Judge orders report on police chief probe released

City won't give details about domestic dispute

September 18, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

City officials must release an investigative report detailing police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark's domestic dispute from earlier this year, a Baltimore judge ruled yesterday.

Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan decided that the investigation, conducted by Howard County police, should not be "shielded from public view." He said he will sign an order forcing Mayor Martin O'Malley to release the records Monday, but a spokesman for the mayor said the city plans an immediate appeal.

In his ruling, Kaplan rejected the city's argument that the result of the two-week investigation is a personnel matter.

"This is a basic investigation by a sister jurisdiction," Kaplan said. "I don't see why it's a personnel record."

Clark was accused by his fiancee, Blanca Gerena, of assaulting her during an early-morning dispute in May. Both later denied an assault occurred.

The Sun and WBAL-TV sued the city and O'Malley in June, demanding the release of the documents. Yesterday, the judge granted the media organizations' pretrial motion for access to the report.

City officials have declined public information requests to release the documents, said Mary R. Craig, the lawyer representing the two media organizations.

Mayor's spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the city will appeal the decision Monday to the Court of Special Appeals, the state's lower appellate court, and ask that the documents remain sealed during the appeals process.

City lawyer Ernest A. Crofoot made a similar motion yesterday to keep the records secret, which Kaplan denied.

"That defeats the purpose of the public information act," Kaplan told him.

Since the completion of the report in early June, O'Malley has refused to release any details of the investigation's findings. O'Malley only said that it exonerated Clark of the assault allegation.

Timothy A. Franklin, editor of The Sun, said the public should see the report because it deals with the highest law enforcement officer in the city possibly committing a crime.

"The mayor is saying, `Trust me,'" Franklin said. "And we're saying, `Show us the evidence and let the public decide.'"

Crofoot argued that the investigation is a "bona fide personnel issue" because it deals with the personal life of a city employee.

"This could do quite some damage to the sanctity of all personnel records," Crofoot said after the hearing.

Crofoot offered the judge two other reasons against releasing the report, both of which Kaplan rejected.

First was the possibility that Baltimore police are continuing an internal investigation into how the case was handled; and second was the mayor's executive privilege to privately seek advice or opinion on issues.

Clark was on voluntary paid leave while police investigated the incident.

Thomas Kunkel, dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland, College Park, called the judge's ruling a "rare victory."

"When you're talking about a police officer at that level, you have an obligation to be upfront about what's going on," Kunkel said. "When there is a politically sensitive and possibly embarrassing case, the first refuge for some officials is to call it a personnel issue."

The incident occurred about 4 a.m. May 15, when Clark's fiancee walked out of the couple's North Baltimore apartment and asked police officers stationed in a car outside whether she could use a phone.

The officers asked Gerena whether she was all right. A conversation ensued, and both officers reported hearing her say, in broken English, "He assault me." Neither reported seeing any sign of injury.

Clark and Gerena have since denied that any assault occurred.

The police commissioner and Gerena have had a 14-year relationship and have a son together.

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