BALTIMORE — Baltimore’s Police Accountability Board members on Monday questioned how a Baltimore Police captain was promoted to major in November despite a pending Internal Affairs investigation and District Court criminal charges sworn out days earlier.
The board’s chair, Joshua Harris, acknowledged that the board doesn’t know what the investigation will yield, but described some of the alleged messages from Southwestern District Major Jennifer McGrath as a “civilian’s worst nightmare.”
Quotes included in the application for charges filed in Baltimore County District Court included “I’m a Captain no one is going to believe you,” and “I am powerful, established, unlike you.” McGrath also allegedly wrote, “I could make you disappear if I wanted to,” according to the narrative on charging documents filed Nov. 22 by the victim.
McGrath has a court date Jan. 24. Her attorney has not responded to requests for comment.
Baltimore Police has said it is aware of the pending criminal case and that investigation into a complaint filed with the Public Integrity Bureau is ongoing. McGrath is out on preapproved leave, the department said last week.
“If the messages that were published are found to be true,” Harris said, “that’s every civilian’s worst nightmare: to interact with an officer who has that way of thinking — of being so well-connected, and so powerful, that they can do anything to you.”
Other accountability board members also voiced concern.
Peter Bodde, a former ambassador to Malawi, Nepal and Libya, said he was “outraged” by news stories about McGrath’s promotion. Bodde said he’d never worked in an organization where, when someone came up for promotion, there wasn’t a “clear records check.”
McGrath’s promotion was announced by BPD eight days after criminal charges were filed.
The agency did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the board’s reaction.
“Clearly, I don’t know if we have all the details,” Bodde said. “But I think this is a really, really serious matter and we can’t let things like this slip through the cracks.”
Megan Kenny, another board member, argued this was an example of how officers facing allegations are treated differently than the people they might arrest. Residents facing criminal charges, Kenny said, might lose their job or housing, all before going to trial.
But McGrath “gets promoted,” she said.
The city’s Police Accountability Board launched last year, one of many across the state formed following the Maryland General Assembly’s passage of 2021’s Police Accountability Act. The boards field misconduct complaints from residents, meet with the heads of law enforcement and issue annual reports. They are part of a framework of civilian oversight that also includes Administrative Charging Committees tasked with reviewing police misconduct files and, potentially, reaching new conclusions.
This year’s Police Accountability Board annual report has not been publicly released, despite a deadline of Dec. 31. Board members and staff from the city’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights said at Monday’s meeting that they were close to completing a draft that could be distributed to board members for consideration. Dana Moore, director of the civil rights office, said she hoped it would be released by Jan. 31.
The report is expected to include recommendations for policy changes, among other things.
To that end, Harris encouraged board members Monday to look at the McGrath case through the lens of potential improvements to police policy. For instance, he said, the board might consider recommending training to help officers avoid the thinking behind McGrath’s alleged messages.
“No one is so powerful or connected that they are … above the law. Keeping that in mind, we have to focus on policy recommendations here. There’s also the real priority (of) culture change,” Harris said. “Culture comes down to changing the mentality and the way that people think.”
Kenny suggested, additionally, trying to determine whether McGrath had reached out to Internal Affairs members, as one of the alleged messages read “I’ve already contacted my connections at internal affairs to let them know to throw your complaint out.”
Another member, Jesmond Riggins, who sits on the city’s Administrative Charging Committee, also suggested trying to learn more about the department’s promotional process. He recalled that when the board previously asked then-Acting Commissioner Richard Worley about how the agency ensures “good” officers are promoted, it sounded as though it was out of the commissioner’s hands.
“A story like this coming out, again, it makes me want to know more about how the promotion process works,” Riggins said. “In order for us to actually be able to make recommendations as to how we believe policing can be improved … we first need to know how the thing works.”
Baltimore Police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge previously said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun that an allegation “may or may not preclude a member from promotion.”
Department policy on command promotions says candidates may not be considered if they have sustained misconduct complaints, with a penalty beyond a letter of reprimand, in the past five years. Ongoing investigations, it said, ought to be considered by the promotion committee “on a case-by-case basis.”