February 28, 2014 10:00 am ET
Chief Johnson’s premature remarks have implications on yet another investigation
Source: The Chief Gets Chatty…Again
Dealing with authority figures can sometimes be a “Catch-22”—when you want them to speak up on an issue, they go silent, and when you want them to stay silent, they speak up.
The latter is the case with Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson, whose premature remarks to the media regarding the videotaping incident that occurred in Towson may have jeopardized the entire investigation.
In this blog I will not discuss the incident, but rather the inappropriate comments of Chief Johnson in the media.
It is extremely unprofessional for the chief to make such statements because he has the final say in any type of punishment or termination cases investigated by the Internal Affairs Unit. In plain language, these officers have been found guilty in the press without due process—a constitutional right each and every one of us has under the law.
That right is found first in the Constitution under the 5th and 14th Amendments, which allow the defendant a right to a fair trial.
In addition to the Constitutional protections regarding persons accused of a crime—which, in the case of the Towson incident, is yet to be determined—there is the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights (LEBOR) to consider.
The crux of the chief’s comments, and the implications of such comments, are found in Title 3, Law Enforcement Subtitle 1, and section 3-108 – disposition of administration action.
There are several issues under that section that bring to the forefront why the chief’s premature remarks were inappropriate and potentially damaging to the investigation.
Take a look at the following quotes straight from the legal documents:
(2) The final order and decision of the chief is binding and then may be appealed in accordance with § 3-109 of this subtitle.
(3) The recommendation of a penalty by the hearing board is not binding on the chief.
(4) The chief shall consider the law enforcement officer’s past job performance as a factor before imposing a penalty.
(5) The chief may increase the recommended penalty of the hearing board only if the chief personally:
(i) reviews the entire record of the proceedings of the hearing board;
(ii) meets with the law enforcement officer and allows the law enforcement officer to be heard on the record;
(iii) discloses and provides in writing to the law enforcement officer, at least 10 days before the meeting, any oral or written communication not included in the record of the hearing board on which the decision to consider increasing the penalty is wholly or partly based; and
(iv) states on the record the substantial evidence relied on to support the increase of the recommended penalty.
This begs the question about how these officers can receive a fair and impartial investigation when the chief has made some damaging quotes in the media:
“The words of and demands to cease filming by sworn personnel and citizen volunteer auxiliary officers were incorrect, inappropriate and unnecessary,” Chief Johnson said this morning. “They were not helpful in bringing this incident to closure. As we already have stated, all aspects of this encounter are under investigation, and all personnel will be held accountable for their actions.”
It appears the chief has already made up his mind on this case, which is not how law enforcement is supposed to operate.
Our justice system goes to great lengths to protect the rights of every citizen. Everyone is guaranteed to receive a fair and impartial trial to prove guilt or innocence. The chief’s remarks clearly indicate this case has already been tried in the media, but this is not the first time Chief Johnson has violated the LEBOR.
Do you remember to the James Laboard case, in which the off duty officer was charged with manslaughter in the death of Christopher Brown? In that instance, prior to the trial, both the chief and the State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger stated the following in a WJZ-TV interview:
“The fact that Laboard was an off-duty police officer had no bearing on the time it took to evaluate the evidence and to move this case forward,” said Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger.
In response to that Chief Johnson echoed the following remarks:
The chief says he promised the Brown family a thorough investigation, which resulted in the charges. “Police officers are not above the law that they are empowered to enforce,” said Johnson.”
All of these statements were made prior to the trial of Officer Laboard, who was subsequently found not guilty of the manslaughter charges.
Simply put, the officers implicated in the Towson incident deserve a fair and impartial hearing, just as the citizens involved will have their day in court. And the chief should not be speaking out on matters that are supposed to have a due process.
After all, keeping quiet in these circumstances is the “right” thing to do.