Police Probe Leader Fired

Union Wants Discipline Cases Handled By Her Thrown Out

April 16, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

The Baltimore police official in charge of leading internal disciplinary proceedings was fired Tuesday, and the city police union is calling for all cases she handled to be dropped.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed that JoAnn C. Woodson-Branche was fired but would not provide details, citing a policy against discussing personnel issues.

Mayor Sheila Dixon said Wednesday that the department's ability to police its own is a "longtime issue" and called it a "weak link."

"I think that this is a good opportunity to revamp that whole department and deal with those weaknesses and strengthen that effort," Dixon said. "Everyone from the commissioner on down wants to see that."

Robert F. Cherry, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said union officials believe the firing stemmed from inconsistencies in agency documents.

He is asking Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III to dismiss all disciplinary action against officers since Woodson-Branche took over the trial board office, saying that allegations dealing with integrity issues compromise the investigations.

Such a move would put dozens of officers accused of misconduct back on the streets. The union says that means those who maintain their innocence - and have been waiting months or sometimes more than a year to clear their names - could get back to work.

Guglielmi said the department does not believe any cases are compromised because Woodson-Branche acted as a prosecutor and wasn't involved with investigations.

Woodson-Branche is the latest official tasked with internal Police Department discipline to come under fire in recent months. The head of the internal investigations division retired under pressure last fall, and in March The Baltimore Sun reported that the agency director who investigates race discrimination claims was moonlighting as a bankruptcy attorney and had also handled criminal cases, including at least one in the city.

The assistant state's attorney in charge of investigating police misconduct also resigned last fall.

"The [union] is very concerned that the top prosecutor for the police, who has a say in charging officers, may be involved in issues of integrity," Cherry said.

Woodson-Branche, a Columbia attorney who in the 1980s worked as an assistant city state's attorney and once ran for Howard County Circuit Court judge, got a $30,000 raise in December after being promoted.

Attempts to reach her Wednesday were unsuccessful.

In recent weeks, the police union learned that Woodson-Branche had been signing documents that are required to be signed instead by any of the six sworn law enforcement members of the charging committee, which the police union says is in violation of a policy adopted in September 2008. The union plans to file a motion in Circuit Court next week questioning the documents, attorney Michael E. Davey said.

Union officials and the Vanguard Justice Society, which represents black officers, also say Woodson-Branche backdated charging documents to extend the time frame in which to charge officers, in violation of the state's Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

Accusations of backdating documents are among the chief complaints in a pending lawsuit filed by members of the Southwestern District "flex squad" who were charged with misconduct.

Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.

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