baltimoresun.com

September 23, 2011

PG Delegate charged with theft

Del. Tiffany T. Alston, a Prince George's County Democrat, was charged this morning with stealing money from her campaign account to pay for wedding expenses.

Alston, a freshman member of the General Assembly, is heretofore best known for walking out of a House Judiciary Committee voting session on same-sex marriage even though she had sponsored the bill.

The charges were brought by the Office of the State Prosecutor, which alleges that she made a series of withdrawals from her campaign account in late 2010, spending $3,560 on wedding related expenses, $660 to pay an employee of her law firm and $1,250.

The indictment uses her new, presumably married surname, Tiffany A. Gray.

Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat, said in a statement that he will "determine the appropriate course of action" after "the judicial process has concluded."

Alston is the fourth Prince George's County Democrat to make headlines this year for corruption. Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince Geroge's Dem, will be in court for the next month facing bribery charges. Former Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson pleaded guilty to corruption charges, as did his wife Leslie, who was a member of the County Council.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:22 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

July 22, 2011

Maryland State Police superintendent to retire

Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, who has led the state police throughout nearly all of Gov. Martin O'Malley's tenure, will retire at the end of the month.

Sheridan (top picture, Maryland State Archives) chief of the Baltimore County Police for 11 years before O'Malley appointed him to the superintendent post in June 2007. He has spent nearly five decades in law enforcement.

O'Malley has tapped Marcus L. Brown, chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, to lead the Maryland State Police. 

"Colonel Sheridan has done a tremendous job leading the more than 2,500 employees of the Maryland State Police," O'Malley said in a statement. "With 46 years of law enforcement experience, Colonel Sheridan helped strengthened our relationship with local, state and federal law enforcement to improve public safety and homeland security."

Early on in his new post, Sheridan had to shepherd the state police through a spying scandal that unfolded in 2005-2006, when Robert. L. Ehrlich was governor and Col. Tim Hutchins was police superintendent.  

Continue reading "Maryland State Police superintendent to retire" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

July 7, 2011

Casey Anthony case inspires Md. legislation

Stunned by the not-guilty verdicts this week in Florida's Casey Anthony murder case, Maryland Sen. Nancy Jacobs wants to make it a felony for a parent not to report the death of a child.

Jacobs said dozens of outraged constituents have contacted her and asked her to do something. The Senate minority leader said she is drafting a bill to present in the next legislative session.

She's now examining criminalizing the failure of a parent, guardian or legal caretaker to inform authorities that a child has gone missing or has died -- new crime categories that several local top prosecutors said could prove helpful to them.

A Florida jury acquitted Anthony of murder and child abuse in the death of 2-year-old Caylee, convicting her only of less-serious charges related to lying to the police. A judge today sentenced the 25-year-old to four years, the maximum sentence under the law. Because of the time she served while awaiting trial, she is set to be released July 13.

While jurors who have talked to the media said prosecutors did not present enough evidence to prove murder or abuse beyond a reasonable doubt, those involved with the case, including Anthony's defense attorneys, agree the young mother did not report her child's death in a timely manner.

That's where Jacobs hopes to step in if a similar Maryland case ever were to arise.

"People are saying to me, 'Good grief, that woman's as guilty as can be, and they're not doing anything,'" said Jacobs, a Republican representing Harford and Cecil counties.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger says making it illegal for parents to leave a child's death unreported is a good idea -- and would be another tool for prosecutors in the event of an Anthony-style situation.

Continue reading "Casey Anthony case inspires Md. legislation" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:37 PM | | Comments (31)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

May 17, 2011

Governor pledges action after beating of transgender woman

Gov. Martin O'Malley today commended the Baltimore County state's attorney for bringing a hate crime charge in the beating of a transgender woman at a McDonald's -- and said he would fight for stronger antidiscrimination laws next year.

Yesterday, State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger announced that a grand jury had indicted 18-year-old Teonna Brown on a hate crime charge, adding to an assault charge she had already faced.

Brown, whose attorney said she acted in self defense, is accused of beating Chrissy Lee Polis outside a bathroom at a McDonald's in Rosedale. A 15-year-old girl is charged as a juvenile. A restaurant employee recorded the attack on his cell phone camera, and it went viral on the Internet.

“As some have noted, out of this awful beating has come a moment to foster a deeper understanding and respect for the dignity of all persons," O'Malley said in a statement. "We should not allow the moment to pass without greater action."

The Democratic governor pledged to work with the General Assembly next year to "provide even greater protections for transgendered people."

Continue reading "Governor pledges action after beating of transgender woman" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:00 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Crime & Justice, Martin O'Malley
        

May 13, 2011

State rethinks youth jail, revisiting campaign issue

State prison officials now believe they overestimated the necessary capacity of a planned jail for teenagers who face charges as adults.

A study released yesterday by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency concludes the city needs about half the size of what was originally to be a 230-bed facility, Sun colleagues Liz Kay and June Torbati report this morning.

The youth lockup became a campaign trail issue last year for Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Both had a hand in planning the jail.

Just as officials prepared to break ground, juvenile services activists loudly protested, saying Baltimore needs more youth programs, not more jails. O'Malley agreed to the study that came out yesterday. The lower capacity reflects a downward trend in teen arrests.

Continue reading "State rethinks youth jail, revisiting campaign issue" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:40 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Administration, Crime & Justice, Law and Courts
        

March 17, 2011

Governor denies 7 commutation requests; Senate moves to limit role

Taking action for the first time on the growing pile of parole commission recommendations on his desk, Gov. Martin O'Malley has declined to commute the sentences of seven inmates serving life in prison, his office announced Thursday.

The decisions came as lawmakers weigh changes to the governor's role in the parole process.

Under current law, a convict serving a life sentence may not be freed without the approval of the governor. There is no requirement that the governor act on a recommendation by the state parole commission.

On Thursday, a Senate committee voted to give the governor 180 days to object to a commission’s recommendation to release a convict before the inmate is freed automatically. The House has passed legislation that would set a 90-day deadline.

O’Malley’s fellow Democrats have criticized his inaction on 50 parole and commutation recommendations, some of which were waiting when he took office in January 2007.

On Thursday, his office announced that he had rejected commission recommendations to commute the life sentences of five Baltimore City men convicted of murder, one Baltimore man convicted of first-degree rape and one Prince George's County man convicted of murder. They range in age from 55 to 73; all have been behind bars since the 1970s.

A spokesman for O'Malley said the governor was unavailable to comment Thursday. Spokesman Shaun Adamec said O'Malley decided to deny the parole commission's recommendations after reviewing the cases. He said the other 43 cases remain under review.

The timing of the announcement was noted by several senators at Thursday’s hearing.

Continue reading "Governor denies 7 commutation requests; Senate moves to limit role" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:35 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: 2011 legislative session, Administration, Crime & Justice
        

January 18, 2011

Sex offender registry still not in federal compliance

Despite major efforts last year by Maryland lawmakers to get tough on sex offenders and expand the offender registry, the state still is not in compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act, a public safety official told senators today.

Noncompliance could cost the state more than half a million dollars in federal grant money for law enforcement agencies.

In the wake of the December 2009 killing of an 11-year-old Eastern Shore girl who'd been in contact with a registered sex offender, lawmakers last year made reform of the part of the criminal code a priority. Gov. Martin O'Malley pushed a package of bills that included revamping the registry -- a move that lawmakers believed would bring them into compliance with the Adam Walsh Act.

Changes included adding the names of those who commit sexually motivated acts of indecent exposure or possess child pornography and requiring people who list themselves as "homeless" to provide more information about where they are living. The registry includes nearly 7,000 people now.

The problem, said David P. Wolinski, who administers the registry, is that Maryland does not require lifetime registration of juveniles convicted of the most serious sex crimes, a necessity under the Adam Walsh Act.

Continue reading "Sex offender registry still not in federal compliance" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:25 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Crime & Justice, Law and Courts
        

January 5, 2011

Death penalty in limbo, Sen. pres. calls for action

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said this morning that he will call for a committee vote on death penalty regulations that have been in limbo for more than a year, effectively giving the state a moratorium on capital punishment.

Earlier this week, Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat and death penalty opponent, told WBAL's Robert Lang that his administrative panel of senators and delegates needs more time to review regulations that were rewritten by the prison system after being struck down in 2006 by the state's highest court.

Pinsky told WBAL that there are unanswered questions about the lethal injection procedure including, " the mixture of the (lethal injection) chemicals and assurances that (the chemicals) would do what it is intended to do."

But Pinsky did not bring the issue to a vote by the entire Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, of which he is co-chair with Del. Anne Healy, a Prince George's Democrat. (Read the entire list of committee members after the jump.)

Miller, a Democrat who favors limited use of the death penalty, said it's only fair to "have an up or down vote" on the regulations, and he predicted Pinsky would be amenable to that plan.

Continue reading "Death penalty in limbo, Sen. pres. calls for action" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:53 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

November 18, 2010

Jack Johnson: A legacy

A cocktail party intended to celebrate the legacy of disgraced Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson has been officially canceled.

The fete was supposed to happen on Nov. 29 at the gleaming Gaylord National Hotel at National Harbor, one of the massive new developments that sprang up under Johnson's tenure.

Billed as a "Farewell Celebration" for Johnson, who has been the County Exec since 2002, the invite required guests to dress in "cocktail attire" and hinted that his legacy would be defined by "leadership" and "service."

"I don't believe it is happening," said Johnson's spokesman Jim Keary, who called back to assure us it off. Keary could not say why the event was canceled or who was supposed to pay for it.

But, a read through court papers filed in federal court after Johnson was arrested gives some clues: FBI agents set up a sting with a cooperator they are calling Developer A, and they watched as the developer handed Johnson $15,000 in cash.

The feds say that the money was given in exchange for "official influence and authority for the benefit of Developer A," according to court papers. But Johnson shot back that the cash was supposed to be used for a party marking the end of his term.

Regardless, the feds kept that cash and the party has been bagged.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

October 7, 2010

Scathing DJS reports land amid governor's race

Two reports released in the past 24 hours blast the state Department of Juvenile Services for lapses in everything from facility security to medical documentation. The criticism comes less than a month before Election Day, when Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley faces his Republican predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

In an interview this morning, O'Malley said Juvenile Services was "the most underperforming department in the state" when he took office in January 2007. "We're still not perfect. We still have a lot of work to do." 

A state legislative audit out Wednesday showed the department was poor at keeping supervision records for even the most dangerous and at-risk kids. In addition, the audit found documentation problems that led to losing $3 million in federal money and signing $150 million in contracts before they were approved by the Board of Public Works.

This morning, the state's independent juvenile monitor issued findings in a teacher killing on the grounds of Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County. A 14-year-old juvenile housed there at the time is charged with the sexual assault and murder of the teacher, Hannah Wheeling. The monitor's report says the facility lacked basic security equipment and staff frequently violated policies requiring constant sight and sound supervision of youth.

Continue reading "Scathing DJS reports land amid governor's race" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:12 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

September 17, 2010

Sen. Ulysses Currie pleads not guilty

State Sen. Ulysses Currie pleaded not guilty to corruption charges this morning in a federal courtroom in Baltimore -- his first court appearance since being indicted this month.

Currie, the 73-year-old Prince George's County Democrat who chaired the powerful Senate budget committee until the charges were filed, is now represented by two federal public defenders. After the brief hearing, Currie was released on his own recognizance, meaning he did not have to post bail.

Currie was indicted on 17 counts including bribery and mail fraud in an alleged influence-peddling scheme involving Shoppers Food Warehouse, a supermarket chain based in his district.

Federal prosecutors say Shoppers paid Currie about $250,000 between 2003 and 2008 to "use his official position ... in ways that would benefit [Shoppers] and certain of its officers and employees."

Earlier this week, the parent company of Shoppers entered a deal to pay a $2.5 million fine and cooperate with prosecutors in lieu of facing charges.

Former Shoppers President William White is due in court this afternoon for an initial appearance; earlier, former Shoppers Vice President R. Kevin Small pleaded not guilty.

No trial dates have been set, but U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett said this week that he'd like Currie's trial to take place in June.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:37 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

September 1, 2010

Currie, supermarket execs indicted

A federal grand jury in Maryland has charged the chairman of the Senate’s powerful budget panel and two former supermarket executives with bribery, extortion and other criminal offenses in an 18-count indictment, Baltimore Sun colleague Annie Linskey reports.

In announcing the charges Wednesday, prosecutors said Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Democrat, misused his influence for personal gain while helping Shoppers Food Warehouse expand in Maryland.

“Government officials cross a bright line when they accept payments in return for using the authority of their office, whether they take cash in envelopes or checks labeled as consulting payments,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement.

“When businesses can obtain valuable government benefits by putting a senator on the payroll, it diminishes public confidence and disadvantages companies that refuse to go along with the pay-to-play approach.”

Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, a close ally, said in a statement that Currie has agreed to relinquish his post as the chairman of Budget and Taxation Committee, which oversees the state’s $32 billion annual spending plan. Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, the vice-chairman, will lead the committee, Miller said.

Currie’s attorney, Dale Kelberman, put out a statement saying Currie would plead not guilty to the charges.

A 15-year veteran of the Senate, Currie filed for reelection in January and faces no opposition in the primary or general election.

Continue reading "Currie, supermarket execs indicted" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:51 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Police endorse Jessamy opponent in primary

The Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police today endorsed Gregg Bernstein over Patricia Jessamy in the Democratic primary battle for city state's attorney.

Bernstein, a former federal prosecutor and successful defense attorney, also has the unofficial backing of Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld, who raised Jessamy's hackles by sticking a Bernstein sign in his lawn earlier this summer. (He has since removed it.)

Meanwhile, Jessamy, the city's top prosecutor since 1995, has corralled the support of much of Baltimore's political establishment. But a recent letter to the Afro-American newspaper from the city's senators backing Jessamy has generated controversy: Sen. George Della, in a tough Democratic primary of his own, was not listed among the co-signers even though his name appears on the letterhead.

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley -- a frequent critic of Jessamy when he was Baltimore mayor -- offered supportive words about Jessamy in July but stopped short of an endorsement. He implied one would be forthcoming, but with less than two weeks to go until primary election day, it has yet to materialize.

Please hop over to Baltimore Crime blog for more details on this tangled and interesting race.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:19 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, Crime & Justice
        

August 26, 2010

Currie missing $187K from campaign, fires treasurer

The chairman of Maryland’s powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee reported Thursday that roughly $187,000 has been drained from his campaign account, and his attorney is conducting a “comprehensive investigation” to determine what happened to the money, Baltimore Sun colleague Annie Linskey reports.

Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George’s County Democrat, also reported that he has replaced his longtime campaign treasurer. Currie’s attorney, Gregg Bernstein, wrote in a letter to the Maryland State Board of Elections that “inconsistencies” with the campaign funding report “appear to be the result of the treasurer’s conduct.”

The missing money appears to be unconnected to a federal probe into Currie’s relationship with Shoppers Food Warehouse, a grocery chain in his Prince George’s County district. State prosecutors have also been investigating Currie’s campaign account since an article in The Baltimore Sun raised questions about how the money was being spent.

Currie’s former campaign treasurer, Olivia Harris, did not return phone calls on Thursday. State prosecutors raided her Upper Marlboro home on Friday, according to a source familiar with the investigation. She has prepared Currie’s campaign reports since he was elected to the Senate in 1994. Currie also did not return calls.

Jared DeMarinis, director of the division of candidacy and campaign finance for the State Board of Elections, said he would work with Currie’s campaign to determine what happened to the money.

“They recognized that a full accounting is required,” he said. “We would have required this, but they are doing it proactively on their own.”

Continue reading "Currie missing $187K from campaign, fires treasurer" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 PM | | Comments (1)
        

August 17, 2010

Md. gets 1st African-American woman appeals judge

When she was sworn in today, Judge Michele D. Hotten became the first African-American woman to serve on the bench of any Maryland appellate court.

Gov. Martin O'Malley appointed Hotten last month to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the state's second-highest court. She had been a judge for 15 years in Prince George's County Circuit Court. A graduate of Howard University's law school, Hotten has also served as counsel to the Prince George's County Human Relations Commission and as a county prosecutor.

"Many judges and lawyers have written to me to describe Judge Hotten as impeccably prepared, uniformly fair, and a devoted legal scholar with a truly legendary work ethic," O'Malley said in a statement.

Hotten fills a vacancy created by the retirement of Judge James P. Salmon.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:20 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

August 7, 2010

Jessamy says Bealefeld fuels distrust

Baltimore's top prosecutor has accused the city's police commissioner of using the power of his badge to help her opponent in next month's primary, Baltimore Sun colleague Peter Hermann reports.

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said in a statement last week that Frederick H. Bealefeld III has broken years of precedent with "overt actions … to influence the outcome of an election" — which she warned "can only lead to divisiveness and distrust in the community."

Jessamy said it was "unprecedented and inappropriate" for the city's top police officer to put a campaign sign on his lawn. Her campaign spokeswoman, meanwhile, said staff members have learned that Bealefeld, while in uniform, "approached some citizens, recruiting volunteers" for Gregg Bernstein's campaign.

Spokeswoman Marilyn Harris-Davis said Bealefeld asked city resident Billy Taylor, a Jessamy supporter, to meet with Bernstein.

Bealefeld's spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, denied that the commissioner made any such requests while on duty. He confirmed that Bealefeld spoke with Taylor at an event but said that Bealefeld did not try to influence his vote or recruit him as a campaign worker. He said Bealefeld spoke with Taylor about Bernstein in detail only when he was off-duty.

Taylor, who supports Jessamy, said he met with Bernstein for lunch. "I don't know about if it's appropriate," he said. Of Bealefeld, he said, "We're friends, and he asked me to do that and so I did it."

Read more about Jessamy and Bealefeld at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (2)
        

August 5, 2010

Vozzella: The surgeon on speed dial

After the stabbing death of a young Hopkins researcher in Charles Village, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake agreed to talk to Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper about the time eight years ago when her brother was gravely wounded in a stabbing.

In a city freshly rattled by violent crime, it might have been smart politics for a mayor to let people know she'd been personally affected by it.

Except for this part, Baltimore Sun colleague Laura Vozzella writes: The mayor recalled in the interview that when things looked dire for her brother, Wendell Rawlings, her powerful politician-dad pulled strings to get him moved from Sinai Hospital to Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"Delegate [Pete] Rawlings called Thomas Scalea, physician-in-chief at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, who rode an ambulance to Sinai to pick up Wendell Rawlings," The Sun's Julie Scharper wrote.

I can't blame the late delegate for pulling any string he could to save his son. What parent wouldn't?

But was it smart for the mayor to offer up that tidbit — that her dad had one of the world's greatest trauma surgeons on speed dial, and that the doc was willing to hop into an ambulance on his behalf — in the context of an interview meant to show that she'd been touched by violent crime, just like so many ordinary Baltimoreans? Kinda undercuts the everywoman theme, doesn't it?

I bounced that off attorney Warren Brown, a reliably colorful observer of Baltimore crime and politics. Turns out, he represented one of the guys charged in the matter, but only until he got the case transferred to juvenile court. ("I don't mess around with juvenile court," Brown said. "It's a mess down there.") So Brown is not exactly a disinterested observer, but I still wanted his take.

He had no issue with what Pete Rawlings did for Wendell. "I'd do the same thing, no question about that," Brown said. But when it came to the mayor's comments, he did question "the wisdom of her broadcasting" what amounted to "special treatment."

"As much as, you know, in her position, she wants to appear to relate to the people, there is this little something in her that still causes her to let folk know that, 'I am a little better than you are,'" Brown said.

Continue reading "Vozzella: The surgeon on speed dial" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:00 PM | | Comments (2)
        

July 31, 2010

Ehrlich criticizes jail project that began on his watch

At a campaign appearance this week to talk up services to at-risk youth, Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich criticized the $100 million jail for juveniles to be built in Baltimore as a "warehouse."

It was "certainly not our model," Ehrlich said of the facility designed to house as many as 230 young offenders awaiting trial as adults

"It's the antithesis of what we like to do. Large institutions typically do not work."

In fact, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Bykowicz reports in Sunday's newspaper, the project got its start under Ehrlich. In 2005, Ehrlich approved planning money for the facility and his administration conducted the first population projection survey. The survey arrived at an estimate similar to the one produced two years later under Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Stephen T. Moyer, deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services under Ehrlich and his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said the need for a juvenile detention center in Baltimore dates to an October 2000 Justice Department report.

"Governor Ehrlich began planning this because that's what the Justice Department told us to do," Moyer said.

State officials have agreed to review the planned capacity for the facility — a concession to groups who say the project is too big.

Continue reading "Ehrlich criticizes jail project that began on his watch" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:00 PM | | Comments (6)
        

July 30, 2010

Rawlings-Blake recalls night violence came calling

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake rarely speaks of the night the city's dangers arrived at her front door. But in the days after the stabbing death of a young Johns Hopkins researcher in Charles Village, she has been thinking about the moment that she says helped shape the way she views violent crime.

"There is no acceptable amount of death. There is no acceptable level of violence," Rawlings-Blake tells Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper. "This is more than a public safety issue. This is a moral issue. All the communities affected by violence need to be as outraged and as determined to pursue justice."

Rawlings-Blake told Scharper she was in her bedroom in her Coldsping condominium that chilly November night in 2002 when the front door banged open and she heard her brother scream: "Call the police!"

Rawlings-Blake hurried to the landing of her split-level home that chilly November evening eight years ago. She found her younger brother hunched in the entryway, blood streaming from his neck and back.

"I didn't know what happened," Rawlings-Blake said. "I didn't know the circumstances. I picked up the phone and I yanked it so hard I pulled the cord out of the wall."

Rawlings-Blake, who was vice president of the City Council at the time, said it furthered her resolve to push for stricter penalties for violent criminals.

"We have to be vigilant to make sure that people who should not be walking among us are off the street," she said.

Continue reading "Rawlings-Blake recalls night violence came calling" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (0)
        

July 29, 2010

O'Malley praises Jessamy, no endorsement

During an appearance in West Baltimore Thursday to announce $7 million in public safety funding grants, Gov. Martin O'Malley was asked whether he would be endorsing anyone in the city's upcoming state's attorney's race.

O'Malley stopped short of endorsing incumbent Patricia Jessamy, Baltimore Sun colleague Justin Fenton reports, but offered what sounded like high praise for her, saying their "partnership has never been stronger," that they talk every day, and that her "leadership and performance" has been a big part of crime declines in Baltimore. Specifically pressed if he would endorse her, he replied: "I anticipate - yeah, stayed tuned." Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown also appeared at her birthday fundraiser over the weekend, according to reports.

That's particular notable, as friction between O'Malley and Jessamy is well-documented, and in one his last acts as mayor he increased her salary dramatically -- 60 percent, or $83,000, to $225,000 -- in what many believed was an attempt to make the position more attractive to potential challengers. When defense attorney Gregg Bernstein announced he would challenge Jessamy in the Democratic primary, Jessamy even accused of O'Malley of putting Bernstein up to it.

Following is a transcript of O'Malley's remarks, which came right after he agreed that Judge John Addison Howard had "dropped the ball" in his handling of suspect John Alexander Wagner:

The Sun: Will you be endorsing anyone in the city state's attorney's race?

O'Malley: We've done a lot of positive things together. I know you all focus on the one case where we disagreed 10 or 11 years ago. but the fact of the matter is, the partnerships between the state and the state’s attorneys office have never been stronger. I have endorsed every Democrat in our state who has endorsed me. That's been our policy, and there’s been a lot of progress made in the city of Baltimore in the last 10 years. Notwithstanding some occasional disagreements, the fact of the matter is Baltimore has achieved the third largest reduction of violent crime of any major city in America. That headline has never made a headline, but its a fact. And the partnerships with the state’s attorney, the higher level of functioning especially with the war room, and the cooperation and collaboration with the Violence Prevention Initiative, you know, underscores all of those things.

We continue to talk, and I believe the state's attorney's office led by Mrs. Jessamy has had a significant part in saving lives over these past years. It would fly in the face of the facts to say it hasn't.

The Sun: So are you endorsing Jessamy?

Continue reading "O'Malley praises Jessamy, no endorsement" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:30 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Governor returns to Baltimore, 'Capital for a Day'

Gov. Martin O'Malley's "Capital for a Day" program, which transplants top-level government officials from Annapolis to far-flung areas of the state, rarely garners much major media attention.

But today the capital is Baltimore, meaning state officials will descend on a city reeling from a high-profile crime that has left residents questioning their safety.

Stephen Pitcairn, a 23-year-old Johns Hopkins researcher, was stabbed to death while walking from Penn Station to his home in the Charles Village area. A man and woman with long criminal histories have been charged.

City officials, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld and council members, visited the grieving community yesterday, where they encountered furious, frustrated and fed-up residents. Later, a man was found shot to death in Station North, as if to emphasize safety issues in the Penn Station corridor.

As a former Baltimore mayor, O'Malley, a Democrat, is no stranger to soothing a city in suffering, and it will be interesting to see whether he slips into that role again today.

Continue reading "Governor returns to Baltimore, 'Capital for a Day'" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:28 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

July 28, 2010

Politically charged juvenile facility killing in court

Five months ago, a co-worker found the beaten body of teacher Hannah Wheeling outside a locked state-run juvenile facility in Prince George's County -- a death that raised questions about the Department of Juvenile Services among lawmakers and could pose political problems in an election year.

Today, a 14-year-old boy whom Wheeling, 65, had taught was arraigned as a juvenile in Prince George's County Court, The Sun's Andrea Siegel reports. The boy, who was 13 at the time of the killing, faces charges of murder and rape, and prosecutors will seek next month to try him as an adult, an unusual step given the boy's young age.

The court process that will play could shed light on a killing that has largely remained mysterious during the Maryland State Police investigation -- something that state officials and law enforcement said was necessary to preserve the integrity of the case.

Continue reading "Politically charged juvenile facility killing in court" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:50 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

July 23, 2010

O'Malley administration responds on Cheltenham

The head of Juvenile Services is seeking to assure a leading Republican lawmaker that his agency has responded appropriately to the February death of a teacher on the grounds of one of its facilities.

"Members of the public, State employees, and members of the legislature should have confidence that the State is fully committed to ensuring that all of our facilities are as safe as they can possibly be for our staff and youth -- and that the State is taking every action possible to keep our facilities safe and secure," Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore wrote Wednesday.

DeVore's letter comes after a letter Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell wrote Tuesday to Gov. Martin O'Malley. O'Donnell, the House of Delegates minority leader, demanded an update in the Hannah Wheeling case. Coworkers found the teacher's beaten body outside a locked building at Cheltenham Youth Facility, and a 13-year-old suspect was quickly identified and moved elsewhere.

Continue reading "O'Malley administration responds on Cheltenham" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:40 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

July 21, 2010

Pace of Cheltenham case raises political questions

House minority leader Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell is demanding answers about the February death of a teacher at a state juvenile facility in Prince George’s County. O’Donnell, who represents Calvert County, said it is inexcusable that five months have elapsed and yet no charges have been filed in the killing – even though investigators quickly identified a 13-year-old suspect.

A fellow employee found Hannah Wheeling's beaten body early one Feburary morning outside a locked door at a small, lower-security building on the groounds of Cheltenham Youth Facility. The suspect, a boy she had taught, was moved to another juvenile center in Maryland. Little information has emerged about the circumstances of the killing, though the Department of Juvenile services shuttered the building and fired two employees.

O’Donnell, a frequent critic of DJS, says Gov. Martin O’Malley must be held accountable for the lack of movement in the case and said he can’t help but wonder if the delays are politically motivated. O’Malley, a Democrat, faces reelection in November.

“He has the responsibility to give us information,” O’Donnell said. “How many months is it going to take?”

Continue reading "Pace of Cheltenham case raises political questions" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:08 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

July 19, 2010

Schmoke campaign manager defending Jessamy

Over the Baltimore Crime Beat blog, Baltimore Sun colleague Justin Fenton tracks down the sender of an unsigned e-mail written in support of Baltimore City State's Attorney Paticia C. Jessamy:

The first line read, "Jessamy: Tough and Smart on Crime," (her campaign slogan) and it proceeded to explain that since Jessamy took office in 1995, crime had declined substantially. It didn't say whether Jessamy was taking credit for this decline, nor did it draw any parallels between prosecutions and crime rate. There was no contact information.

In an attempt to discern the sender's identity, I wrote back. It turned out it was from none other than Larry S. Gibson, an old hand in politics once described as the "man behind [former mayor] Kurt Schmoke" and a political "kingmaker" in the city. Though the statistics and exact wording of the email appear on the front page of Jessamy's election web site, Gibson said he had prepared the email as a private citizen because it was important that the "public know the truth," calling Democratic primary challenger Gregg Bernstein "dishonest."

Gibson said he has had almost no involvement in local politics since 1999 (he ran former state's attorney Stuart Simms' failed bid for Attorney General in 2006), but wants to get involved with the Jessamy campaign. "I intend to do what I can to re-elect Patricia Jessamy," he wrote in a reply email.

Continue reading "Schmoke campaign manager defending Jessamy" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 10:35 AM | | Comments (7)
        

June 22, 2010

Jack Abramoff peddling pizza in Baltimore

Well, this didn't take long: Convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now released to home confinement after a brief stay in a Baltimore halfway house, has found a new job.

The Baltimore Jewish Times broke the news Tuesday that Abramoff has found work at a landmark Baltimore pizzeria.

"I think people get a second chance," Tov Pizza owner Ron Rosenbluth told The Baltimore Sun's Jean Marbella. "If they do their time, they deserve a chance."

Rosenbluth said Abramoff started Monday and will be helping with marketing "to get us more business." He did not disclosue Abramoff's salary.

Abramoff, a one-time $750-an-hour lobbyist, had been serving what was initially a six-year sentence at a federal prison camp in Cumberland for defrauding clients and conspiring to bribe public officials. As Marbella notes, he also owned a restaurant in Washington that frequently offered free meals to influential lawmakers.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:24 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Break-in at Bush house commands attention

How do Baltimore police respond when the home of the daughter of a former president is burglarized? Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Hermann has the answer:

A police officer responded, but so did a detective, a sergeant, a lieutenant, a major and a lieutenant colonel. The police commissioner — who had earlier criticized his own cops for not informing command when a television sports personality was attacked — was quickly called.

But a carful of police brass wasn't the only thing that Jenna Bush Hager and her husband got when at least one burglar broke into their garage in back of their South Charles Street rowhouse on Friday.

A crime scene technician dusted for fingerprints. The description of the two mountain bikes — a black and red Trek with dual suspension and a navy blue Trek — was given to officers monitoring hundreds of surveillance cameras. And the Regional Auto Theft Task Force was notified.

The attention for an otherwise routine burglary — one of 2,963 reported this year in the city through June 5, Hermann writes — did not sit well with many of the readers who commented on the Sun's website.

But police say they have to take seriously a break-in at the residence of the daughter of former President George W. Bush: Any breach of security around a close relative of a former president could be more than a random break-in, Hermann writes. It could be a targeted threat, which authorities don't have to consider in most burglaries.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:45 PM | | Comments (0)
        

June 18, 2010

Jessamy: O'Malley recruiting challenger against me

Over at The Baltimore Sun's Crime Beat blog, colleague Justin Fenton reports that Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy may have a challenger in the fall election.

Word is that former assistant U.S. attorney Gregg Bernstein is testing the waters, and Adam Meister at Examiner.com blogged that a reader had received a phone call from a pollster asking questions about a possible Bernstein candidacy. Bernstein may be best known for successfully defending state Sen. Larry Young against bribery and extortion charges.

Fenton continues:

But he is also the husband of Sheryl Goldstein, the director of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, which is essentially the mayor's crime czar. In that role, Goldstein works closely with the police department and other law enforcement agencies, and is an integral part of programs such as GunStat and issues dealing with juvenile justice. Obviously, she has a lot of insight into the innerworkings of the criminal justice system, and that would include the state's attorney's office.

Goldstein was brought in during the Dixon administration and is a close ally of Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, and may have to step down or take a leave of absence if her husband's candidacy comes together.

Goldstein declined comment, and Bernstein could not immediately be reached. Jessamy, for her part, said she believes Gov. Martin O'Malley "recruited" Bernstein and said she confronted O'Malley with the claim at an event over the weekend.

"I've heard from a lot of different sources that he's been recruiting. I told him, 'I'm ready for it,'" she said. "I think I have an outstanding record; I'm going to run on my record. I don't know what [Bernstein] is running on, but my record, it's a good one."

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O’Malley’s campaign, confirmed that Jessamy approached O’Malley at an event for the Associated Black Charities, but said it’s “simply not true” that O’Malley is behind a potential Bernstein candidacy.

Read the rest of the post at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:51 PM | | Comments (6)
        

June 3, 2010

Police, fire unions sue Baltimore over pensions

Baltimore’s police and fire unions filed a federal lawsuit against the city Thursday afternoon, alleging officials “knowingly underfunded” their pension plan over the past decade, ignoring the advice of financial experts hired by the city, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports.

The lawsuit marks the beginning of what could be a lengthy and expensive legal battle in the emotionally charged debate on altering retirement benefits paid to public safety officers. If drastic changes are not made to the pension system by July 1, the city will be on the hook for $66 million that it cannot pay.

Union heads, stressing the dangerous and physically-grueling nature of their work, say that pension changes proposed by the city constitute a violation of their contract.

“Some in city government are portraying this as a crisis,” said Bob Sledgeski, firefighters’ union president. “This has been long, ongoing neglect on the part of the city to follow their own experts’ advice. That’s not an accident and ten years does not a crisis make.”

The lawsuit charges that from 2003 to 2008, city financial officials disregarded actuaries’ recommendations to lower an assumed rate of return because it would have forced the city to contribute millions more to the plan.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Crime & Justice, Law and Courts
        

May 26, 2010

Maryland gang law, explained by a delegate/attorney

It was a humbling experience, said Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, to face a judge regarding a law he helped put on the books.

Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, spent recent days in a Baltimore courtroom, defending a client charged with, among other crimes, violating the state's anti-gang law.

It was a notable juxtaposition: Simmons had voted for the 2007 gang law that was being used to prosecute his client, Jose Miguel Hernandez, who took a plea deal this week. Simmons also voted this year to enhance the gang law.

But Simmons told The Sun's Peter Hermann that the Hernandez case was an eye-opener, beginning with jury selection. Hermann writes:

Before testimony began in Jose Miguel Hernandez's attempted-murder trial, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge asked potential jurors a simple yet crucial question: "Do you believe that being a member of a gang is a crime?"

More than half of the panel answered yes.

Simmons said the jury pool's response got at the heart of one of his biggest concerns -- that people would be unfairly singled out because of their friends.

"We need a major overhaul to make the gang statute more effective and less cumbersome," the lawyer-lawmaker said after the trial for his client ended. "But at the same time, I don't want to see a young man be tarred and feathered and hung out because he's associated with a gang, and that's the only reason jurors find him guilty."

Click here to read the whole story.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010
        

May 20, 2010

Of making laws and defending those charged with breaking them

There's an interesting juxtaposition taking place in a Baltimore courtroom today: Prosecutors are trying to convict Jose Hernandez of violating Maryland's anti-gang statute. Hernandez's attorney is Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a state lawmaker who sits on the legislative committee that weighs crime laws.

Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat and longtime defense attorney, has strongly questioned gang laws over the years, saying they potentially infringe upon a person's freedom of expression and are redundant of other laws.

"I would hope you don't embark on a crusade to put people in jail because of the color that they wear," Simmons told prosecutors at a 2007 House Judiciary Committee hearing.

Continue reading "Of making laws and defending those charged with breaking them" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:52 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010
        

May 12, 2010

MD politicians look to combat cells in cells

Maryland officials who have been fighting to deploy cell phone jamming technology in prisons say test results show nearby residents wouldn't be affected.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski worked with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to conduct a test of the technology in February at a prison in Western Maryland.

The Democratic duo announced Wednesday that the test "showed no interference" between the jammer and cell phone reception in the community outside the prison.

Despite its apparent effectiveness, the technology is banned by a 1934 communications law enforced by the Federal Communications Commission.

"Senator Mikulski and Governor O’Malley urged Congressional action immediately, in light of these results, on legislation allowing the installation of this technology at U.S. prisons," the officials said in a release. The Senate has already passed the measure, but the House of Representatives has not taken action on it.

Here is the complete testing report, courtesy of the governor's office.

Jamming may be the only way to wipe out cell phone use in prisons -- something that has been a struggle in Maryland. Today, City Paper's Van Smith has a provocative piece about how some correctional officers have smuggled cell phones into prisons to assist gang members and foster the drug trade. Prison spokesman Rick Binetti says it is not a pervasive problem -- but also describes the many ways the state is working to curtail it.

Binetti points out that of the nearly 7,000 COs statewide, 70 were fired last year. Twenty of those firings were for fraternizing with inmates and another four were for possessing contraband. Currently, Binetti says, the department is investigating three COs for having contraband cell phones. Binetti adds that, under current law, firing COs can prove difficult due to a 30-day timeframe for completing an investigation into wrongdoing. "You can't build a solid case in that amount of time," he says.

Meanwhile, Binetti adds, "our efforts in identifying these gangmembers [who are COs] is so much better than it was three years ago. We're figuring out who those people are, and they are getting the chop." New state regulations put in place late last year by the Maryland Police and Correctional Officer Training Commission require that CO applicants answer specific questions about gang ties and that DPSCS background investigators scour law-enforcement gang databases to see if applicants are listed. "If there is any sort of gang affiliation in your background, you could be out," Binetti says.

"The department is trying" to confront the integrity challenges among its staff, Binetti concludes, "and we're doing a hell of a lot more than we were three or four years ago."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

April 12, 2010

Deal reached on sex offender legislation

The Senate and House of Delegates appear to be well on their way to resolving one of the last outstanding major issues of the session: sex offender reforms.

After a series of deals and legislative horse-trading, the chambers' negotiations team has agreed to combine both contentious bills into one big bill -- which happens to be backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Lawmakers added an expansion of Jessica's Law, lengthening the minimum prison sentence for certain sex offenders from five to 15 years, to O'Malleys sex offender registry bill.

For those keeping track, the House wins big on this one. The Senate backed down on both its request to lengthen sentences to 20 years and its quest to add other provisions (such as marking sex offenders' driver's licenses and admitting evidence of prior bad acts) to the registry bill.

By fusing the bills, the powers that be created a bill too sweeping for even the senators who had hoped for more to oppose.

It's widely expected to sail through when the chambers reconvene after their dinner break.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 6:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010
        

April 6, 2010

House goes after gangs

The House of Delegates this morning approved a get-tough on gangs measure -- over the opposition of black and Hispanic delegates from the state's urban areas who worried it would be overreaching.

Delegates and prosecutors had been working on the bill for months, saying they had addressed some concerns of public defenders civil liberties groups. The compromise that emerged defines what a gang is and gives judges the ability -- but not the mandate -- to extend by up to a decade prison terms for members convicted of certain crimes.

Del. Ana-Sol Gutierrez, a Montgomery County Democrat, warned that the anti-gang measure is "bad public policy" because it is "criminalizing kids." Del. Aisha N. Braveboy, a Prince George's County Democrat, said the bill "brings in people who may or may not be associated with a crime."

But the sponsor of the bill, Del. Gerron S. Levi, a Prince George's Democrat, called those concerns baseless.

"It does not punish 'association,'" Levi said. She argued that the new statute is detailed in who can be subjected to the extended sentences, saying a person must be convicted of a crime, a proven gang member and either have killed someone or committed two gang-related offenses.

The debate now moves to the Senate, where Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy has urged Democratic city Sen. Lisa Gladden, "to help guide the bill to a quick vote in the Senate." Gladden is vice-chairwoman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where the gang bill has lingered. But she's also a public defender likely to oppose the new measure.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:12 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010
        

March 30, 2010

Senate joins House in approving governor's sex offender reforms

The Maryland General Assembly has given its blessing to all of Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed sex offender reforms.

The Senate yesterday joined the House of Delegates in passage of a plan that adds more information to the state's publicly available sex offender registry and of a measure to reconstitute a long-dormant Sex Offender Advisory Board. O'Malley, a Democrat, was criticized earlier this year by some lawmakers for not activating the board sooner.

The Senate has also signed off on "lifetime supervision" of certain violent and repeat sex offenders who leave prison.

Sex offender reforms have been a hot topic this session, with lawmakers vowing to take up the cause after an 11-year-old Eastern Shore girl was killed in December. A convicted sex offender has been charged with capital murder in Sarah Foxwell's death.

Although O'Malley's package is nearly ready for his signature, two major sex offender proposals by other lawmakers remain in a key Senate committee as the legislative session winds down. It is unclear whether the Senate will OK a House plan to eliminate good-time prison credits for the worst sex offenders and extend prison sentences for child molesters.

Chairman Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, said his Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee may vote on those bills later today.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:45 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010
        

March 17, 2010

Sex offender bills on the move (in the House, at least)

The Maryland House of Delegates today gave early approval to two major sex offender reforms, eliminating good-time prison credits for the most violent and repeat predators and establishing lifetime supervision for them.

Republican lawmakers pushed to expand several of the provisions, including ones that would force judges to bar all high-level sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools and day care centers and require global-position devices. Those efforts were defeated after Democratic leaders argued that they would be too costly and could concentrate offenders in rural areas.

On Thursday, the House is scheduled to take up legislation that would bring the state into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act by adding more information to the state sex offender registry.

The House must give final approval to all of the measures, and a key Senate panel has just begun debating them. The Senate Judiciary Committee has in previous years been loath to restrict good-time prison credits. That same committee has also previously rejected efforts to change the requirements for registration for homeless sex offenders — one of the provisions the House is to consider Thursday.

Sex offender reforms have been a hot topic this session, with lawmakers vowing to take up the cause after an 11-year-old Eastern Shore girl was killed in December. A convicted sex offender has been charged with capital murder in Sarah Foxwell's death.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:59 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010
        

March 10, 2010

Return of the death penalty debate

Five months after enacting tight restrictions on Maryland's seldom-used capital punishment statute, state lawmakers are considering another revision. Senators dismissed a total repeal of the death penalty last year in favor of a hastily crafted compromise plan. The new law means that prosecutors can only seek the death penalty in murder cases where there is DNA evidence, a video-recording of the crime or a video-taped confession from the killer.

It appears that just one prosecutor has filed capital charges since the statute took effect Oct. 1: Wicomico County State's Attorney Davis R. Ruark is seeking it in the case of James Leggs Jr. A registered sex offender, Leggs is accused of kidnapping and killing 11-year-old Sarah Foxwell days before Christmas.

Now, Sen. Norman Stone, a Baltimore County Democrat, wants to add fingerprints and still photographs to the list of evidence that can be used to initiate a capital case.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger testified in favor of the bill today before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, saying "it makes absolutely no sense" to dismiss fingerprints and photographs but allow DNA and video recordings.

On the other side of the debate, Katy C. O'Donnell, chief of the state public defenders' aggravated homicide division, which handles capital cases, said lawmakers sent a clear message last year. "We don't want just 'reliable' evidence," she said, "We want evidence with heightened reliability. She and other opponents raised questions about fingerprints, saying that more judges -- even in Baltimore County, where the death penalty has traditionally been used the most -- were dubious of the certainty that fingerprint identification provides.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, backs Stone's plan, but it is likely to be a tough sell in the House of Delegates. The House committee that would consider the measure favors repealing the death penalty altogether.

Five men are on Maryland's death row. The last execution was performed in December 2005. Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, opposes the death penalty. His administration and a committee of many anti-death penalty lawmakers have been reviewing and revising execution protocols for the past few years, effectively instituting a moratorium.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010
        

March 4, 2010

GOP leadership wants DJS secretary to resign

* Updated with responses from the governor and DJS *

Republican lawmakers are calling for the resignation of state Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald DeVore, citing his "lack of leadership" of the embattled agency. A teacher was killed at one of the state facilities last month, and a juvenile who'd been housed there is a suspect in the attack.

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, minority leader of the House of Delegates, said he had a telephone conversation today with Gov. Martin O'Malley to express his concerns. He also delivered a letter to the Democratic governor. "The governor indicated he was kind of surprised" by the call but appreciated it, O'Donnell said.

Through a spokesman, O'Malley said he has "full confidence" in DeVore.

"Our department is in deep, deep trouble," O'Donnell said at a brief press conference this afternoon at the State House.

O'Donnell singled out as particularly disturbing the death of teacher Hannah Wheeling, 65, at Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County, and a recent U.S. Department of Justice report about staff-on-juvenile sexual assaults at Backbone Youth Facility in Western Maryland. "This cries out for a leadership change," he said.

DeVore told lawmakers in January that the sexual assault reports were "exaggerated." He has met privately with lawmakers about the killing but has said little publicly, citing the ongoing Maryland State Police investigation.

O'Donnell said DeVore, who has led DJS for three years, typically delivers "a response of denial to just about every criticism leveled" at the agency, though he said DJS under DeVore has made progress in some areas.

This is not the first time O'Donnell has asked DeVore to step down. In July, reacting to reports about escapes and assaults at Victor Cullen Center, another state facility, he wrote an opinion piece, published in The Baltimore Sun, calling for new leadership of DJS:

The Department of Juvenile Services is in chaos and requires a complete overhaul, starting at the top. The administration's actions in this regard should be shared with the public so we can gain some confidence that this problem is being acknowledged and acted upon. It is time for executive leadership and tough decisions at DJS. Our state deserves no less.

We are seeking responses from DJS and the governor's office and will update this post when they get back to us. Update: The governor's office has issued this statement:

STATEMENT FROM GOVERNOR MARTIN O’MALLEY
 
Over the past three years, we’ve driven down violent crime in Maryland to its lowest levels since 1987, including a 46% reduction in juvenile homicides.  Real progress is not achieved without the right leadership in place at vital public safety agencies including the Department of Juvenile Services.  I have full confidence in Secretary DeVore’s leadership of DJS.
Update 2: DJS has this to say (click to read entire statement):
Secretary DeVore's initiative to create unprecedented levels of collaboration with law enforcement, including the Baltimore City Police Department, and other local authorities across the State has made a powerful difference not just in the lives of youth but in communities across Maryland. Secretary DeVore launched a bold vision of reform to make the juvenile justice system work for the youth and citizens of Maryland. This dramatic progress has been no accident.

 

O'Malley aides have alerted DJS partners to the Republicans' criticism, and agencies appear to be quickly rallying to DeVore's defense:

STATEMENT OF BALTIMORE POLICE COMMISSIONER FREDERICK H. BEALEFELD ON COLLABORATION BETWEEN THE BPD AND MARYLAND DEPT OF JUVENILE SERVICES

"Through our collaborative efforts with the Department of Juvenile Services and our criminal justice partners, Baltimore significantly reduced juvenile violence including a 45% reduction in juvenile homicides."

"This success would not have been possible without the unprecedented level of collaboration and cooperation with the Department of Juvenile Services under Secretary DeVore's leadership. Secretary DeVore is a vital partner in our efforts to keep children in Baltimore safer."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:22 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        
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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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