Arundel police complaints leave resident wanting more information

September 19, 2012|By Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun

When Anne Arundel County Police closed her complaint, the commander of internal affairs sent Karla Hamner a three-sentence letter.

The investigation, he wrote, has been conducted. The case has been closed. The matter would “be handled in accordance with internal policy and procedures of the Anne Arundel County Police Department.”

Hamner had accused an officer of lying in an affidavit after depositions by other officers contradicted the first. She says she wondered: How did it turn out? What did they find? Will the officer be punished or not? How would she know it was investigated thoroughly?

When she asked a county attorney to disclose more information, the attorney refused.

The Anne Arundel County’s Police Department's Rules and Regulations manual, in effect since Jan. 2007, doesn't require the police department to tell a complainant anything other than the “status” of a complaint. In this case, that meant it was closed.

According to the rules, people who complain about Anne Arundel officers are not entitled to know more.

County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson declined to further clarify the policy or discuss Hamner’s complaint.

The decision to withhold basic information about the investigation, namely whether the complaint had been sustained or not, surprised some familiar with law enforcement.

“I was under the impression they would tell the public whether the complaint was sustained, but not [about] any punishment for the officer,” said Cpl. O'Brien Atkinson, president of the county's chapter of Fraternal Order of Police.

The affidavit in question came as part of Hamner’s lawsuit against the county. Filed two years ago, the suit alleges County Executive John R. Leopold transferred her to the police department and fired her for complaining about his behavior. He has denied wrongdoing.

Attorney Mark W. Howes, who is not involved in the case, said the policy regarding internal investigations raises questions about whether the public will continue to let departments police themselves if they don't reveal what their investigations find

“Most of the time, the police will go out of their way to tell you that appropriate disciplinary action has been taken or that they have thoroughly investigated the complaint,” said Howes, a former Anne Arundel Police officer who worked in internal affairs before he retired to become a lawyer in 1995.

“How is the public supposed to get some assurance that you've taken care of it and taken it care of it properly?” Howes asked. “When they just look at it and say we handled it, but we're not going to tell you what we found, it invites suspicion.”

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