City selects review panel in Select Lounge police shooting

Panel includes former chiefs, U.S. attorney; no community members

February 25, 2011|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has selected a panel of law enforcement experts, including two respected former police chiefs and a former U.S. attorney for Maryland, to review last month's police shooting outside a Baltimore club that killed a veteran officer and a 22-year-old man.

Officials say the independent review board will issue a comprehensive report on the circumstances that led to the agency's first fatal police-on-police shooting in more than 80 years, killing Officer William H. Torbit Jr. and civilian Sean Gamble, and make recommendations to improve policies.

"I am grateful for the individuals who have agreed to join this review board to conduct a thorough and independent study of this tragic incident," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "Their findings will help us better understand what happened that night and improve training for our officers."

The city homicide unit's investigation into the shooting is still pending, with detectives awaiting final autopsy results from the state medical examiner's office and transcripts of witness interviews, officials say. Part of their report might include a computer re-creation of the incident.

Torbit, 33, who was on duty in plainclothes, was overcome by a crowd leaving the Select Lounge on North Paca Street. Torbit is believed to have fired during the altercation, killing the unarmed Gamble. Officers in the area fired at Torbit, unaware that he was a fellow officer.

While awaiting the results of the department's investigation, panel members will meet in the next week to 10 days to determine who will chair the effort and how they will proceed.

The panel does not include representatives from outside law enforcement.

"The mayor made very clear that she wanted an independent review by a team of national experts for an outside perspective on this tragic incident," spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said in an e-mail. "The goal for the review team is to understand everything about the incident and make independent judgments and recommendations that are influenced by the facts."

The members are:

•Darrel W. Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association at the Johns Hopkins University's Division of Public Safety Leadership program. Stephens is a former chief of police in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Newport News, Va.; and served as executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. Stephens did not return a message seeking comment.

•Hubert Williams, president of the Police Foundation, a Washington think tank with a reputation for progressive policing tactics. He is a former police director — the equivalent of police chief — in Newark, N.J., and is a founding president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officers.

In 1992, he was the deputy chair of the Los Angeles Police Department's review of riots there. In Baltimore, he led the effort that selected Thomas C. Frazier to be the city's police commissioner in 1993. Through the Police Foundation, he declined to comment.

•James K. "Chips" Stewart, former director of the National Institute of Justice. He is a senior fellow at the Center for Naval Analyses' Institute for Public Research, which provides consulting on domestic policy issues. In that role, he has worked on reviews of police use-of-force incidents in Oakland, Calif, where he was a former police commander, and Tampa, Fla.

•Stephen H. Sachs, a two-term Maryland attorney general and former U.S. attorney for Maryland. Sachs, who is retired, lives in Baltimore and has been asked to lead various reviews in the state, including an evaluation of spying efforts by state police.

In December, he contributed $1,000 to Rawlings-Blake. He also contributed $1,250 to the campaign of Gregg Bernstein, Baltimore's top prosecutor and husband of Rawlings-Blake's top adviser on crime, Sheryl Goldstein, campaign finance records show. A phone message left at his home was not returned.

•Dr. Cynthia Lum, a former Baltimore police detective who is a criminology professor at George Mason University and deputy director of the school's Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy. Stephens and Williams are inductees in the center's Evidence-Based Policing Hall of Fame.

Asked for his reaction to the panel, Robert F. Cherry, the police union president, referred to previous statements in which he said he believed the mayor's decision to form an independent review board was "premature" with the agency's investigation pending.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said, "The most important factor is to have an independent body that can get to whatever the truth is," according to spokesman Lester Davis.

The mayor's office said members of the review board will not be compensated for their work, though Stewart's employer, CNA, will likely provide staff and support and receive a yet-to-be-determined fee. The other panel members probably be reimbursed for expenses, officials said.

It was not clear whether the group will conduct public hearings, like similar commissions in Los Angeles and New York, or whether it will seek or be granted investigative authority.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton



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