Before Mayor Martin O'Malley hired Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark last year, he did not subject the city's top officer to the same rigorous background investigation that low-level Baltimore police recruits endure.
Recruits are required to sign forms opening to the city police personnel files from their previous jobs. O'Malley never attempted to inspect Clark's personnel file from the New York Police Department. Had he done so, he might have learned more about possible domestic incidents or assaults involving Clark.
Yesterday, O'Malley defended the police commissioner and the mayor's investigation into Clark's background. O'Malley said that when Clark was interviewed for the position, the commissioner told him all he needed to know about any previous domestic-violence allegations.
"What I did determine is that they never rose to the level of being criminal charges," O'Malley said, adding that Clark was rapidly promoted in New York.
Past allegations of domestic violence against Clark were contained in an investigative report released this week. The mayor commissioned the report after a May 15 domestic dispute between Clark, 48, and his fiancee.
After losing a five-month legal battle against The Sun and WBAL-TV to keep the report private, O'Malley released it Tuesday evening.
According to the report, which was compiled by Howard County investigators, Clark's fiancee emerged from their condominium early May 15 and told officers stationed outside that she had been assaulted. It says Clark and his fiancee could not explain the noise coming from their condominium that morning but finds there was not enough evidence to substantiate an assault.
The report also included an investigation of Clark's past and revealed that he had been placed on administrative duty for four months in 1989 while the New York police conducted an internal investigation into alleged domestic abuse. It cited multiple reports of domestic incidents involving Clark in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Several officials said yesterday that they think Clark's past should have been better explored before he was hired as police commissioner.
"It should have been a red flag," said Carole Alexander, executive director of the House of Ruth, which provides services for women who are victims of domestic violence. She said that is important because police commissioners serve as a role models.
Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said that had he known then what he knows now about Clark's past, he would have thought twice about confirming the commissioner. "I would have had reservations," he said.
O'Malley said yesterday that the May 15 incident has become a "major distraction" to fighting crime.
Clark again declined to comment yesterday on the report. Through spokesman Matt Jablow, he said the 1989 incident was resolved when he received a call asking him to return to work and telling him that he had been promoted to lieutenant.
The ensuing reports referred to in the recent investigation all reflect incidents that stem from the 1989 incident, Jablow said. Some of the reports were filed by Clark, he said. He declined to release them.
Hearing next week
At a closed hearing next week, a city Circuit Court judge will review all materials compiled by Howard County investigators and determine what additional information should be made public.
O'Malley said during his weekly news conference yesterday that when he considered hiring Clark, he interviewed Clark's New York police supervisors and other officials. He also conducted a criminal background check, he said.
That review differed in several ways from the process used to examine prospective Baltimore police officers, in ways that go beyond the personnel records. For example, police interview neighbors.
O'Malley said yesterday that he did not interview Clark's wife, with whom the commissioner was involved in domestic incidents in the late 1980s and early 1990s, according to the Howard County investigation. An O'Malley spokesman refused to say yesterday whether investigators conducted neighborhood interviews.
Police regulations state that potential officers are disqualified from employment if they meet any of several criteria on a list that includes "domestic violence (aggressor)."
The Howard County report says Clark was not the aggressor in any reports reviewed by investigators but that they did not gain access to all files.
An official at the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Alexandria, Va., said yesterday that no regulations exist for background checks on police chief candidates.
"All across the country, there are different customs and standards," said Kim Kohlhepp, a manager at the association.
"It's pretty standard" to conduct neighborhood interviews, and it's "common" to interview a candidate's spouse, Kohlhepp said, adding that "investigators usually try to gain access" to personnel records.