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A Harford County Circuit Court judge granted a temporary restraining order in favor of Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) on Thursday, requiring the Harford County sheriff’s office to provide unrestrained access to evidence in the police shooting death of John Raymond Fauver.
“We’re very pleased with the court’s decision,” Frosh said after the hearing. “She’s ordered everything that we’ve asked for — they will turn over all of the evidence, immediately.”
Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler (R) has until midnight on Friday to hand electronic and physical evidence as well as any witness statements over to the Independent Investigations Unit of the attorney general’s office.
The disagreement that led to Thursday’s court proceeding surrounds the death of Fauver, who was shot and killed after Harford County Sheriff’s deputies located him behind a drugstore in Forest Hill on Saturday.
Under state law, the Independent Investigations Unit of the attorney general’s office must investigate civilian deaths that involve police officers across the state.
Local law enforcement agencies are mandated to cooperate.
According to the complaint filed by Frosh on Monday, Gahler refused to allow the members of the Maryland State Police homicide and forensic sciences units, who work in tandem with the Independent Investigations Unit, to collect evidence from the scene.
Additionally, Frosh alleged that the Harford County Sheriff’s Office has not responded to the Independent Investigations Division’s request to access physical evidence and denied investigators access to electronic copies of body camera and dash-camera footage, as well as non-law enforcement videos collected at the scene.
Gahler said during a phone interview on Monday afternoon that the protocol of the Independent Investigations Unit is not state law, and his agency should not be required to follow it.
Frosh refuted the interpretation.
“The legislation — it’s very clear,” said Frosh. “It says that our office shall do an independent investigation into any police-involved killing. It says that their officers shall cooperate.”
“… it’s a one-way obligation,” he continued.
Harford County Circuit Court Judge Yolanda L. Curtin ruled in the attorney general’s favor, saying that the 2021 bill passed by the General Assembly eliminated the involvement of local law enforcement agencies in these investigations.
David Wyand, an attorney for Gahler, argued that the attorney general was seeking to assert control over the sheriff, who was simply acting in his constitutional capacity as the county’s lead law enforcement officer.
Curtin said that Gahler is an elected official but, under the state constitution, his duties are to follow state laws.
As of today, Curtin said, Gahler’s department has not turned over “significant pieces of evidence” to Frosh’s Independent Investigations Unit.
Regarding Thursday’s case, Frosh told the media after the conclusion of the hearing that the Harford County Sheriff’s Office has the ability to waive this matter up to the state’s higher courts if it so chooses.
Regardless of any further legal action, a law signed last week by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) closes the loopholes at the root of Gahler’s argument.
Under the law to be enacted on July 1, law enforcement agencies will be prohibited from impeding any investigation or prosecution under the purview of the Independent Investigation Unit. They will also be required to turn over any requested evidence.
Requests for comment from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office were not made immediately available.