Despite promise of reforms the Baltimore Police Department continues to keep personal records secret, even when an officer is convicted of a crime

Story Transcript

TAYA GRAHAM: This is a simple story told with a simple video, but it reveals how deeply troubled American policing is and how little the civilians they serve can do about it.

The story starts with a young man working at a Baltimore pizza parlor. Suddenly he’s confronted by the father of a co-worker who, unprovoked, hits him across the face.

But the attacker is not done. When the young man tries to remove him from the premises, Baltimore Police Detective Daniel Nicholson strikes him again and takes him to the ground.

Charging documents say that Nicholson, a veteran cop, confronted the young man because he believed he had mistreated his daughter during a dispute over unwashed dishes. But investigators concluded that the story was not true. And so Nicholson was charged and convicted of assault.

But the story does not end there, because we contacted Nicholson’s lawyer for comment, and he told us the veteran cop was still on the force and is not yet facing internal charges. So we asked the Baltimore Police Department for his employment status, and they would not comment. Finally, we asked the victim, but he too declined to talk with us.

But the case shows once again how little input civilians have over police, and how much power police believe they have. In fact, this is not the first time Nicholson has gotten into trouble. He was charged for breaking into a private residence when he thought his daughter was there, and assaulting two occupants. But the department looked the other way, and Nicholson kept his job.

Residents have little control or information on internal police discipline. The city’s Civilian Review Board, which investigates brutality complaints independent of the department, can only recommend, not give out, punishment, and said the decision not to discipline Nicholson was made in secret; a process which protects police from scrutiny in the past, and creates unforeseen dangers in the present.

This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.

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Taya Graham

Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns.

Stephen Janis

Host & Producer

Stephen Janis is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work has been acclaimed both in print and on television. As the Senior Investigative Reporter for the now defunct Baltimore Examiner, he won two Maryland DC Delaware Press Association Awards for his work on the number of unsolved murders in Baltimore and the killings of prostitutes. His in-depth work on the city's zero-tolerance policing policies garnered an NAACP President's Award. As an Investigative Producer for WBFF/Fox 45, he has won three successive Capital Emmys: two for Best Investigative Series and one for Outstanding Historical/Cultural Piece.

He is the author of three books on the philosophy of policing: Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore; You Can't Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond; and The Book of Cop: A Testament to Policing That Works. He has also written two novels, This Dream Called Death and Orange: The Diary of an Urban Surrealist. He teaches journalism at Towson University.