PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
The police commissioner in Baltimore was fired on Wednesday. Now joining us to discuss why and what it means in the studio is Kenneth Butler. Kenneth is the 29-year police veteran and president of the Vanguard Justice Society. And joining us from New York, although he’s normally in Baltimore, is Neill Franklin. He’s executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, known as LEAP. He’s a 33-year-old police veteran, and he’s trained at the Maryland State Police training centers and for the Baltimore police. Thank you both for joining us.
Kenneth, let me start with you. What do you make of Batts’ resignation? What, in the final analysis, brought him down?
LT. KENNETH BUTLER, PRESIDENT, VANGUARD JUSTICE SOCIETY: Well, I think what really, what really brought him down was a combination of things. But I think the nail on the head was that he lost the rank and file. He lost the trust and the confidence of the rank and file officers. As well as some commanders, as quiet as it’s kept. And for those of us who’ve played sports, it’s like the coach losing a locker room. The guys don’t want to play for you anymore, so they’re not going to give 100 percent.
JAY: If the Baltimore Police Department is guilty–and of course not every police officer, but if many and perhaps most are guilty of systemic racism, are guilty of abuse, are guilty–I don’t know if you can say the majority, but some, certainly, of corruption. And in the FOP report that was released the same day Batts was fired, one of the things that he’s accused of is saying the following.
He seems–this is quoting the report. He seems to vilify his officers, stating that the cycle of scandal, corruption, and malfeasance seemed to be continuing without abatement. Well if that’s the truth, then why should he have the trust of the locker room? I mean, if you’re in–if you have a football team, and a big piece or many of your football players are in on a betting scheme and are actually undercutting the whole mission of your football team, well maybe you will lose their trust if you go after them. But so what? I mean, that’s–isn’t that what he’s supposed to be doing? He was asked to come and reform the police department.
Let me just add one other thing. Is he just being thrown under the bus by politicians who don’t want to stand up to the pressure of the Fraternal Order of Police?
BUTLER: Well, I won’t get into the politics because I don’t know the politics of it. But I’m just looking at it from working in the police department.
We have no problem with you going after corrupt cops, racist cops, brutal cops. We want them, quote-unquote, purged. We want them out of this agency. However, the biggest fear–and maybe that fear will subside. The biggest fear was if I make a mistake, is this guy going to come after me just to appease the public? Of course with cell phones they’ve, people videotape everything. And like an officer said, if I have to use force to arrest someone, and someone, they film it, put it on YouTube and whatever, whatever. And it doesn’t look good.
And let’s just look at it like this for what it is. Using force is not pretty. However, I may be justified and well within policy of the police department. And the biggest concern is was Commissioner Batts going to stand up for me publicly even though it may not have been politically correct, or if there’s a public outcry, and say wait a minute. This may not look good, but my officer was well within departmental policy. And that was their biggest concern. But corrupt, brutal, racist cops, we want them out of here.
JAY: Well you say that, but the Fraternal Order of Police issued a press release the day before the State’s Attorney Mosby announced the initial charges against the police, before the medical examiner’s report had gone public. On April 22, there’s a press conference. And the president of the Fraternal Order of Police is there, reads a statement. You’re standing next to him.
And in it it says, we fully support the officers involved in this matter, as we know them to be well trained, respected members of the Baltimore Police Department and our union. There is at this time no indication of any criminal activity whatsoever, but our support will not waver for any reason. Further down it goes–.
BUTLER: You’re talking about the Baltimore six, correct?
JAY: Yeah. Police officers who were charged for the death of Freddie Gray. It says that–. This is a, in a statement dated May 1, 2015. This is just the day before the announcement of the charges, I believe.
It says, as tragic as the situation is, none of the officers involved are responsible for the death of Mr. Gray. That was before the medical evidence came out. So I mean, how does the FOP know that none of them are responsible for the death of Freddie Gray before they’ve seen the evidence?
BUTLER: I think it was just what they said in reference to supporting them. And when I talk about what I just talked about as far as the police commissioner, or anyone, because I said–I came out and supported them.
Because just like anyone else, just like you, me, anyone, you’re innocent until proven guilty. Although this was a public outcry, it may have had political implications behind it. However, you’re innocent until proven guilty. And from what we had seen and what we had heard, maybe the FOP–and I’m not trying to throw them under the bus. Maybe that they thought, maybe they thought that, hey, these officers didn’t have anything to do with that.
JAY: Because the FOP was accusing the state’s attorney of a rush to judgment. That’s a heck of a rush to judgment to say they’re innocent before you’ve seen the evidence.
BUTLER: Right. But remember, like we all saw on television, when they were lifting him up. And of course people said, oh, they beat him up, and such and such. But then a medical examiner came out and said he had no bruises on him. So my thing is, although the FOP may say this is a rush to judgment, but when we–and I said this to the commissioner. No, I’m sorry, it was a young man who said this to the commissioner. Commissioner, at no time did you come out and support the Baltimore six. Why? They’re your officers. They’re innocent until proven guilty. That’s leadership.
JAY: Well then, you should say that about everyone that ever gets charged by the Baltimore police. That the police commissioner come out and say, well, so-and-so’s not [inaud.]
BUTLER: You mean officers get charged.
JAY: No, people on the street, too. You can say nobody–.
BUTLER: But they’re innocent until proven guilty.
JAY: Well, I wish they followed that everywhere, here, because–.
BUTLER: Oh, absolutely. I agree with you.
JAY: Because people don’t get treated as they’re innocent until proven guilty.
BUTLER: They sure don’t. They sure don’t.
JAY: Neill, what’s your opinion of how the FOP has handled the situation? And I know there’s a myriad of criticisms that can be made against Police Commissioner Batts, and certainly we’ve had many people on the Real News who’ve criticized him quite severely. But it seems to me the political class here has thrown him under the bus, under the pressure, when at least he’s making statements about trying to reform the police department.
NEILL FRANKLIN, EXEC. DIRECTOR, LEAP: Yeah. Well, making statements is one thing.
So let’s go back, if not months, maybe a couple of years. I think there’s some things that we don’t know. And that is, you know, what has the communication been between the police commissioner and the union? You know, we–a few minutes ago we were talking about purging the police department of those who are abusive, those who are breaking the law, those who are causing problems with the community. And as Kenny said, we don’t want them among the ranks.
So one of the things that leadership should do is work with the union, and the union should work with leadership, in identifying these officers and moving them out. If they’re not–if you can’t save them, if you can’t retrain them, if you can’t do the things that are needed to turn them around and get them to police appropriately and respectfully, then they have to be moved out of the police department.
JAY: Wait a second, wait a second. If these officers committed crimes, why should they simply be, see if you can train them and save them, and all the rest? If they–first of all, there’s manslaughter. The allegation here is that this guy was killed through the negligence, gross negligence or worse.
FRANKLIN: I’m not necessarily–I’m not talking about the six.
JAY: Well, I am. But I’m asking you about the six.
FRANKLIN: Okay. Well, about the six I think again that–yeah. I mean, the FOP, I think they’re a little strong in how they’re, from the beginning, coming out and saying things when the evidence wasn’t yet available. And many, much of it is still not yet available and known to everyone. I think that you have to stick with a couple of things.
Number one, allow the investigation to take its course. Allow the prosecution and the courts, and that process, to take its course. Yes, everyone should be viewed as innocent until proven guilty in a court of law and judged by their peers. But on both sides, on all sides of this, we appear to be maybe judging people a little bit too soon, and trying to state a case for something that has not yet been proven.
JAY: Yeah, but that’s the way the system works. The state’s attorney investigates, and in this case she actually brought in an outside sheriff’s department. The medical examiner, the state’s attorney comes to a conclusion, lays criminal charges. And the reaction of the Fraternal Order of Police has been to try to get her off the case, throwing these conflict of interest charges at her.
I mean, everything’s been done to close ranks around these six officers before they had been found–okay, you can presume innocence of course. But you don’t deal with anyone else charged this way with this kind of delicacy.
BUTLER: Because you’re not talking about cops. You’re talking about the regular citizen. We’re talking about cops.
JAY: So our cops should be treated differently?
BUTLER: No, cops should be treated like everyone else. So just like you would stand up for your son, the FOP is standing up for these officers. It’s just that simple. You may disagree with me, and I’m okay with that. But let me say this. For cops who are committing crimes, we’re not going to stick up for you. For you who are maliciously–I’ll give you an example. The bus stop incident, you remember that? No one stuck up for him. I had a meeting with the commissioner. And he said, Kenny, what do you say? That’s indefensible. The guy [inaud.]
JAY: This is, we’ll drop this video in, this is one officer starts beating up this guy at a–the officer completely loses control himself, and beats the hell out of this guy at the bus stop.
BUTLER: Right. The officer Dan [rad], who was selling cocaine on the back of the Northwest District lot. No one came to his aid.
JAY: Well, why come to the aid of, or support, of–listen, Freddie Gray died–.
BUTLER: And he shouldn’t have died. He shouldn’t have died. Right. Absolutely. He shouldn’t have.
JAY: –in the, while he was under their care, right? So somebody’s responsible for that. So why is the FOP defending somebody, defending these six before they know the situation? Before it’s all out.
BUTLER: Because it hasn’t been proven. Why is Marilyn Mosby saying this is your time? This is our time?
JAY: Well, it’s her job to lay charges after investigating otherwise no one ever gets charged.
BUTLER: I’m good with that. I’m good with that. However, you do not–you do not say this is our time. You are supposed to be–justice is supposed to be blind. I go where the facts lead me, just like when I was a detective. I may not like you, but I go where the facts lead me.
JAY: So how does the FOP say they’re innocent before they know the facts?
BUTLER: How does everyone else say they’re guilty before they know the facts?
JAY: No, wait a sec. Mosby should know the facts. I’m only talking about Mosby here.
BUTLER: I’m not talking about Mosby, I’m talking about public opinion.
FRANKLIN: There’s something common here, though. There’s a common thread here. And not just with this scenario of the six, but go back and look at how the state’s attorney’s office, the police department, and other agencies within the city fail to communicate with each other.
You know, here’s a scenario where we’re dealing with these six officers. The state’s attorney’s office obviously doesn’t trust the police department. She does her own investigation. What’s the communication between the police commissioner, the hierarchy there, and the state’s attorney’s office? Was there any communication between the state’s attorney’s office reaching out to the FOP ahead of time, before the announcements of these things, kind of like sitting down and saying, look. This is the scenario. This is what we have, and this is what we’re going to do. This is why we’re going to do it. This is how we’re going to do it. Do you have any comments? I just want to–I just think that–.
JAY: I’m not sure. Would that be appropriate in any other situation? For a state’s attorney to negotiate before they announce their charges?
FRANKLIN: I didn’t–I didn’t say negotiate. I’m not talking about negotiating. But just giving a heads up into the process. Nothing different than what they could, that you could release to the citizens. You know, just to kind of like say hey, I understand that this is a sensitive issue for you because it’s six officers. It’s six of your people who are now being looked at. Who are now being investigated. And they understand your position as the FOP to defend them, to come to their aid. But here’s–you know–.
JAY: But why? If as Kenny says, that you’re serious about getting these bad cops out of the force, why would–.
BUTLER: But who said they’re bad cops? That was just one situation.
JAY: I’m not saying anything. I’m saying keep quiet. I’m saying the state’s attorney lays charges. You let the thing take its due course. If they’re vindicated at trial, then fine. But up until that time–.
BUTLER: Okay, but it doesn’t mean, but it doesn’t mean we can’t come out and say we’re supporting the officers. And this is what we [inaud.].
JAY: Can’t say they’re innocent.
BUTLER: They’re innocent until proven guilty, just like you.
JAY: But you don’t–they’re innocent till guilty. But you as police officers don’t take that approach when you’re charging other people. You must think they’re guilty or you wouldn’t lay any charges, right? If you think everyone’s innocent–.
BUTLER: Well if I see you dealing drugs–if I see you dealing drugs and I lock you up, then, then okay.
JAY: Then you must think I’m guilty. You can’t–.
BUTLER: Then I must think you’re guilty, if I see you dealing drugs. I’m not going to presume, oh, well, he’s innocent until proven–no. You’re guilty because I locked you up. Now, if you go to court and you get found innocent, okay.
JAY: But the idea that a state’s attorney can’t lay charges because someone’s innocent–.
BUTLER: No one said they couldn’t. No one said they couldn’t.
JAY: Then how can a union, if you’re serious about reforming the police, and you’re serious about getting people who, like–who number one, according to the state’s attorney illegally arrested Freddie Gray in the first place, number one. If you’re serious about reform, there has to be consequences. If in fact the medical examiner–.
BUTLER: But an illegal arrest, does that warrant criminal charges? That warrants training.
JAY: Freddie Gray died.
BUTLER: We’re not talking about that. I’m talking about an illegal arrest. If I illegally arrest you, does that warrant criminal charges against me? No, maybe it warrants training.
FRANKLIN: That depends.
JAY: That depends. They were charged with–let me get the exact charge. They were charged with forcible confinement was it, or illegal confinement?
BUTLER: Yeah, I think it was something like that. I can’t [inaud.]
JAY: Let me get the exact thing, here. I’m keeping you past your time here, Neill, and I know you have to run.
FRANKLIN: Here’s a real point. Remember the officers that, that–.
JAY: I’m sorry, just let me say, the charge was false imprisonment, which was later dropped. In the original charges false imprisonment was there. But when it went to–after the grand jury released the final charges, those were dropped. Go on, Neill.
FRANKLIN: Remember the officers that took into custody this young boy, and they took him out to Howard County, they took his shoes, and dropped him off. So that’s–there you have an arrest. Technically that’s an arrest. Technically it’s a kidnapping. Because there was no PC for an arrest. They took him out to another jurisdiction, dropped him off with no shoes. Those officers should have been fired.
JAY: No, no, wait a second. Why only fired? Why shouldn’t they have been charged? Why shouldn’t they be in jail?
BUTLER: Okay, shouldn’t that be up to the state’s attorney? Shouldn’t that be up to the state’s attorney?
JAY: Sure, yeah, but then why isn’t this up to the state’s attorney, too? Why, why–.
BUTLER: We never said it wasn’t. It is, and she took action. But with this situation, why didn’t anyone bring criminal charges against them? Because we did not agree with them taking these kids out to, taking the kid out to Howard County. No one agreed with that.
JAY: But why should it ever be not–if there’s no probable cause and the arrest is based, is not a legal arrest, why shouldn’t there be criminal repercussions for the police officer?
BUTLER: Because sometimes it’s training, okay. Everyone is not a seasoned cop. A cop. See, now you’re talking about if an officer makes a mistake. See, that’s exactly what I was talking about when I said guys are looking over their back. If I make a mistake, is this police commissioner going to fire me. If I make a bad call, and I made a mistake, and I use a knife. And I say okay, well, the knife that Paul had was illegal. And then it comes back, well, it’s legal, okay. Investigate and release. So that’s a training issue. Why should I be criminally charged?
JAY: But there is no probable–in the Freddie Gray case there was no probable cause to arrest–to even find that the knife, which turned out to be legal. And as far as I know that is still the case. There’s a lot of rumors going around the knife was illegal. But the–at least people that we’ve talked to at the state’s attorney office, someone who actually has handled the knife and said there’s no spring in it, it is legal.
But in any case, even before they got to this, they had already arrested Freddie Gray, and the state’s attorney said that’s an illegal arrest. That just running isn’t grounds for an arrest. Why shouldn’t there be legal repercussions for police officers who just arrest somebody and it’s illegal?
BUTLER: Okay, but what if the officer just made a mistake? See, that’s what I mean. See, the citizens, you want to come down on officers who make a mistake. Well if that’s the case, you might as well arrest me. I’ve made mistakes. You might as well arrest Neill, he’s made mistakes.
JAY: Okay, but that happens to ordinary civilians, too, where there’s some line between where you break a law and where it’s a mistake, and there’s some kind of subjective judgment goes in there.
BUTLER: I [just had] one of those.
JAY: But the state’s attorney said–she dropped it. I don’t know why she dropped these charges. But when they go after Freddie Gray, there’s no mistake. They go after him just because they ran. Is that a mistake, to go after someone because they run?
BUTLER: No. They went after him purposely. For whatever reason they saw. I wasn’t there. But whatever reason they saw. So that’s on them. But my thing is, and just like I said before, if you’re going to arrest every cop for making a mistake, you’re not going to have any cops. Okay? That’s just the bottom line. Attorneys have said this. There are some things that are criminal and there are some things that is training.
JAY: Okay. But Neill, there–this distinct–.
FRANKLIN: Here’s the difference. There are honest mistakes of officers making arrests every day across this country in every city. And it is, because some of the case law, some of the–you know, in thinking you may have probable cause and you actually don’t.
BUTLER: You don’t.
FRANKLIN: What makes the difference here is malice. You know, was something done intentionally, knowing that you didn’t have probable cause? That’s when you should be criminally charging someone. Other than that, it should be retraining. It should be handled within the police department. And if the officer continues to go down that road of making mistakes, then maybe he is or she is dismissed from this very important job.
But we have to be able to make, to differentiate between what is an honest mistake due to training, or what is malice. What is intentional.
JAY: But if it’s malice and intentional, and there’s thousands of cases that are, come down to how you defend malice. But is it–if someone just gives you a little bit of lip on the street and you want to prove you, the policeman are the dominant player here and you make an arrest for something that’s not really illegal and then you make up some charge on the way to the station like resisting–.
BUTLER: That’s malice.
JAY: Okay. Then shouldn’t that have consequences?
BUTLER: Absolutely. Absolutely.
JAY: Not just training. Not just losing your job. Shouldn’t the person be charged?
BUTLER: But you’re making up something. Absolutely. You’re making up something.
JAY: And when’s the last time anybody suffered consequences for that?
BUTLER: I don’t know.
JAY: Okay. That’s kind of the point here.
FRANKLIN: Good point.
BUTLER: Okay. That’s a good point.
JAY: All right. It’s just the beginning of a conversation. I know you both have to run. And we’re going to continue this. Thanks very much for joining me.
BUTLER: Thank you.
JAY: Thank you, Neill.
FRANKLIN: [All right].
JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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