Retired 60-year veteran law enforcement officer Stephen Tabeling and award winning investigative journalist Stephen Janis discuss their book “You Can’t Stop Murder in Baltimore” and the impact of the 1974 Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Right (1/4)
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: As we continue our discussion about the ongoing protest across the country here in Baltimore, we take a look at one of the demands of the protesters here, specifically in Baltimore in Maryland. That’s reform of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. Here in Maryland it’s considered one of the strongest such bills in the country. Now joining us to discuss this are two guests. We’re joined by Stephen Tabeling. He’s the coauthor of You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths about Policing in Baltimore and Beyond. He’s a retired Baltimore City homicide lieutenant. He also served as chief of police of Salisbury, Maryland. From 2000 to 2009, he was called out of retirement to teach at the Police Academy in Baltimore. We’re also joined by his coauthor, Stephen Janis. He’s an award-winning investigative journalist, currently working as an investigative producer for FOX45. Thank you both for joining us. STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER, FOX45: Thanks for having us. NOOR: So, Stephen, in your book, you talk about having to take someone’s life, to shoot someone dead in the line of duty. This was in 1962, before the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights was passed, which happened in 1974. LT. STEPHEN TABELING, FMR. CHIEF OF POLICE, SALISBURY, MD: Yes. NOOR: So talk about the process of what happened after you–you had to–you took someone’s life. What happened next? ‘Cause it deeply contrasts with the process today. TABELING: Well, in 1962, when you got involved in a fatal shooting as a police officer, you were released to your captain on a writ of habeas corpus. You had to report to him at 11 o’clock. NOOR: And what does that mean for people that might not know what it is? TABELING: Well, we were released without any bail or anything of that kind to the custody of the captain of the district, who at the time was Wade Pool [spl?]. I had to report to the captain every morning at 11 o’clock. I was suspended without pay. At the time, I had three children. That made it very difficult. I’ll report to the captain every morning at 3:30 without a gun or without a badge. In fact, I had no responsibilities at all. After all the investigation was done, which took about 3 to 4 weeks, I was actually tried in a homicide court, tried before a judge. Of course, I was exonerated with that, but I have to tell you it’s a lot of stress involved when you don’t know what’s going to happen, because what happened to me was a holdup man was facing me. We were 20 feet away. He had a gun and I had a gun, and it was me or him. So it’s a very difficult thing to go through. And after that ordeal, I made up my mind that if I ever got in a position to investigate police shootings, I would not treat police officers the way that I was treated. NOOR: And so that sentiment, sentiment like that is one of the reasons that brought about the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. And I want to get into that background. But you do have some–you’re supportive of some aspects of it, but you have issues with other aspects, including the ten-day rule. Can you explain what that is? TABELING: Well, I’m in support of a police officer that should have some kind of representation. But what I’m not in favor of is to wait ten days–ten days to get an attorney. And in the 1970s, Donald Palmerloo [spl?], who was police commissioner, and I had the responsibility to investigate all police-related shootings. My experience, when you get the officer shortly after the shooting, you get a story and you get a true story. If you wait ten days, the mind doesn’t work that way. People are going to talk to that officer. He’s going to be confused. The public is confused about why do you wait ten days. You can’t give them any information. And, frankly, as the chief of police or police commissioner, that would bother me, too, because I couldn’t give anyone any answers, because you can’t talk to them. If you’re investigating homicides and you get beyond 72 hours, the case really gets cold. So, you know, people’s minds are, like I say, not like old wine. They don’t get better with time. As time goes on, you go further away from what actually happened. I had a lot of shootings in the 1970s. We had 19 police officers shot and killed. And I just can’t sit here and recall the number of other shootings that I investigated. We didn’t have any time delay. The thing I like to talk about is, in 1976, we had someone went to the temporary City Hall on Guilford Avenue and tried to kill Mayor Schaeffer. Fortunately, he wasn’t there. They shot and killed Dominic Leoni. There was a lot of shots fired, a lot of activity. On a Friday, we had Lombard and Carey Street, where seven officers were shot. NOOR: That was the Christmas Day [inaud.] TABELING: That was–no, no. Good Friday Massacre, they called it. Seven policemen shot and one killed. I had both of those investigations, and I had one or two different detectives working with me. And by Monday morning, all the reports were on the desk of the police commissioner, and the governor was there to talk about it. I have a very difficult time trying to understand what takes weeks and months to investigate a police shooting. NOOR: And I want to bring Stephen Janis into the conversation. JANIS: Well, it’s interesting, because we’ve had some very controversial shootings, like the case of Officer Torbit, who was shot by his own police officers. And it was interesting when I was talking to Steve about that because that investigation took, I think, almost a year, and they had to bring in a special police commission. And the special commission didn’t get any testimony from the officers who were involved. And I would talk to Steve about this, because any type of sort of police-involved shooting seems to take months if not years. And in a sense you already know who’s been shot, who did the shooting. It’s not like a mystery. And Steve said to me, one of the reasons we tried to do these things quickly was because the longer the investigation drags on, the less trust people have in its outcome. So I think so many things have changed in policing, which is evidenced by just what Steve was telling me, that process is drawn out. And the investigators sometimes do not have any access to the people who were actually involved, sometimes because of the problem of criminality, but also, I think, because of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, and, I don’t know, some internal practices that seemed to be out of sync with transparency. NOOR: And so, in light of the Sun investigation that found that there’s been over 100 cases settled for $5.7 million over the last four years, the mayor and the commissioner publicly said the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights kind of handcuffs them in them trying to prosecute these bad police officers. So what’s your take on that? ‘Cause you’ve been investigating [crosstalk] JANIS: Yeah. Well, I mean, we point out, we talked before about the case of Officer Rivieri, who was a police officer who had an encounter with skateboards that went national, where he took a skateboarder, a 14-year-old kid, to the ground and was screaming and yelling. It was video. And he was fired. He was fired outright. I mean [Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld (?)]. And that was despite the fact that the internal review board of the internal disciplinary board had recommended, like, a three-day suspension without pay. So I think it’s perfectly within the realm of the police commissioner to fire somebody. And I think they have an internal, albeit flawed internal disciplinary process that they’re trying to reform. But if the police commissioner wants someone fired, I believe that it’s within their purview, I think. There’s a lot of politics involved in this. You know there’s a very strong police union here, FOP, which has a lot of political influence. And so I did a lot of times politics intercedes rather than the actual process. I think about four or five months ago there were 200 officers who were either on suspension or some sort of internal investigation. So, obviously, Commissioner Batts currently has said he’s going to clean that up. But you have a process, I think, for many years, despite attempts to reform it, it has been considered to be flawed and dysfunctional. TABELING: I’d like to make a comment about bringing in investigators. Recently we had a case, and I think it resulted in a death. I forget exactly where the location. And the commissioner brought in some police commissioners from around the state and from other areas to investigate that incident. And it came up with nothing. It cost thousands of dollars to do things like that. Why–. JANIS: [crosstalk] Tyrone West case. TABELING: Yeah. Why do you bring someone else from other organizations to investigate things like this? I mean, there should be someone in this police department with enough experience that you don’t go outside, that you have investigators that can properly investigate these cases. NOOR: And during your career, you were saying you were the sole investigator of the police. TABELING: Police shootings. I was the sole investigator. And not only that, Commissioner Palmerloo used to send me to districts when they had problems other than shootings, some disciplinary type things. So I got sent all around. Frankly, the commissioner and I didn’t get along too well. But I think we need another Donald Palmerloo here. JANIS: But, one of the things, if you don’t mind, that I think is very important to recognize, even in your day, that it’s very difficult to indict a police officer for use of force. I mean, I think the last one in Baltimore was Officer Tommy Sanders, who had shot Ed Lamont Hunt in the back. And he was indicted for manslaughter, and the jury found him not guilty. So when I think some people say in terms of the Tyrone West case, which is the man who died in police custody, and Anthony Anderson, who also died after being taken down to the ground, our former state’s attorney, Gregg Bernstein, declined to prosecute. And I asked him, I said, do you think this cost you the election? He said, I’m not going to speculate. But I think it is very difficult, even just in general, throughout, I think, the history of this to indict a police officer for using force. There’s definitely in this country of lot of leeway, not going back to Steve’s time, but in the current [milieu (?)], it’s definitely extremely difficult, for whatever reason. NOOR: And on the topic of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and accountability of police, there was just a development in the case of Teleta DaShiell. And she had a voicemail recording from a police officer calling her a racial slurs. And we’re going to play a bit of that. And we have a comment from the ACLU. So I wanted to ask you, Stephen Janis. So the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights is the cover, I guess, the Maryland State Police are using in saying that we can’t make internal discipline public, because of privacy concerns. JANIS: And even–well, they made that argument, and they made the argument about the Maryland Public Information Act laws, where they said this is a personnel issue, which they applied blanket over the entire investigation. Even her own statement to police they wouldn’t release to her. And even–they wouldn’t even let her know which documents they had. So they don’t even have an index. They won’t even release an index. And what they’re using as cover is personnel, which many governments in Maryland use to not release information to the public about anything. And so I guess the crux of this case is she first was just trying to get an index of the documents. And this has been used widely. To say it’s a personnel issue, it’s a personnel issue, even in the case of the city, when someone gets fired [and on call (?)] and they say it’s a personnel issue. So the transparency [cushion (?)] here is very low. Of course, Maryland has, like, a D or F in terms of transparency. But, obviously, if you can’t know the outcome, it’s almost impossible to hold the police accountable in this case. NOOR: That concludes this part of our discussion with Stephen Janis and Stephen Tabeling. Go to TheRealNews.com for the full series of interviews. Thank you so much for joining us.
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