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Former Baltimore Homicide Chief Seeks to Unseat ‘Absentee’ Sheriff

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In his first interview since filing to run against current Sheriff John Anderson, Stanley Brandford says Anderson is missing in action from the city’s crime fight and the city’s less visible law enforcement agency needs to be transformed

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TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. After the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015, the city sheriff’s office played a small but controversial role into the investigation, which led to the indictment of six officers.

To avoid what was revealed later to be a police department hostile to charging one of their own, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby used sheriff deputies to assist her office in swearing out arrest warrants against these officers, who were later cleared of all charges. But that is the most public move by this law enforcement agency, which has otherwise been out of the spotlight. And now a candidate for the agency’s top job says he wants to change that.

Former Baltimore Homicide Chief Stanley Brandford has recently filed to run for the job, and he says his longtime incumbent John Anderson has been woefully absent from the city’s crime fight. Brandford spent roughly three decades in the Baltimore City Police Department, including the last several years as Chief of Detectives and head of the city’s homicide unit. In fact, it was Brandford who led homicide during the investigation of the death of Detective Sean Suiter. Detective Suiter was shot in the head with his own gun a day before he was set to testify before a grand jury about his role in the 2010 case involving members of the now notorious Gun Trace Task Force, an incident that remains both controversial and unsolved.

Brandford says he is running to transform the agency, including implementing progressive policies that would loosen the grip of law enforcement in areas like child support, collections, and evictions. To get a sense about what a new sheriff could bring to the table with regards to police accountability, crime fighting, and what he has to say publicly about the death of Suiter, our reporter Stephen Janis sat down with Brandford for an interview–an opportunity we extended to his opponent.

STANLEY BRANDFORD: In my opinion, and it should be the opinion of every citizen in Baltimore, the sheriff has been absent. He’s an absentee sheriff. I haven’t seen him in the community. There is no connection to the community. The mayor has a VRI, which is a violent reduction strategy. She put that in place last year and last year every city agency was to be at that particular meeting and get involved to figure out what they can do to help make Baltimore safe. The city sheriff office have not been. The sheriff has not been.

That’s not an indictment on the actual deputies, that’s an indictment on the leadership of the sheriff office. So absolutely they have not been engaged and have not made a commitment to help our communities. The sheriff office for the most part has been in that civil citation or that civil enforcement role, and I think the sheriff office can grow and be much bigger than that and have more involvement than something like that. So absolutely, they should be doing a lot more.

STEPHEN JANIS: Well that’s the question. How would that work? What specifically? How would that work for you to get … Because really most people don’t even think about the sheriff’s office being involved in crime fighting, whether that’s right or wrong. What kind of things would you do to sort of change that perception or to actually substantively bring the sheriff into the crime prevention or crime fight for the city?

STANLEY BRANDFORD: Well, absolutely. So the sheriff office, it’s something constitutionally they can do. However, it would take an agreement. It would take relationships. I have that relationships already with other law enforcement agency in the city. I make sure that those relationships are in place. That we’re communicating. The biggest thing that should happen is the sheriff should know what’s going on in the city. The sheriff office don’t get involved. We don’t know on a day to day basis what the crime trends are. We don’t know what neighborhoods are suffering certain types of crime.

If you don’t know those things, if you don’t know what neighborhoods have been struck with violence, you have not taken interest in knowing what those things are, if you don’t know what those things are, then how can you help out?

STEPHEN JANIS: We have had a consent agreement with our city police department, department of justice report. If you become sheriff, how are you going to address the general mistrust of law enforcement in Baltimore City? I mean, how do you mend those broken relationships that some people talk about?

STANLEY BRANDFORD: Absolutely. Like I said before, to be involved and understand what Baltimore has gone through, where all the crime trend is at, and just be able to connect with community. The other thing that the sheriff department could do is make sure, not only on a crime fighting standpoint, but just on a standpoint of connecting with the community, offering programs, doing things progressively that make sure that we are involved with our communities.

We have a lot of young men and women who have open child support warrants. Those small warrants affect our neighborhoods. I want to be able to bring those people out of the shadows, try to connect them back with their kids, get those services back to the parent that needs it. Now, we may not be able to make a family whole, but I want to do everything possible to try to make families functional again and be able to connect those people back. So here’s how that works: If you have open child support warrant, come into the courthouse and we will make those connections with the judges and make sure we have permission to do so, but I think it’s something that’s doable. If you make an agreement to start your child support payment, we’ll hold that warrant in deferment. That way, you can do start working, come out of the shadows, put that warrant on the shelf, and connect back with your kids.

I know downtown is a big transitional area for some of our students. I’ll make sure that the courthouse is what I call a safe house. When I was growing up, there were certain places we could go to where we knew that these areas were safe. I want to make the courthouse a safe place for juveniles to come to if they are in crisis.

There’s two things that I think absolutely we have a problem with in our community. Well, small open warrants, such as child support and traffic warrants, the FTAs, things like that. And we need to do everything possible to make sure those things are taken care of and I’ll tell you what they do. You get a police officer to stop someone on the street and they have a small open warrant on them. That person’s job is to try to get away as soon as possible. They don’t want to talk to the officer. They officer recognizes that behavior and the officer wants to keep them there as long as possible to figure out why this guy is acting this way. Often times something happened. The person gets hurt. More likely than not, it’s always the person that had the warrant. You do the investigation and you realize he had a traffic warrant or he had a child support warrant, something that was completely unnecessary, however, it has a safety factor for our neighborhoods. And I think that we could find ways to be to take care of some small warrants like that and offer alternative programs. I think it’d make our community safer.

STEPHEN JANIS: A big point of conflict is evictions because … You have to execute evictions and some people say the sheriff department doesn’t communicate well. Have you thought about evictions at all in terms of how to handle that in a way that’s more humane or a way that might work with the people so that less people are evicted or that it’s easier for the families or … Have you thought about that?

STANLEY BRANDFORD: Absolutely. So, I would like to put some advocacy programs into the sheriff’s office. Now, I may not be able to stop an eviction. My goal is to make sure when the sheriff’s office go out that we give some dignity to people as it pertains to how they are evicted. Too often we see, and you’ve probably seen it before, these evictions, you’ve got people, property, they say often it gets stolen. What I want to be able to do is have a way for landlords and for tenants, if they’re having these conflicts, to be able to have some sort of wrap around services and see if we can probably head off some of these problems in the first place. Maybe we can connect with different agencies that will offer some sort of storage program so people’s stuff don’t get set out. So it’s … You gotta be able to work with people and nothing hurts but a try.

STEPHEN JANIS: Now, you know, the police department had the Gun Trace Task Force scandal and it’s causing a lot of problems. What went wrong with holding officers accountable and how can you address that if you’re sheriff? Holding police officers accountable, what do you think went wrong?

STANLEY BRANDFORD: Well, quite a few things. One, leadership. Leadership is responsible. And when you identify a problem, those problems got to be dealt with almost immediately. You can’t sit back and wait on things like that. I think that when you do identify those problems, they get dealt with.

STEPHEN JANIS: Now, sheriffs get overtime, too. Are you going to watch overtime in your department, just because that’s been a big problem in the police department? Are you going to watch that?

STANLEY BRANDFORD: Oh, absolutely. So I know there’s problems. The city is under a budget. There are methods that you can put in place to watch that. Certainly, we want to make sure that engage the community but it shouldn’t cost the community an enormous amount of money to do so. So we’ll have budget restraints put in. We’ll have someone specifically watching the budget. We’ll spend overtime if necessary but we won’t be spending an enormous or unnecessary overtime and hold people accountable.

STEPHEN JANIS: Okay, so yeah. So you pledge we won’t have the same problems with the sheriff’s department that we have with the police department in terms of overtime.

STANLEY BRANDFORD: Absolutely not. You will not have the same problem as it pertains to fiscal responsibility in sheriff’s office.

STEPHEN JANIS: So I just want to ask this question, because other people are going to ask this question. You have the Detective Suiter case. Do you have anything you want to say about that in terms of … What do you think happened to Detective Suiter? Was he murdered? Was it suicide?

STANLEY BRANDFORD: Well, I think that’s something best answered by the BPD. Of course I was a part of that but the official statement as far as that investigation concerns should be something that’s best answered by Commissioner Desousa.

STEPHEN JANIS: Do you think the public deserves to know? I mean, they had a big, sort of, funeral for him, and do you think the public eventually deserves to know what happened with that case? I’m not asking you what happened.

STANLEY BRANDFORD: No.

STEPHEN JANIS: Nobody know. But do you think the public deserves to know.?

STANLEY BRANDFORD: Absolutely. The public deserves to know the truth of what happened in that case. Absolutely.

STEPHEN JANIS: You know, one thing that was really interesting in the Freddy Gray case is sheriff’s department helped with the investigation. If Marilyn Mosby comes to you and says I have a really big police investigation but I want an outside source, do you feel capable of doing that? Would you do that? And because of your ties to the police department, can you do that?

STANLEY BRANDFORD: Absolutely. So as sheriff, one of my goals is to make sure we have a good investigative unit. I had the expertise to do that, to set that up. I do know good investigators who could be in charge of that. And I think we do need, for the city’s sake, for the citizen’s sake, that if we ever get in a situation like that to make sure that we have the expertise we need in the sheriff’s office to give the state’s attorney an alternative if she does or he does not feel comfortable with that investigation. So absolutely the sheriff could play a role in that and under my leadership, we definitely would be to accomplish that and do a good job.

STEPHEN JANIS: So you don’t mind holding the police department accountable even though you have close ties to it?

STANLEY BRANDFORD: Well, if I’m asked to do that and if the procedures are followed, and if it came down to a public trust issue that is in the best interest of the public, of course there would be conversation, probably with city council and conversation with the mayor. If it was deemed that, in the best interest of the city, in the best interest of transparency, if the sheriff’s office was asked to do that, absolutely. I just need to make sure that we have the proper investigators and the proper units set up prior to make sure that’s done. I don’t think they’re equipped to do that now. Obviously they have not been. When you look at the Freddy Gray case, they were not equipped to do that type of investigation. Death investigations are something that’s very difficult to do, and I’ll make sure the sheriff’s office is prepared to do those type of investigations in the future.