

The shooting occurred Saturday afternoon.

According to news releases from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Bradford Sives and Cpl. Christopher Maddox were dispatched to a mental health call, and the man they were looking for was allegedly armed.

The victim, John Raymond Fauver, was shot and killed after he was located behind a drugstore in Forest Hill.

Sives and Maddox, who were wearing activated body cameras at the time of the incident, have been placed on administrative leave.

A news release issued Monday stated that the sheriff’s office was giving “complete and unfettered access to view any footage or evidence they need.”

However, according to the complaint, Gahler refused to allow the members of the Maryland State Police homicide and forensic sciences units to collect evidence from the scene.

Gahler said Monday that his crime lab team was at the scene more than two hours earlier than the state, and offered them the ability to take pictures and survey the scene with his team.

Under a law that went into effect on Oct. 1, the Independent Investigations Unit of the attorney general’s office must investigate civilian deaths that involve police officers across the state.

Local law enforcement agencies are mandated to cooperate.

The Internal Investigations Unit, which partners with the Maryland State Police, has its own policies and procedures when responding to civilian deaths.

Gahler said he does not agree that the agency’s policies apply to local departments.

“The law does not prohibit or excuse me from my constitutionally required duties to be the chief law enforcement officer in the county to conduct an investigation,” he said.

The sheriff disagreed with Frosh’s interpretation of the 2021 law, saying it does not “give the attorney general the ability to promulgate rules and regulations related to it.”

“We’re gonna find out whether the courts believe he has this ability, and if he does and the court tells me otherwise, then that’s what we’ll do,” he said.

The General Assembly passed a bill earlier this month to prohibit police agencies from impeding any investigation or prosecution under the purview of the Independent Investigation Unit. It would also require them to turn over any requested evidence.

The bill was signed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) last week and will go into effect on July 1.

In Monday’s filing, Frosh also alleges that the Harford County Sheriff’s Office has not responded to the Independent Investigations Division’s request to access physical evidence.

Additionally, an attorney for Gahler’s agency has denied investigators access to electronic copies of body camera and dash-camera footage, as well as non-law enforcement videos collected at the scene.

According to Gahler, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office offered to allow the Internal Investigations Unit to watch the body camera footage for the first time alongside his investigative unit.

Gahler has questioned his department’s requirement to follow the new law in the past.

“Despite the mandatory language of the relevant statutes, Sheriff Gahler has previously and unequivocally expressed an intent not to allow the Independent Investigations Division to take custody of evidence or otherwise conduct an unimpeded investigation,” Frosh wrote in Monday’s filing.

The complaint references letters Gahler wrote in September and December indicating he did not plan to not follow the protocols issued by the Independent Investigations Division.

Gahler said Monday afternoon that he wrote departmental policy regarding how his officers were to respond under the new law, which he sent to the attorney general’s office last summer. He said that the policy was reviewed by the attorney for Harford County, who found it to be “legally sufficient,” and that Frosh hadn’t previously said his policy was in violation of the law.

Gahler continued, saying that Frosh is politicizing a tragedy and his decision to file the complaint Monday was “atrocious.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that the governor signed Senate Bill 763 into law on April 21, 2022.