The Harford County Sheriff’s Office must cede its investigation into an April 23 police shooting to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, a county judge ruled Thursday.
The ruling is the first judicial test for a 2021 law that granted Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office the authority to investigate police-involved shootings.
“There is a complete difference of opinion from both sides here as to what the statute allows,” Harford County Circuit Judge Yolanda Curtin said.
Curtin granted a temporary restraining order that requires the sheriff’s office to turn over by Friday all of the evidence it has collected in the fatal shooting of 53-year-old John Raymond Fauver.
Sheriff Jeff Gahler had previously refused to hand over video and physical evidence from the shooting and claimed that the new state law did not grant the Attorney General’s Office primary investigative authority in police shootings.
While he offered to let investigators review the video evidence, the sheriff declined to allow the Attorney General’s Office to make copies of the videos or to allow the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Unit to collect and process evidence from the scene of the shooting.
Frosh said Thursday that lawmakers clearly intended to give primary investigative authority to his office.
“The General Assembly put these matters in our hands, and the legislative intent makes this very clear, because they wanted the public to have confidence that the investigation is being done independently,” Frosh said. “It is not being done by colleagues of the officers that were involved in the death.”
Gahler said he was disappointed in the decision but would cooperate. He said the law granting investigative authority to the Attorney General’s Office is “unfortunately a very poorly crafted piece of legislation.”
“I said ultimately that we’d be in front of a judge, and the judge would decide,” he said. ‘The judge has decided in this matter that we need to turn the evidence over and we’ve been agreeable to that.”
In court, lawyer David Wyand argued that the sheriff has a constitutional duty to investigate crimes that occur within his jurisdiction, including any co-occurring crimes that may have taken place at the time of the police shooting.
“The public elected the sheriff to do his constitutional duty in Harford County,” Wyand said. “The attorney general is asking this court to order him to stand down.”
Gahler declined to discuss whether his office was investigating other crimes in connection with the shooting.
The sheriff’s office previously identified the two deputies involved in Saturday’s shooting as Sgt. Bradford Sives and Cpl. Christopher Maddox, and said both are on routine administrative leave.
The deputies were responding to reports that a man was “reportedly suicidal” and believed to be armed at about 3 p.m. at a Harford County shopping center near Bel Air when they encountered him behind a store and fired on him. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The sheriff’s office notified the independent division on Saturday that two of its deputies had shot and killed a civilian in Forest Hill, according to court documents filed Monday.
Investigators from the division, the Maryland State Police homicide unit and state forensic experts began arriving within 40 minutes to process the crime scene before being blocked by the sheriff’s office, the court documents said.
The General Assembly this year passed an amendment to the 2021 law granting the attorney general power to subpoena witnesses and seek court orders to prevent interference with the Independent Investigations Division, which carries out the probes.
The amendment, which goes into effect July 1, also forbids local law enforcement from impeding the IID’s investigation and requires that local law enforcement provide any evidence requested by the IID.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.