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Litigants seek contempt finding against Baltimore FOP

Heather Cobun//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//May 13, 2019

Litigants seek contempt finding against Baltimore FOP

By Heather Cobun

//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

//May 13, 2019

The businesses suing Baltimore over the city’s response to rioting in 2015 want a judge to hold the local police union in contempt for failing to turn over documents in response to a subpoena.

The plaintiffs, dozens of businesses that sustained damage, filed a lengthy complaint in federal court in 2017 alleging the city and police failed to adequately respond to foreseeable civil unrest. The parties are currently engaged in discovery.

The Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 produced a report about the management of the 2015 unrest that occurred following the injury and death of Freddie Gray. The report refers to surveys, statements, emails and other sources that were consulted as part of the FOP’s investigation.

The plaintiffs issued subpoenas to the FOP and its former president, Gene Ryan, in March seeking the documents used to reach the conclusions in the report, which an attorney for the union initially said would be produced, according to court filings. But on April 15, attorney Chaz R. Ball said his clients could not find any documentation other than the report itself that responded to the subpoenas.

Ryan also failed to produce documents and did not appear for a deposition. The FOP and its leadership are not parties to the lawsuit.

Ball, of Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner P.A. in Baltimore, did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

In a motion filed Friday, the plaintiffs asked the judge to issue an order requiring the FOP, Ryan and the FOP’s new president Michael Mancuso to show cause why they should not be held in civil contempt.

“The FOP’s contention that it is not in possession, custody, and/or control of any responsive documents other than the FOP Report itself flies in the face of reason and common sense, and raises serious questions as to whether the FOP is being candid in its response to the FOP Documents Subpoena,” the motion alleges.

The lawsuit is proceeding primarily on claims that the city violated the Maryland Riot Act, an 1835 statute permitting citizens to seek compensation from the government for damage to property sustained during a violent disturbance. The government must have had notice of a riot and the opportunity to prevent theft, damage or destruction.

The plaintiffs allege then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and then-Police Commissioner Anthony Batts failed to suppress the riots but rather “adopted a policy of restraint and issued stand-down orders.”

The FOP report concluded “officers followed direct orders from command staff not to intervene or engage the rioters” in April 2015 when initially peaceful protests turned violent.

“According to officers’ accounts, they were told ‘the Baltimore Police Department would not respond until they burned, looted, and destroyed the city so that it would show that the rioters were forcing our hand,'” the report said. “The officers were told their primary job was to deescalate any situation with no response rather than to escalate with action. This was confirmed by officers from other jurisdictions who attended that roll call.”

The information cited in the report involves the subjects of the plaintiffs’ claims, according to the motion, and caused them to issue the subpoenas.

An attorney for the plaintiffs, Peter K. Hwang of Sung & Hwang LLP in Columbia, did not respond to a request for comment.

The case is Chae Brothers Limited Liability Company et al. v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore et al., 1:17-cv-01657.


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