Police union sues over commander pension

September 18, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

Baltimore's police union is suing the city and its retirement system over a questionable pension awarded to a top city police commander who retired and took a job with a state police agency.

The lawsuit, filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, demands that Marcus L. Brown's pension be revoked and that he repay the money that has already been given to him.

City Solicitor George Nilson said his office had reviewed the matter two months ago and concluded Brown's pension was awarded legally.

"I'm fairly confident that we'll defend the action taken and that we'll be right," he said.

Brown had been the No. 2 police commander under Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm until January, when Gov. Martin O'Malley asked Brown to take over as chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

On top of his $127,500 salary for that position, Brown collects more than $55,000 in annual retirement benefits, even though he did not have enough years of service to qualify for a city police pension.

The special pension was a clause written into Brown's contract as deputy commissioner. The clause was triggered by a letter that Hamm wrote to the retirement system in January, in which he said he had eliminated Brown's position.

In a July interview with The Sun, Stephan G. Fugate, chairman of the pension board, said the board's hands were tied because the police commissioner said he had fired Brown.

"The fact of the matter is, Mr. Brown was not removed," Fugate said. "He was not laid off. He took employment elsewhere, and the Police Department falsified documents for him to get his pension. Bottom line. Period."

His comment is cited in the lawsuit, which names Fugate and the other board members in addition to the city and the board as a whole.

Mayor Sheila Dixon asked Hamm to step down in July, though she did not specifically give the pension controversy as a reason. The mayor also ordered that all city agencies comply with new guidelines - including consulting with her office - on handling early-pension requests.

Nilson said the mayor had prepared and filed legislation dealing with the pension issue and that the lawsuit deals with "a historical event rather than something going forward."

He said that if the City Council approves the legislation, a circumstance similar to Brown's would not arise again.

The lawsuit claims that the Board of Trustees of the Fire and Police Employees' Retirement System "acted with bias in awarding unauthorized and special benefits that would not similarly be awarded to other members."

The city has not filed its response to the lawsuit, and court dates have not been set.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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