BALTIMORE – In a tense traffic stop in East Baltimore last month, the chairman of a civilian oversight panel refused at least 60 requests for his license and registration. The purpose of the panel is to improve civilian oversight.
Marvin McKenstry, the chairman of the Civilian Oversight Task Force, argued the stop was unlawful. Nevertheless, the passive-aggressive clash has forced him from his role as chairman of the panel.
The encounter, captured on police body-camera footage obtained by The Baltimore Sun this week through a Public Information Act request, drew at least four officers to the 200 block of Aisquith St. on the afternoon of April 13. McKenstry had reportedly attended a downtown hearing on the city’s consent decree with the Justice Department in U.S. District Court shortly before the traffic stop.
McKenstry repeatedly asks fellow oversight panel member Danielle Kushner, whom he has just dropped off, to “call Ed,” and later addressed someone on the phone in the midst of the traffic stop as “Colonel.”
Police spokesman T.J. Smith confirmed that McKenstry reached out during the stop to Inspector General Ed Jackson, a former colonel who served on the oversight panel with McKenstry and Kushner before rejoining the police department in February to oversee its Office of Constitutional and Impartial Policing.
Smith said McKenstry’s outreach to Jackson “didn’t have any bearing on the outcome of the traffic stop.” As a result, McKenstry was cited for five violations totaling $500 in fines.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, the union that represents Baltimore Police, on Friday urged Mayor Catherine Pugh to “reconsider” McKenstry’s appointment as chair of the police oversight panel, saying he was unfit for the job. Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the local police union, could not be reached for comment Monday morning.
Consequently, McKenstry will resign as chair of the Community Oversight Task Force, and Ray Kelly will take his place, according to the group’s Facebook post.
McKenstry will remain on the nine-member panel, which was established under the city’s consent decree with the Justice Department to assess and recommend improvements to civilian oversight of the city police department, reported The Baltimore Sun.
Mayor Pugh appointed the now former chairman, who is a pastor at the Victory House of Worship Church in West Baltimore. James Bentley, a spokesman for Pugh, said the decision to replace McKenstry was made internally by the task force. He said he does not expect the leadership change to affect the panel’s work.
McKenstry, reached by phone Monday morning, declined to comment.
The group posted a subsequent Facebook message calling the incident “teachable moment.”
T.J. Smith, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, said in an email that police are working to move past the incident.
“We are moving beyond this incident and continuing our work to strengthen partnerships and engagement with our neighborhoods,” he wrote. “We look forward to our continued relationship with COTF and we welcome Ray Kelly as the chair.”
Body Cam Footage
This news comes a week after a disbarred attorney was forced to resign his position as deputy director of Baltimore’s Office of Civil Rights, reported Law Enforcement Today in an editorial.
Charles G. Byrd Jr., who was hired in February to lead reviews of discrimination and police abuse claims as the deputy director of Baltimore’s Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement, abruptly resigned May 1 after The Baltimore Sun began asking questions about his disbarment last year.
Byrd “decided to resign because he didn’t want his past to be a distraction to the important work of the Office of Civil Rights,” said the office’s director, Jill P. Carter, last week. She declined to elaborate, and Byrd could not be reached for comment.
Although a disbarred attorney sitting in judgment of police seems a bit like the fox guarding the henhouse, Carter seemed to be okay with her decision until his disbarment became public knowledge.
Byrd was disbarred in April 2017 for misappropriating funds in his private law firm’s attorney trust account “for his personal use and benefit,” according to court records.
Carter defended Byrd as recently as April 30, when she said she was “well aware” of his disbarment when she hired him but did not believe it prevented him from serving as her deputy.
“Being barred is not a requirement of the job,” she’d said, and Byrd “brings a whole lot of experience that we needed. He’s actually been a major asset and one of the most valuable additions since I’ve gotten here.”
Byrd also downplayed his disbarment in an interview last week, saying none of his former clients lost money in the matter.
Since Byrd was disbarred “by consent,” his case was not litigated through the courts and a full description of what happened was not entered in the public record. However, a joint petition filed in the matter by Byrd and the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland outlined the basic allegations in the case.
The petition states that Byrd “acknowledged that he was primarily responsible for the management and reconciliation of his firm’s attorney trust account, and that he misappropriated funds belonging to his law firm for his personal use and benefit.”
“There were no criminal components to the disbarment, no criminal charges were filed,” Carter said. “So there was no reason he couldn’t be hired.”
So whether it’s McKenstry, Byrd, or Carter, it seems the civilians sitting in judgment of Baltimore police officers have ethical challenges of their own.