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Defund The Baltimore Police

A former Baltimore cop questions how a department with a nearly half-billion-dollar budget that is riven by rampant corruption and brutality, bloated overtime spending, and unaccounted for patrol officers can continue to justify its existence

Baltimore Police officers look on during a rally for Freddie Gray in front of the Baltimore Police Department's Western District police station on April 21, 2015.
Photo illustration by Anagraph. Photo by Drew Angerer / Getty Images.

Defund The Baltimore Police

A former Baltimore cop questions how a department with a nearly half-billion-dollar budget that is riven by rampant corruption and brutality, bloated overtime spending, and unaccounted for patrol officers can continue to justify its existence

Two days after video of a Baltimore police officer repeatedly punching and kicking a man prompted outcry from activists and even the mayor, the City Council held its monthly hearing aimed at providing “more frequent legislative oversight into the department’s fight to reduce crime in Baltimore.”  At the meeting on Monday, Ryan Dorsey, a council member who has been a staunch critic of the Baltimore Police Department, said, “It’s very, very clear that the budget we vote on is in no way actually representative of what’s actually going on in the police department. … It’s unfair for the council to vote on a budget that is so blatantly inaccurate.”

A similar scene played out just a few weeks earlier when the Baltimore City Council Budget and Appropriation Committee unanimously voted against a $21 million supplemental payment to cover police overtime expenditures. The city found itself in the same position in June 2017 when it approved shifting $18 million in surplus funds to cover police overtime. The vote itself was largely symbolic since the money has already been spent. BPD was budgeted $16 million for overtime in fiscal year 2018, which ended June 30, but the department spent over $47 million.

The BPD’s overtime spending, a longtime budgetary headache for Baltimore, received national attention in March 2017 when several members of the department’s elite Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) were indicted on federal charges of robbery, theft, and extortion. The officers were charged with stealing thousands of dollars in overtime money. GTTF supervisor Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, for example, collected overtime while he was on vacation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The criminal indictments, plea deals, and testimony during the trial of GTTF officers Daniel Hersl and Maurice Ward revealed the ease with which officers collected fraudulent overtime. Some, like Jenkins, doubled their annual salaries.

Around the time of the GTTF indictment, the BPD began investigating Lt. Steven Bagshaw who was in charge of the Horseshoe Casino Mini-District, a small unit of cops who patrol the downtown casino. Bagshaw was criminally charged in May 2017 for collecting overtime he claimed he worked while he was at home some 50 miles outside of Baltimore. In March 2018, he was convicted for collecting over $8,000 in fraudulent overtime.

The theft allegations prompted Mayor Catherine Pugh to order an audit of the police department’s overtime spending, but the results have yet to be made public. Earlier this year, Baltimore’s City Solicitor Andre Davis claimed the audit is part of the city’s defense against the department in a class-action lawsuit brought by Baltimore’s police union claims claiming that the city has been underpaying officers for years by miscalculating their overtime rate of pay.

I worked for the BPD for 18 years from June 1999 to July 2017. I knew officers who were fired for submitting fraudulent overtime. When I worked in Internal Affairs I even investigated officers for it, though unsuccessfully mainly because of the lack of oversight and safeguards. The ease with which overtime fraud was committed and the fact that neither the city nor BPD took any substantive measures to prevent it always amazed me. The department tried, for example, to have officers timestamp overtime slips, but the bulky, antiquated time clocks they provided to the station houses were usually nonfunctional, didn’t keep the correct time, and were rarely serviced. So overtime fraud was as easy as grabbing a pen and filling out a slip and finding a supervisor willing to approve it. If your supervisor was a part of the scheme, as was the case in the GTTF, then that made overtime fraud easier.

For fiscal year 2019, the Baltimore Police budget is $511 million, up from $497 million in fiscal year 2018. These numbers do not include overtime costs, which routinely exceed projections.  In my last year working for the BPD, the operating budget was $481 million.

Yet, during my nearly two decades with the BPD, I couldn’t point to any one thing in the department and say with confidence, “That’s where the money went.” For example, “Does anyone have crime-scene tape?” was a common question heard from officers at a shooting or homicide scene. When I worked in patrol, tape was routinely recycled from one scene to the next. I packed loose bundles of plain yellow tape in the trunk of my patrol car in case I needed some at a fresh scene.

I have also driven patrol cars that had bumpers held together with duct tape or broken seats where someone shoved a milkcrate behind to keep it upright. Burned out headlights and tail lights were also commonplace, ironic since that’s one of the most common reasons we pulled over civilian drivers. I’ve driven cars that had no working emergency lights or siren.

Little of the BPD’s huge budget appeared to go toward keeping BPD’s technology current, either. Patrol district computers were old and poorly maintained. When I was in Internal Affairs, the computers were slightly newer but the office shared two printers, one of which was also our only copier, so they regularly malfunctioned.  The Motorola radios currently in use by the department are being phased out by the company and will become obsolete by the end of the year. The estimated cost for new radios is $20 million. As a cop, your radio is the most vital piece of equipment you carry. If you are in distress and need help, it is your only way of communicating with the dispatcher and other cops quickly.

The police districts themselves were all in various stages of disrepair. The worst station was the Western District, in a predominantly poor African American neighborhood. The bathrooms and locker rooms were filthy, and electrical wires and outlets were exposed. After the uprising following Freddie Gray’s death in 2015, the Western District station was remodeled and then unveiled as a community center, complete with public restrooms, meditation garden, and free Wi-Fi. The renovation was done with millions of dollars in private donations from sponsors like Baltimore-based sportswear company Under Armour, who hired former commissioner Fred Bealefeld as its head of security, and the Baltimore Ravens. Similar donations also went toward  a fancy new fitness center in the Southeast District station.

During the uprising, the only “riot gear” most of us had was a heavy blue helmet with a plastic face shield. Some were issued gas masks, but often the filters were faulty or expired. The department spent over $2 million to purchase riot gear for officers then, including $84,480 for next-day shipping.

From 2016-18 Baltimore spent over $1.4 billion on the police, not including overtime or the money seized by the BPD, which doesn’t seem to be accounted for in any official manner. A large portion of the department’s budget obviously goes toward officer salaries. Some of it goes toward things like helicopters and body-worn cameras. The department’s mounted unit is slated to get a new $2.5 million stable and recently the marine unit received a new $72,000 submarine to assist in search-and-rescue efforts in the Inner Harbor. And a lot goes to overtime—nearly $100 million in 2017 and 2018 alone.

Yet the Baltimore police union, which has full-salaried BPD officers who are elected to their positions, blames the current overtime expenditures on  “mismanagement” by commanders and the “ineptitude” of previous city leaders. They also say the department is failing to hire and retain an adequate number of cops and blame a shortage in patrol staffing for much of the overtime spending. In May, around 40 percent of the officers in patrol were working overtime. In July, interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said he was shifting 115 officers from other units into patrol to help rein in overtime spending. In the days following the City Council’s vote against covering overtime costs, Mayor Pugh reiterated her desire to hire more officers.

Not everyone, however, sees an increase in police manpower, a favorite cure-all proposed by cop unions, as the answer, including City Council member Dorsey. “BPD claims to have a shortage of officers,” Dorsey said in a July statement, “and that this is a major reason for the high rate of overtime spending and reliance for regular staffing. Yet, the patrol budget has far more positions allocated than the shift schedule requires.”  On July 31, Dorsey said that he found that 1,162  out of the 1,664 officers assigned to patrol were not accounted for in the month of June.

From early 2016 to the end of July, there have been 824 murders and 1,722 nonfatal shootings in Baltimore, a city with a population of just over 611,000 people.  That is an abysmal public safety record at a cost of over a billion dollars, a budget that continues to rise with no discernible momentum in crime reduction. The department, Dorsey tweeted on last week, is “stuck in a rudderless pattern of failings day to day, week to bloated overtime week, then every so often peppered with the latest installment of outrage-inspiring insanity.” Then there are the rarely discussed and less-visible costs of the police to the communities they are supposed to serve. Mass arrests during the years of zero-tolerance, the mental and physical trauma suffered by brutality victims and the victims of the Gun Trace Task Force officers. The continued disparity in the policing of predominantly poor black communities. The BPD’s insatiable appetite for funding—all as it is overrun with corruption scandals and cannot even account for its patrol numbers—proves that the city cannot afford to keep its checkbook for the police open any longer.

Caretaker Faces Deportation Over Dubious ‘Shaken Baby’ Conviction

After being released from prison, her only chance is a pardon from the governor.

Trudy Munoz with her daughters
Design by Anagraph/Photo courtesy of the Munoz family

Caretaker Faces Deportation Over Dubious ‘Shaken Baby’ Conviction

After being released from prison, her only chance is a pardon from the governor.

Former caretaker Trudy Munoz and her family should have been celebrating their reunion after she was released from prison Monday. But she is not free. Instead, her lawyers told The Appeal, Munoz was herded onto an ICE van while her family watched through a fence. No one was allowed to speak with her. Now, Munoz, 53, faces near-certain deportation based on the dubious science that put her in prison nearly a decade ago.

On April 20, 2009, Munoz was running a licensed home daycare facility in Fairfax, Virginia. She had never had any problems or complaints, and she was praised for her kind nature and her ability to be patient with difficult children. That spring day, 4-month-old Noah Whitmer was one of five children under her care. Everyone agreed that Noah had been especially cranky and irritable over the previous week, and Munoz had trouble getting him to take a bottle. By the afternoon, Munoz was trying to comfort Noah when he suddenly went stiff and began to vomit. She performed CPR and called the paramedics. Still breathing, Noah lapsed into a coma.

At the hospital, a CT scan revealed a possible subdural hematoma—bleeding between the brain and the skull—an injury often associated with child abuse because it happens when the brain strikes the skull as the result of impact. Investigators looked at Munoz as a suspect because she was the last person to be alone with Noah. Munoz was interviewed multiple times and showed investigators how she had jiggled the baby when he was fussy in a rocking motion —not the whiplash associated with child abuse. But, in part because of  a language barrier, Noah’s physicians believed that Munoz had confessed. Munoz and another witness say she never did. (The interview in question wasn’t recorded, and there was a confusion with translation.) As a result, the care providers proceeded with the assumption that this was an abuse case with the typical narrative: a care provider got annoyed with a fussy baby and shook it too hard.

Munoz was convicted of felony child abuse and sent to prison. Her case has gone in front of several appellate courts, but they rejected her appeals. Noah remains permanently injured and suffers from seizures.

Munoz’s oldest daughter, Renata, was 14 when her mother was arrested. “It was very much a defining moment in my life. … That was the end of my childhood. I had to grow up,” she said to The Appeal over the phone from Virginia where she attends George Mason University and studies environmental science. She explained the struggle of keeping her family intact, which included her father and her then-5-year-old sister, even as she and her sister went to live in Peru so their father could work to support them and her mother. “We’ve been used to seeing my mom two times a month, sometimes, and talking to her sometimes. For the first seven years, she didn’t even have email, so it was me writing words on paper, and then it’s a month to get a response. It really felt like she was gone a long time.”

Now that her prison sentence is over, Munoz has been released into ICE custody and is being processed in Richmond. According to her lawyers, no one—not even Munoz—knows where she will be detained after she is processed. Her only hope is a pardon from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who has said publicly that he isn’t familiar with the case even though the paperwork was filed two years ago.

The Munoz family
Courtesy of the Munoz family

Even as public attention is intently focused on children taken from their parents and placed in custody while their parents are deported, the separation of children and parents deported for a supposed criminal record has received less scrutiny. Munoz is another person about to be torn further from her family because of a felony conviction. Immigrants with certain criminal convictions, even if they hold valid green cards, have been targeted by ICE operations long before the current administration. They are the felons in President Barack Obama’s “felons not families,” statement, a 2014 policy shift in which the Department of Homeland Security prioritized immigrants with felony convictions for deportation.

Once Munoz is forced to leave the U.S., the law could prohibit her from returning for life. Renata felt that this was the hardest on her younger sister: “She was only 5 years old. I feel like I’ve become an adult and can handle it. If she is deported, I can handle it. I worry about my little sister; it’s become her whole life. Her mom was arrested at 5. She hasn’t seen her.”

Virginia’s pardon and parole board promised to review her case after her pardon petition was filed, but there has been no movement. Governor Northam hasn’t made any indication that he will examine the petition. This is despite the fact that Munoz’s conviction relies on a principle increasingly under question by the medical community.

Cases like Munoz’s that rely on the diagnosis of “shaken baby syndrome” have come under scrutiny in recent years. The concept behind shaken baby syndrome was simple. In 1971, Dr. Norman Guthkelch, a pediatric neurosurgeon, asserted that young children and babies were being shaken to death, violently tossed until they died. There were certain physical symptoms associated with this cause of death, including bleeding in the brain, brain swelling, and retinal hemorrhaging. Known as the triad of symptoms, they became talismanic for a kind of child abuse too horrible for most people to envision.

The nightmare of shaken babies became a media fixation, with special attention devoted to the parenting of low-income families and women who leave their children with caregivers. One of the earliest criminal cases to rely on shaken baby syndrome was the murder trial of 19-year-old Louise Woodward, a British au pair. The media and public commentators made much of the fact that the baby’s mother had hired a caregiver in order to work outside the home. (The mother was an ophthalmologist who worked three days a week.) In New York State and other places, hospitals are required to offer a lecture to new parents about shaken baby syndrome. Governor Northam himself said that he wanted to make sure the public knew about the dangers of shaken baby syndrome. And even though the American Academy of Pediatrics now refers to the triad of symptoms as “Abusive Head Trauma,” the group still warns about the persistent dangers of child abuse and injury.

But, in recent years, pediatricians and lawyers have realized that much of the “science” behind shaken baby syndrome wasn’t science at all. In reality, the diagnosis was often a product of uncertainty when there was no clear medical explanation—or one that physicians hadn’t considered—and prosecutors were faced with a dead baby. Deborah Tuerkheimer, a law professor at Northwestern University, describes the need for justice when a baby is injured in her book Flawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice: People can’t tolerate ignoring “the sudden, seeming inexplicable collapse of an infant.”

Whereas historically, prosecutors charged the last person to see the child with shaken baby murder, today experts acknowledge that it’s not that clear-cut. Studies show that it can take hours or even days for symptoms to appear. Even Dr. Guthkelch acknowledged that shaken baby syndrome  was only his theory and not intended to be used as a reason to convict people. Research has shown that the velocity required to generate the triad of symptoms can happen if a baby falls, but is very hard to do from shaking. And many physicians now acknowledge that the kind of shaking or injury that would be hard enough to cause brain bleeds would be accompanied by neck injuries or other bruises indicative of abuse.

As a result, numerous people have been exonerated once medical evidence was properly examined and alternative explanations considered. In 2017, the conviction of Zavion Johnson in California was reversed after his lawyer produced evidence that the death of his 4-month-old daughter was most likely not caused by shaking, but instead an accident. Audrey Edmunds was charged and convicted with the shaking death of an infant under her care in Wisconsin in 1996. In 2008, she was released from prison and her conviction reversed when her defense put forth evidence contradicting the shaken baby syndrome theory of the prosecution. The National Registry of Exonerations lists 15 people once convicted of SBS deaths who are now judged not guilty. Dr. Guthkelch has even testified in cases where SBS was mistakenly applied.

The Washington Post and Northwestern University’s Medill Justice Project traced shaken baby prosecutions from 2001 through 2015 and found 1,800 cases filed during that time. About 1,600 resulted in a conviction and 200 did not, either because cases were dropped or dismissed, or because the defendant was found to be not guilty.

At the same time, there are still many arrests and convictions based on the shaken baby theory. In some ways, the cases are among the worst of criminal charges because the alleged perpetrator is almost always a parent, relative or caregiver. The Medill study found that the vast majority of shaken baby cases involved male defendants, ranging from fathers and step-parents to a caregiver’s boyfriend.

The family relationship dynamic can cause a unique kind of emotional stress in suspected-abuse cases. Take the case of William O’Shell. O’Shell was wrongfully accused of abusinghis 3-month-old child. Anticipating his arrest, O’Shell shot his wife as she was sleeping, then killed himself. It turned out that the baby had a genetic disorder that was diagnosed after her parents’ deaths. But, O’Shell anticipated his arrest, conviction, and shame, and decided it was too unbearable to handle.

Munoz’s lawyers are putting particular pressure on Governor Northam who, as a pediatric neurologist, had previously expressed interest in the issue. But, despite the pardon petition filed last year, there has been no movement on Munoz’s case. According to Munoz’s petition by her attorneys at the University of Virginia’s Innocence Project, Noah Whitmer’s medical records reveal multiple pre-existing conditions that make the shaken baby syndrome diagnosis extremely unlikely. For example, the boy had previous head injuries and a history of other medical problems that made him susceptible to seizures. These types of medical problems are now thought to be the ones assumed to be abuse.

Munoz is in a unique position because the appellate courts have rejected her appeals and she has already been released into ICE custody. And, with the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” zeal for deportations, it’s extremely likely that she will be sent to Peru, where she has not lived in almost two decades.

For the moment, Renata says she is saying focused on planning for her mother’s release and hoping for a pardon. “I prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

I really hope for the best. I wish this would all go away, but I am prepared for her to go to Peru. Her pardon would be the best thing that could happen in my whole life. That’s the most I can do at this moment.”

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‘They treated me like a dog’: An Immigrant Was Forced to Clean the Truck of the Border Agent Who Arrested Him

Under ‘Operation Streamline,’ Border Patrol has become responsible for the housing and transporting of immigrants.

View of U.S.-Mexico border from San Diego, CA
Photo by Mario Tama / Getty Images

‘They treated me like a dog’: An Immigrant Was Forced to Clean the Truck of the Border Agent Who Arrested Him

Under ‘Operation Streamline,’ Border Patrol has become responsible for the housing and transporting of immigrants.

According to a declaration given to a federal public defender in San Diego, a Border Patrol agent made a detained Mexican immigrant clean the agent’s truck and then shut him inside it with the air conditioning at full blast as the shivering immigrant broke down in tears. When the immigrant said he was cold, the agent turned the heat all the way up and kept the car heated as they drove through a Southern California heat wave to federal court in downtown San Diego. The Mexican citizen, who says he had previously lived in the United States for 18 years, told his lawyer that the Border Patrol agent had announced to a fellow agent that he was “going to make this Mexican clean my truck,” and that after he was done cleaning the truck he felt “like a dog.”

The Mexican citizen, who has asked that we not reveal his name for fear of retaliation by Border Patrol, was arrested on the night of July 24, along with three other people two miles north of the border near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. After being arrested, the border crossers were brought to a Border Patrol station where the Mexican citizen who made the declaration says an agent menaced them with a Taser, threatening to use it, and told them it was “funny to see someone get tased.”

Since July, many immigrants caught crossing the border have been kept longer in Border Patrol custody, as they await criminal prosecution in federal court under the Justice Department’s “zero tolerance” policy, which aims to prosecute as many border crossers as possible. Previously, the vast majority of Mexican immigrants apprehended were almost immediately sent back through a process known as “expedited removal” or through the reinstatement of a previous removal order. Now, with 32 percent of immigrants arrested after crossing the border being brought to federal court to face criminal charges under the expedited prosecution program known as “Operation Streamline,” Border Patrol has become responsible for the housing and transporting of immigrants who had previously been immediately removed or handed over to the U.S. Marshals or ICE for their confinement.

This means that Border Patrol is being pressed into the role of a jailer. Federal public defenders have repeatedly declared in court that this is a role for which the agency is ill-equipped. Border patrol agents often have immigrants sleep in overcrowded and freezing rooms, order that they take turns sleeping on mats, and provide them with limited food during their confinement. They have also repeatedly denied immigrants access to medications that they confiscated during arrests.

Michelle Angeles, an attorney at the Federal Defenders of San Diego, represented the Mexican immigrant who made the declaration, and says it’s unclear whether there has been an increase in instances of abuse by Border Patrol since the beginning of Operation Streamline.

What has changed, she says, is that because of their criminal prosecution in federal court, immigrants in Border Patrol custody are now being provided something they wouldn’t have during previous interactions with the agents: lawyers. It’s during the brief meetings with federal public defenders that stories of mistreatment have begun to come out.

“As I was leaving the station I heard the officer say to another officer ‘I am going to make this Mexican clean my truck,’” the Mexican immigrant told Angeles in Spanish.  “I heard the officer laugh and say, ‘Yeah, make him clean your truck.’ The agent then took me to his truck and told me to clean the truck. He made me pick up with my hands used cans, dirty towels, old gloves, rotten food, paper, and made [me] remove dirt and sand from the truck floor. He then told me to get in the truck and turned the air conditioning on high and left me alone for about 10 minutes. The truck was freezing cold. I was wearing only a thin T-shirt and pants. I got goosebumps and started shaking from the cold. As I sat in the truck I started crying. I was frustrated and emotional by the way I was treated. I lived in the United States for 18 years and I have never been treated this way. The agents have all this power and they abuse it to make us feel less. They laughed and mocked us. They treated me like a dog. I was humiliated.”

Angeles told The Appeal that while Border Patrol has policies in place for how they are supposed to treat people in confinement, there’s almost no way to monitor whether agents are following these policies or to hold officers accountable when they don’t follow the rules.

“It’s sort of the wild wild west. What happens under the scope of Border Patrol in these hills stays there. It’s our client’s word against theirs,” Angeles said. “I say that because even if there’s training, some of these agents feel empowered to abuse their authority and I don’t think that just applies to Border Patrol.” Angeles added that many of her clients have also complimented the agency l for its treatment while in custody.

Border Patrol says it has no record of any incidents during the timeframe this individual was in custody. “The Border Patrol stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of our mission, and the overwhelming majority of Border Patrol employees and agents perform their duties with honor and distinction, working tirelessly every day to keep our country safe,” Eduardo Olmos, a Border Patrol spokesperson told The Appeal. “We do not tolerate corruption or abuse within our ranks, and we fully cooperate with any criminal or administrative investigations of alleged misconduct by any of our personnel, on or off duty.”

In the United States, there exist very few remedies for individuals who claim abuse by federal law enforcement agents outside of filing a civil rights lawsuit alleging the violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In the absence of meaningful oversight, Border Patrol agents have often acted with impunity toward a population that is not inclined to speak out, because of fear of retribution or worries that it would complicate their pending immigration cases. Last Tuesday, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a landmark decision, ruling that a Border Patrol agent could be sued in federal civil court by the family of a Mexican teenager who was fatally shot on the Mexican side of the border fence in October 2012. The ruling further expanded  the context under which civil lawsuits against the agency could be filed and is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Last week, the Mexican citizen who gave the declaration was bailed out of federal custody, had his criminal charges dismissed, and consequently was removed to Mexico. Before his removal, he was held in Border Patrol custody for a few extra days after he had already agreed to an expedited removal. Federal defenders have filed motions documenting the issues with Border Patrol keeping people in detention for days after they have agreed to a removal, especially in the context of the ill treatment many that immigrants reported having received while in custody.

“They don’t treat us like humans,” the Mexican immigrant said, concluding his declaration. “They treat us like animals.”

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