Could Kevin P. Clark return as police commissioner? No says city attorney

(John Makely )
May 08, 2012|By Peter Hermann

Just as we're trying to figure out the sudden departure Police CommissionerFrederick H. Bealefeld IIIcomes the stark reminder that we're still not quite done with a city chief fired more than seven years ago.

Kevin P. Clark, fired back when Martin O'Malley was mayor, in 2004, still has a claim pending before the state's highest court. He wants money, and according to his attorney, wouldn't mind getting his old job back.

This is the guy who the mayor sent armed SWAT members to remove from the police headquarters building on East Fayette Street.

Clark sued the city for $120 million, and his convoluted case has wound its way at least twice through the court system and appeals courts. Bottom line -- his suit and latest bid for reinstatement, is still pending before the state's highest court.

And Clark's attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, noted on Friday that a city judge in July 2008 said in an opinion that while Clark's case against the city was flawed, returning him to the police commissioner's chair would cause too much chaos.

Pettit rightly noted that there's now a vacancy. "Most people have forgot," Pettit said, "but this case is still an issue." Of course, the same city judge who spoke of chaos also ruled against Clark, and for reasons other than the top cop job was already filled.

City Solicitor George A. Nilson, who proclaimed the Clark case "over" after the city's latest victory in court, said emphatically in an email on Tuesday:

"We are certainly not holding the spot open for him – he has no current claim to it. I suppose he can always apply for consideration like others, but there were plenty of other reasons why City has prevailed multiple times in this case (four by my count), beyond chaos."

The Clark case is far too convoluted to fully repeat here. If you recall, O'Malley plucked Clark form New York, perhaps thinking he would be the next Ed Norris, but things soured when the commissioner got embroiled in a domestic dispute.

There was an allegation that Clark had assaulted his fiance, and while no evidence of that surfaced, the issue, and further charges of an attempted cover up, proved a distraction, according to O'Malley.

The issue erupted into sensational headlines, an independent report and culminated with the spectacle of armed tactical officers removing Clark from his office.

Clark sued, arguing that the mayor could only remove the police commissioner for certain reasons, and the reason O'Malley gave was not among them. The Court of Appeals agreed and sent the suit back to local courts, which again, even with the ruling, decided against Clark. They also said he was entitled to only $75,000 in severance, not a multi-million payout.

Legislators have since passed a law that broadens the firing power of the mayor over the police commissioner, but Clark's appeal of the local court ruling upholding his termination is still pending before the top appeals court. He argues that the judge did not follow the rules set down by the appeal's court ruling saying O'Malley didn't fire him on the right grounds.

The Court of Special Appeals ruled in June 2009 that the firing was legal, despite the earlier victories for Clark. You can read that opinion here. We'll have to wait and see what the Court of Appeals has to say -- again.

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